Risen gives the account of the most popular Easter story of Yeshua’s (Cliff Curtis) resurrection from the eyes of a Roman tribune, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes), who is told to seal and guard Yeshua’s tombstone with his life. When Yeshua’s body goes missing, you can just imagine Clavius’ determination to find it.
Even though anyone can predict the outcome of this soldier’s desperate search, Risen does not portray your typical Easter narrative. There are several elements to the storytelling that make the film relevant while still maintaining the feel of the era. Probably the most novel and relevant instrument to the narrative is that it is written in an investigative manner, where the protagonist searches for leads like a detective. Written in a compelling CSI investigative fashion, you are enticed to follow leads of an evangelical account through the eyes of a sceptic. It is an age-old story written for the 21st Century.
Many non-believers may roll their eyes before even considering giving Risen a go. Some believers may too. “Another Easter story?” they will say. “Haven’t I seen this half a million times already” they will add as the theatre attendant hands them their 3D glasses for Kung Fu Panda.
But I think many Christians and non-believing viewers will find this version to be quite unique. First off, Joseph Fiennes does a convincing job at being Clavius. The acting and directing qualities are inseparable as you are drawn into this compelling main character’s perspective, with dynamic angles that make you see the event as Clavius sees it.
Risen also tells a conceivable story where nothing really conflicts with the two-thousand-year-old Biblical narrative, yet the movie’s own narrative is sufficiently open-ended to satisfy an audience without coming off as “preachy”. The script does not rely too much on the dialogue to fill viewers in, instead, the movie takes on a more “show, don’t tell” approach. Therefore, even though the story is labelled as “the most important event in human history”, it is evident that the intention is to make its appeal more universal.
However, even though Risen is a seemingly unbiased and uniquely told story that can reach a more diverse range of people, a religious topic can hardly achieve a unified sense of enjoyment among such a range of viewers. Therefore, both audiences should still keep that in mind. Although Risen is more palatable to non-believers than most faith-based films, non-believers may detect an agenda since there still is an underlying gospel message, even if it is more implied than anything. And on the contrary, believers may end up feeling unsatisfied at a mere implication to the Gospel message, rather than its bolstering. It may be of some value to note that Risen also seems to give more reason to doubt the evangelical account by making the fault of human error seem more plausible.
Either way, depending on which side of the fence you are seated, the movie’s intention is not really to sway or inspire anyone’s beliefs. Whatever your conviction, the focus is centered more on the movie’s story rather than the more commonly known Gospel story. Thankfully the documented accounts are not too distorted, like Hollywood historical dramas often tend to be. And I think that writing the story from what we know to be the antagonist’s perspective was probably the writer’s cleverest move.