Review: Mary Magdalene at Cinema Nova

7 March 2018

Mary Magdalene, directed by Garth Davis, follows the ever-changing story of Mary of Magdalene (Rooney Mara). The film covers her decision to leave the small Jewish community she grew up in, to witnessing the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Joaquin Phoenix).

Mary’s story—as noted at the end of the film—is often a misunderstood one. The film is dedicated to portraying Magdalene as a strong leader amongst Jesus’ followers, as well as a rebellious young woman who leaves her family to join a non-conventional group.

The movie, though, also covers many other grounds including finding meaning in life, and race.

It is hard to distinguish how authentic Davis wanted this picture to be. On one hand it is set in the correct time and place that Magdalene was alive, as well as portraying everyday life in Galilee accurately, but on the other hand the casting choices do not reflect the races of people who would have lived during the period. Given that Jesus and his followers were most likely Jewish and Middle Eastern, there are significant variants in the ethnicities of the actors chosen that do not reflect the people of the time. Although it may be because of Davis’ ambition to create a contemporary version of Magdalene’s story—or because of the immense talent of the cast—it does take away from the accuracy in other parts of the mise-en-scene.

The major part of the film though is not race, feminism or historical accuracy, but the recurring theme of human connection and finding meaning in life. From the start of the film Magdalene is shown to be different from the people around her—she is smarter, more ambitious and does not fit in with her community. Her quest to find her purpose leads her to a group visiting her hometown, and she is baptised in the ocean, symbolising her decision to leave her family behind. From this moment on we see Magdalene helping the poor, giving water to the injured and sick and encouraging Jesus to include women in his journey to Jerusalem. Magdalene is the only one who truly understands Jesus of Nazareth’s quest for humankind—that we can only reach the Kingdom of God if we change our ways on Earth and let go of hate.

Mary Magdalene is a contemporary retelling of a timeless story that places Mary in the forefront of the Resurrection tale.

Mary Magdalene is in cinemas now.

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