Film Friday: Risen

How do you portray the most extraordinary moment in history? A dawn which saw a dead man walking… and not a zombie, or a skin-stitched, bolt-necked Frankenstein monster (creatures which still feature heavily in movieland) instead a living person, more alive than anyone else on the planet. A man who has just beaten not only death, but the very rebellion from the birth of time that first instigated all that is destructive in the universe. Sounds almost like another Star Wars story doesn’t it. From a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… But this is about this world, and the here and now. Jesus mocked and tortured and murdered by the very people he had come to rescue. Offering himself as the willing and perfect sacrifice that would effectively start to reverse the process of evil and begin the new age of God’s kingdom breaking into our daily lives on earth.  In dark and very difficult times. So a mysterious and inexplicable act really. We can try and grasp for explanations with our stumbling words, but maybe pictures can better capture something of it. Certainly down the ages artists have continued to paint portrayals of the scene in the resurrection garden. Along with writers and dancers and theatre directors and choreographers. So what about the film world?

Well, in the last few years the film Risen has had a good go at it. Telling the story of Clavius a Roman officer on a kind of detective trail to prove that the body of Jesus has been stolen and buried somewhere, rather than being resurrected. There are telling scenes of graves being opened up and recent corpses being examined. Clavius will not give up the trail until he finds the truth. A truth that changes him. Here he is visiting the empty tomb, and then later, as he meets Jesus.

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This is a really unusual, thought provoking film. Powerful too. Yet I’m still waiting for a particularly full bloodied portrayal. One that captures the wonder, shock, surprise, laughter and wrongfooting of that first Easter morning. The son of God hiding behind a nearby tree, pretending to be a gardener, and suppressing a smile, so that he can spring the biggest, most feelgood surprise on his great friend Mary. The four gospel accounts speak of a whole gamut of experiences that morning. Shock, fear, joy, excitement, doubt, amazement, wonder. When I used to direct Easter dramas at the Lee Abbey community in Devon, my aim on Sunday morning was two-fold, to surprise people and to make them laugh. That to me seemed vital when communicating this wondrous account of life refusing to be overcome by terrible sadness, loss and death. One extraordinary Easter account in the Bible tells of dead bodies breaking out of their graves and wandering back home to ‘surprise’ their loved ones! (Honest! Have a look at Matthew 27 v 50-53) So in our drama we had folks looking very pale indeed, covered in bits of grass and mud, wandering around talking of needing some breakfast. Disciples ran heaven-for-leather, back and forward, even on one occasion accidentally losing their footing and crashing over, which may well have happened in the rush and flurry. The accounts do read after all, like the scene in many houses when you’ve lost your car keys and rush around desperately checking and rechecking the same old places. Friends of Jesus run back and forward from the tomb, attempting to get their small minds around the biggest morning in history. I have often drawn on other films as parables for portraying something of the wonder and joy, and so I’ll leave you with this from feelgood film That Thing You Do, about a band hearing their song on the radio for the first time…

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  1. laura greenwell says:

    wow! this is brilliant Dave. Risen is probably mine and Tony’s favourite film- we just love it. It makes us hold our breath when the soldier walks into the room with Jesus there and in a moment goes from pursuing Jesus to having his whole life turned upside down!!!!!!!!!

    Laura and Tony

  2. Mark Roques says:

    Thanks very much for this Dave. Some great reflections on resurrection hope. I would also add that it is very rare to read about resurrection hope in almost every tract I have read. Too often the message boils down to faith in Jesus gives you a passport so you can go to heaven after you die. This is not completely wrong but it sidelines and ignores our hope in a bodily resurrection in a restored creation. Btw I am trying to write tracts that affirm this resurrection hope. Thanks again for your work Dave.

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