Review by TIM LAM
FILM | MARY MAGDALENE | M
Mary Magdalene is arguably one of the most enigmatic characters in the Gospels. She has taken on numerous roles in the popular imagination: a penitent prostitute, the first to witness the resurrected Christ, even the wife of Jesus according to Dan Brown.
The new Mary Magdalene film from Garth Davis, the Australian director of Lion, has been marketed as the ‘untold story of Mary Magdalene’. The titular character, played by Rooney Mara, is a quiet but determined young woman who rebels against the patriarchal norms of her day. When she refuses to marry a man chosen by her brother, she is accused of bringing shame to her family.
After she encounters a rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth, Mary decides to join him to spread his message of love and inclusion. But even amongst Jesus’ apostles, she is treated with suspicion because of her gender.
The decision to cast Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene may prove controversial given Hollywood’s tendency to ‘white-wash’ historical characters. Equally divisive may be Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Jesus as a scruffy, lethargic Messiah with an unmistakable American accent. His unconventional interpretation of Christ bears a stronger resemblance to a new age spiritual guru than the traditionally depicted Son of God.
This latest interpretation of the Mary Magdalene story seems particularly relevant with the rise of the #MeToo movement. The film is a strong critique of the patriarchal religious structures that have historically silenced the voice of women in the church.
Mary’s courage in speaking out against misogynistic male authorities inspires the women she encounters on her journey to challenge gender roles that hinder them from growing closer to God.
Mary Magdalene is a beautifully shot film, although the lack of dramatic tension and the meandering pace may test the patience of viewers. Nevertheless, it is a timely retelling of the Passion story through the eyes of a character who has been rejected, maligned and possibly greatly misunderstood throughout history.
Mary Magdalene was released in cinemas on 22 March.