Monday, April 11, 2016

Risen (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Biblical dramas are countless and with good reason. Even if one is not religious, Jesus remains a compelling an existential figure. Many artists have said he was the first pop star. The Bible is in itself, an early epic read having something for everyone: lust, violence, struggle and resolution. No matter what one's faith is, the story of Jesus and biblical mystery has persisted even in our tech-fetishist iPhone age where the touch of a screen has mimicked the holy-handed touch of Creation.

The recent biblical mystery film is "Risen" by director Kevin Reynolds, focusing on the sentence of crucifixion and the intrigue of Jesus' body before its ascent. The film is told from the side of Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) a Roman Centurion, who is summoned by Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) to hasten Jesus' death and put a quick end to the revolt. Like an Everyman, Clavius is stuck in a rut, engaging in battle, day after day. He yearns for peace, or at least a calm day without the spilling of blood. He cares little for he Nazarene, simply wanting to finish each day alive as a soldier.

There is one grisly scene of Jesus (Chris Curtis) on The Cross, his face puffy and as stiff as plastic. Under Clavius's direction, an assistant plunges The Spear under Jesus' ribcage. His eyes are open in death and gaze in reproach.

Clavius has done his job, but if so, why can't he sleep?

The film is a shade different from most Biblical films for its lighter touch. The suffering of Jesus is not dwelled on. And Joseph Fiennes gives an appropriate and understated perfomance as the dutiful soldier who is over all of the bloodletting.

Peter Firth's Pilate gives a hint of gallows humor as well. When Clavius tells him of the grim details, Pilate dunks in the hot tub as if to say "Ho hum!" As in most films, one would be hard pressed to call him likeable. He is a hardened rule-maker, the Roman everybody loves to hate.

Fiennes has some lines of dialogue that seem taken from the tongue of Sam Harris. Clavius gives some entertaining repartee, calling the resurrection a "delusion" and practically rolling his eyes at Mary Magdalene (Maria Botto) and her rapturous idealism.

There is an intriguing lunch scene where the recently crucified man is alive and well and smiling joyously at Clavius, his wrists now mere innocuous wounds. Jesus seems to toy and tease with the centurion. Here he is, the literal life of the party! The apostles follow him from one location to the next and here the action goes flat. The men go out on a boat and fish and at each stop, Jesus like a compass, guides them.

For all of the sightings, one gets very little of Jesus in this story. He is kind, smiling and laughing often. Yes, but what else? What of his worries and his fears? The saviour we see is done in crayon rather than in rich oils.This sketchiness is true also with Clavius. After a suspenseful first half, the soldier goes mute, revealing little of his emotion. In the film, Jesus tells Clavius to let his heart speak.

It is a pity that he doesn't take the advice.

The cinematography is stirring and beautiful. One scene in particular features a swarm of bats wheeling overhead as the apostles move forward on their quest. Clavius wanders on and on, alone against the huge stone fields. The ground itself becoming Clavius's personal crown of ivory thorns. Such moments remain provocative, having the feel of something otherwordly or epic and paying homage to other films: "The Outlaw Josey Wales," "Mad Max" or "The Man Who Fell to Earth." All of these films have one thing in common: the outcast who walks alone.

"Risen"  is two separate films: the first is done in intrigue with curiousity and a respect for mystery. The second is a colored primer held up for display like an Advent calendar, marked merely for preaching.

The power of any story, biblical or otherwise, is in its speculation and wonder. To show all so plainly is to dispel the magic .

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