We have heard this story time and time again, and yet when it is delivered in an artistic, honest fashion, it is still worthy of being told on film. Director Garth Davis, whose previous film Lion, was praised by many, but I found it to be lacking in direction, brings his angel on the story of Mary of Magdela. This time around he is working with a rich text, a story that is viewed by some to be sacred interpreted writings, to some more as a metaphor, and others as complete fiction. I am a person who believes in the latter, that the bible is open for interpretation if you want to tell a story, about men that wrote words to live by. What we don't hear enough about, however, are the women of that time, and Mary Magdalene (played calmly by Rooney Mara) gives a beautiful depiction of this lone woman, who decided to follow Jesus Christ (Joaquin Phoenix) in delivering his word. Mary Magdalene is a quiet, reserved telling of the story of Jesus, his apostles that believed in him, and the revelation that behind every great man, is an even greater woman.  

Mary Magdalene

If you are going to tell this story again, there are certain things that you must get right and what I loved about this film was the locations and the last score for the late, great Johann Johannsson. Most of the interaction takes place among rocks, mountains, alongside rivers and plains. A time where civilization was bare, miserable in the surroundings of constant death, and starvation. With often gorgeous cinematography from Greig Fraser in settings that look like a version of heaven on earth, it makes things easy to engage with, witnessing fantastic actors, portraying characters whose stories we have become accustom to. If it were without all of these aesthetics, Mary Magdalene would fail miserably.

As for the story, the screenplay was written by Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett, where it begins with Mary (Mara), living in Magdala along side her family, and at the mercy of her father's offering of her hand in marriage to a local brut named Daniel (Denis Menochet). With her refusal, comes persecution from the zealots of the village, forcing Mary to run away from those who mistreat her. This leads her to the teachings of Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who speaks of a man, a great man, that he and many others follow. Soon, Mary will follow him as well, and we become present for her time spent with Jesus (Phoenix), starting with his healing of a blind woman, raising Lazarus from the dead, and his eventual crucifixion. The story is bleak and Mary has found both love and divine inspiration from Jesus.

I am completely aware of the various problems that this film has. To many it will just look like Rooney Mara playing a woman named Mary and Joaquin Phoenix pretending to be Jesus. That may be true, but their performances are still strong, while it is also a telling perception of those who believe in religion. Constantly we are told that Hollywood is elite or that Christian based movies are never given a place at the box-office, and yet here is a film with a beautiful interpretation, that has been buried by the studio, and will not be seen by those who cry foul. It seems that those who want their religious stories in movies, want it to deliver the message that they believe, or they want others to believe without asking questions. If you ask me, Mary Magdalene is one of the better films about faith in some time.

Over the past few years, movies such as Darren Aronofsky's Noah or Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings have brought us inspired and different tellings of our religious stories. You can add Mary Magdalene to that bundle. It is a film that has us walk with these people and gives Mary Magdalene the rightful attention that a woman of biblical times deserves. It wasn't till 2016 that the vatican acknowledged her existence among Jesus' apostles and I think it's time to acknowledge her at the movies. Garth Davis brings this story back into the light and made a very good film, whether you believe it..or not.


Written by: Leo Brady