Mary Magdalene (2019)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Garth Davis
Run Time
2 hours

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out;  Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
Luke 8:1-3
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved,and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
John 20:1-2
Jesus baptizes Mary Magdalene     (c) IFC Films

For believers there is good news and bad news in Australian director Garth Davis’s new film. (He gave us Lion a couple of years ago). The good news is that the misconception held by most Christians since Pope Gregory in 591 is corrected in this story. In virtually every Jesus film the makers have repeated Pope Gregory’s error of identifying the woman called a “sinner” in the synoptic gospels (but not named) with Mary Magdalene in John’s gospel as one and the same because in all four versions of the story the women washed Jesus’ feet with their hair.*

Davis’s Mary Magdalene (Rooney Mara) is a proto-feminist with a mind of her own who rejects her father’s attempt to marry her off. In her resistance she loses her mind and is forcibly seized by her brother who attempts to perform an exorcism on her. Later she joins the itinerant preacher whom she had briefly encountered before. Her family rushes after them, her angry brother trying to grab her, but he is prevented from doing so, watching helplessly as she walks away with the small band that have gathered around Jesus.

Mary is never integrated into the group because of their hostility toward her, taking their cue from Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Other than Jesus it is Judas (Tahar Rahim) who speaks to and encourages her. She is shown baptizing several persons, as do the other disciples, but we do not see the other women mentioned by Luke as the ones who looked after the disciples’ physical needs, nor does she herself prepare any of the group’s meals. She does sit at the table in the Upper Room, accompanies the others to Gethsemane, watches at the cross (the trial before the Sanhedrin, the appearance before Pilate and the scourging are skipped over), and encounters the resurrected Christ on Sunday. However, she does not mistake Jesus for the gardener. There are lots of other non-Biblical incidents, including her Easter morning arguing with the disciples who still cling to their belief in a political kingdom.

The above loose adaptation by scriptwriters Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett of the gospel accounts of Jesus life is the bad news. And there’s more. There are no parables and only an occasional miracle, and the story of the raising of Lazarus is far from the way that John tells it in his gospel. Jesus, as portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, when he does speak or argue, sounds more like one of Dr. Phil’s guests than the Galilean depicted in the four gospels. An example is his challenge to a crowd of women, “Will you align yourself to the will of God, until every act of love, every thought of care, every breath is taken in union. That is faith….which will lead you to the kingdom of God.” Good content, but Jesus’ message in the gospels was not that we are led to the kingdom, but that it is coming to us—”The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

The scriptwriters join the makers of a couple of other recent Jesus films in their depiction of Judas as well-meaning in his betrayal of Christ. It is not for money that he betrays his master. Rather, he hopes that when confronted by the Romans, Jesus will have to defend himself and fight for the kingdom. Thus he is no thief, as claimed by John in his gospel.

There are many good scenes—such as when a crowd swarms around Jesus, who has healed a blind woman, because people want to touch him, thus creating a dangerous situation. The hysteria of the crowd is well communicated, with people pushing and being shoved in their frenzy.

Also, many will appreciate the film’s feminist emphasis, especially evident when Jesus addresses a group of women in Cana who say that their lives are not their own, to which Jesus says their spirits are theirs. A woman speaks of a woman caught in adultery who was punished by drowning, and the conversation moves to forgiveness lest, he warns, hate consumes them.

One factor that might be distracting at first is the color-blind casting. Mention has already been made of Chiwetel Ejiofor as playing Peter. Other African American faces can be seen, both in the crowds and among the followers of Jesus.

This will not be a film, like the Visual Bible’s The Gospel According to Matthew, useful in teaching the Life of Christ because its authors disregard so many of the gospel details. But for those wanting to discuss patriarchy and the subjugation of women, as well as their appropriate role in the church, this is the film. Indeed, I would urge you to watch and reflect upon it. In Mary’s final encounter with Peter, the “Rock” asserts his authority, and his long smoldering resentment against Mary breaks out as an accusation, “You weakened him – you weakened us.” In effect ejected from the band of male disciples, Mary returns to the tomb where Jesus is still sitting, and then she joins a group of women in the city that includes Jesus’ mother. Is it right to infer from Peter’s words that he was a part of the suppression of Mary Magdalene’s apostleship?

I am looking forward to seeing the film in a theater because with my hearing impairment I missed a lot of the dialogue (the women’s voices are so soft, and the music at times overpowers the words), so come back again, as I probably will be adding to this review. I will wait until the May issue to produce a discussion guide.

* For the four versions of the story of the woman who washed Jesus feet see: Matt. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; and John 12:1-8.

This review will be in the April issue of VP, but a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion will not be ready until the May issue. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.

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