Mary Magdalene


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Mary Magdalene
"She won't marry. She refuses. Is she lesbian? Hey, that's an idea. Let's investigate."

There are so many good things about Garth Davis' re-evaluation of the woman, criticised all these years for dubious immoral behaviour, who saw salvation in the carpenter's eyes and hung around in the wake of the apostles like a groupie.

Was there more to this? Or to her? A relationship? Jesus' sexual orientation has been discussed ad infinitum at Christian Aid coffee mornings, TV brains trusts and student pubs. No one knows. Was there a son of The Son Of God?

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Stop it! Mary Magdalene, the movie, is not a kiss-and-tell. It feels like a feminist lesson in freedom for the sisterhood. Mary comes from the simplest rural background where "mod cons" is interpreted as "eh?" and family honour is the tie that binds and arranged marriages are paid for with livestock. Men do the talking and just about everything else except physical work. That's the women's bit.

"Our lives are not our own," Mary says.

She won't marry. She refuses. Is she lesbian? Hey, that's an idea. Let's investigate.

No, let's not because the man they call The Rabbi happens by. He is ducking people in the lake in the name of John (the Baptist who was murdered by puppet king Herod). He is from Nazareth, this preacher with the soft voice. His name is Jesus. They say he is The Messiah. At that time the Jews were suffering under Roman occupation, paying crippling taxes and cruel oppression, desperate for a saviour, anyone with a plan or a message of hope.

What Aussie director Davis has achieved here, better than Scorsese (The Last Temptation Of Christ), better than Pasolini (The Gospel According To St Matthew), better than George Stevens (The Greatest Story Ever Told) is to landscape the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem and give credence to the bones of the biblical fable. He avoids the classical speeches and trademark legends, although includes the scene at the temple when Jesus overturns the money lenders' benches. Also, he makes a couple of miracles appear almost believable and the cry of "The Kingdom!" from loyal supporters sounds like that of a modern cult.

Isn't this Mary's movie? Well, yes, but...she's not here. She is, of course, but not at the same time. Is that possible?

Rooney Mara has skin as smooth as a television commercial, with a hint of lip gloss and the full flow of raven black hair, freshly washed. Her performance is intense without being attuned to the rocky wild places where the film is shot. Mary is The Witness. That is her role. When she sits beside Christ at the last supper it feels fine, despite Peter's opposition ("You weakened us; you weakened him"), and not necessarily the act of a wife.

The film belongs to Joaquin Phoenix's Jesus. He has captured the radiance, the humility, the purveyor of the faith with such understanding it feels weathered in truth, not applauded as an actor's interpretation.

Reviewed on: 10 Mar 2018
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An interpretation of the Biblical story of the woman who travelled with Jesus.

Read more Mary Magdalene reviews:

Jane Fae **1/2

Director: Garth Davis

Writer: Helen Edmundson, Philippa Goslett

Starring: Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tahar Rahim, Ariane Labed, Denis Ménochet

Year: 2018

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK, Australia


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