Go

Mary Magdalene

Year: 2018
Production Co: See Saw Films
Director: Garth Davis
Writer: Helen Edmundson/Philippa Goslett
Cast: Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor

I heard a couple of reviews that called this dusty, stuffy and even boring – too genteel to really throw any philosophical cats amongst the pigeons of how history views Mary Magdalene.

I could see where the criticisms were coming from but I didn't dislike it that much, responding to it more as if it was a painting. It had a real fabric to it – you could feel the sand and rough, scratchy surfaces the clothes were made from – and also a lot of stillness, dignity and beauty. I think it might say more about today's movie audiences weaned on the teat of comic book movies, video games and switching between apps at the first sign of disengagement than any real fault in the movie itself.

Or maybe movies have just trained us to expect what Pauline Kael once described with the phrase 'kiss kiss, bang bang' – movement, passion and ferocity. Mary Magdalene has none of that, just thoughtful instrospection and a kind of drifting lilt. Just the kind of thing people seemed to hate about Terrence Malick's last few movies, in fact, but I don't think Mary Magdalene had too much of that at the expense of plot.

The story is about the young Mary (Rooney Mara) going about her life in the fields and fishing grounds, railing so gently against the strictures of first century Judaean society to get married it barely elicits more than a raised eyebrow.

She's aware of the prophet that's emerged in the area claiming to be the embodiment of God on Earth and when she meets him and hears him speak, sets about becoming one of his followers to help share his message of peace and acceptance.

And that's really it. Her fellow disciples receive her into their ranks to varying degrees of acceptance, making the film the feminist tract Mara promised while promoting it. In doing so it also tries to address what director Garth Davis and writers Helen Edmundson and Phillippa Goslet consider a historical inaccuracy, that the other disciples' rejection of Mary because of her gender was conflated throughout history right up to some Middle Ages Pope simply decided she was a prostitute.

But as this movie rightly points out (according to the New Testament history), she was the only witness among his disciples to Jesus' death, burial and resurrection, so seemed to have a special place among them.

And Jesus himself (Joaquin Phoenix, in one of the roles he seemed born to play) seems similarly aware of how special Mary is, affording her extra privilege to his ideas and sharing seemingly more of a personal bond than with the others. Phoenix plays the role like Mara plays Mary and the film itself unfurls – with a mood many will see as ineffectual, impenetrable and obscured but which I saw as gentle, loving and tactile.

Where Mel Gibson wanted to show the blood and brutality of this story and era in The Passion of the Christ, Davis is more interested in the soft-focus, muted sense of grace and contemplation.

© 2011-2018 Filmism.net. Site design and programming by psipublishinganddesign.com | adambraimbridge.com | humaan.com.au