Risen is a 2016 film starring Joseph Fiennes and Tom Felton that tells the story of a fictional Roman tribune, Clavius, who is tasked with finding the body of Jesus after it has apparently been taken from the tomb.

The Good

  • The narrative angle was new and refreshing. I appreciated that they decided to explore the aftermath of the Resurrection instead of the typical storyline. Most other such movies end at the cross and/or at the Resurrection, but this one picks up at the crucifixion (when Clavius first sees Jesus, it’s at the cross) and goes from there.
  • Telling the story from a Roman soldier’s point-of-view was also a good choice. Again, it was refreshing. Framing it as a bit of a detective story worked too, because it provides a way to present different opinions of Jesus without seeming forced. Clavius needs to find the body of Jesus, and he needs to find it fast, so his troops round up suspicious people and he questions them.
  • Distinctly less violent than The Passion of the Christ. The most violence was at the very beginning where Clavius is shown in battle with his troops, and at the crucifixion (or rather, right after it). Even then it was more restrained than anything in The Passion.
  • They managed to insert little bits of humour. The running gag of Clavius perpetually being summoned by Pilate was a good one. Poor Clavius gets no peace. heh The disciple Bartholomew (one of two disciples to get significant screentime; the other was Simon Peter) was portrayed as light-hearted and a little naive, which I thought was nice. The general depiction of all the disciples tends to be very serious and sombre. Surely they can’t all have been like that! So yes, I did like having a different take on the disciples.
  • I can’t recall any theological travesties off the top of my head. There probably weren’t any (or the movie wouldn’t have been screened at church, haha).
  • I really liked the very minor characters of the centurion who’s at the crucifixion, and his two underlings who are later assigned to guard the tomb. It’s suggested that the centurion was very troubled by the whole thing – his men tell Clavius that he hasn’t been the same ever since. And the two legionnaries, bribed by the Sanhedrin to lie about what happened at the tomb, don’t seem very happy after it; one of them appears to be rather traumatised because he can’t understand what happened at the tomb.
    I felt these were angles that most of us Christians really don’t think about at all. How did the Roman soldiers at the crucifixion feel about it? What did they think? The Bible shows that even Pilate wasn’t altogether keen on crucifying Jesus, which is why he basically put it up for a vote – who would go free, Jesus or Barabbas? And the people chose Barrabas. And yes, the guards at the tomb – what of them? How did they feel after that?

The Not-so-good

  • In the opening sequence, Clavius is leading his troops to quell some rebels, and he ends up killing a man who killed one of his soldiers. The man’s name was Barabbas. Barabbas? Did they mean for that to be Barabbas the murderer? That choice puzzled me. There was no point in having him called Barabbas. The character hardly needed a name at all…
  • Not sure the chase sequence towards the end was necessary. But I guess they felt the need for some dramatic tension there.
  • The ending was so predictable and at the same time we’re left hanging with regards to Clavius. I keep wondering if it could have worked – or worked better – if Clavius was still uncertain at the end. The way the story went, he becomes a believer at the end but he has also left the Roman army and is basically wandering about on his own now. How is he supposed to survive that way??
    Could the movie have had more impact if he hadn’t deserted the army to travel with the disciples? Or if he somehow returned to his post after his experiences with the disciples and with Jesus? Maybe. I kind of wish the latter had happened – that he returns to his post, either now a believer or not yet one but with a good deal of curiosity and questions still. But if that ambiguity had been in the ending, I suppose the intended audience for the movie wouldn’t have liked it as much.

Rating: ★★★½

Because I appreciate the new approach to the story of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

Got anything to add or say? :D