'Mary Magdalene' Reviewers Say Movie Is 'Stretched,' 'Feminist Revision' of Biblical Story

Mary Magdalene
Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara Play Jesus and Mary in new "Mary Magdalene" film, 2018. |

"Mary Magdalene," a new film based on the biblical figure of the same name, was released in the U.K. Friday and reviewers describe it as a "stretched," "feminist revision" of the biblical account. 

Actress Rooney Mara plays the leading role of "Mary Magdalene" who's written about in the New Testament. Although not much is known about Mary's life before she became a follower of Jesus besides that she was, at one point, possessed by seven demons, Scripture does chronicle how Mary Magdalene and another woman discovered Christ's empty tomb and were charged with spreading the news of His resurrection.

Following its U.K. release, both faith-based and mainstream news outlets agree that the film isn't true to the Scripture. 

"It won't please everyone. Ultra-conservatives are sometimes iffy about any depiction of Jesus on screen at all. For the merely conservative, if He (Jesus) is portrayed, it all has to be ultra-reverential and hew slavishly to the text. This isn't that film. And secularists who want to 'demythologize' the story won't like it for the opposite reason  there are (understated) miracles, and there is a resurrection," Christian Today's reviewer reports.

If Christians aren't "afraid" of a "stretched" Bible telling then they might "appreciate [the] brilliant acting and a great script," the publication adds. 

The Independent shared a direct quote from the film that is contrary to what is said in Mark 16:9 which states that Jesus cleansed Mary Magdalene of "seven demons."

"There are no demons here," Joaquin Phoenix's Jesus mildly tells Rooney Mara's Mary Magdalene," the Independent reports. "The Christ of director Garth Davis' 'Mary Magdalene' doesn't exorcise her affliction, but lifts it like a loving psychiatrist. He sees no devils, only a woman misunderstood by her family.

"This feminist revision of Christianity's whore figure typifies one of the Christian story's most thoughtful telling."

And Variety described the film as an "ambitious sophomore slump" for Davis' second film.

"'Mary Magdalene' settles into a subdued, repetitive rhythm of timid spiritual inquiry and affirmation, the film's tasteful restraint often tipping over into outright inertia," Variety wrote. "But if the film's most modern coup is the feminist slant it brings to the 'Passion,' as it places worthy emphasis on the role of Mary and other women in protecting and advancing Christ's legacy, its unfailing reverence and good taste hold it back in that department too."

"Mary Magdalene," directed by Garth Davis ("Lion"), features a star-studded cast of Academy Award nominees including Joaquin Phoenix ("Gladiator"), Rooney Mara ("The Social Network") and Chiwetel Ejiofor ("12 Years a Slave") as Peter.

"Set in the Holy Land in the first century C.E., 'Mary Magdalene' [depicts] a young woman who leaves her small fishing village and traditional family behind to join a radical new social movement. At its head is a charismatic leader, Jesus of Nazareth, who promises that the world is changing. Mary is searching for a new way of living, and an authenticity that is denied her by the rigid hierarchies of the day. As the notoriety of the group spread and more are drawn to follow Jesus' inspirational message, Mary's spiritual journey places her at the heart of a story that will lead to the capital city of Jerusalem, where she must confront the reality of Jesus' destiny and her own place within it," the film's synopsis states. 

Around the third century, the controversial Gnostic Gospel of Philip slanderously claimed that Jesus and Mary had a romantic relationship, a notion that has been condemned and is not accepted as canonical by the Church.

Although Phoenix and Mara, who portray Jesus and Mary Magdalene, are dating, the film doesn't depict Jesus and Mary Magdalene as having a romantic relationship. 

"Mary Magdalene" will be in theaters worldwide before Easter.

Follow Jeannie Law on Twitter: @jlawcp

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