Where’s the body? Everyone saw him die. The body was put in a tomb; a tomb that was sealed, no less. The problem is now that tomb is empty, and there are some who say he’s risen from the dead. The facts are clear; the man was dead, he was buried in the tomb, and now the tomb is empty. So what is the real answer? Why is the tomb empty? Was it some elaborate plot to help perpetuate a movement? Was it some sort of grand hoax? Or could have the man in that tomb really walked out; alive? That’s the challenge facing one Roman Tribune Clavius as he’s tasked by Pilate to get to the bottom of one of the most spectacular, and most debated, events in history.
As you may have guessed, Risen deals with the aftermath of Jesus’ resurrection, but what makes it so fascinating is how it decides to explore that event. Clavius gives us a chance to view it through the eyes of a pragmatist; someone who is simply trying to do their job. As he investigates the tomb, questions the soldiers who were guarding the tomb, interrogates those who would claim that this Yeshua is alive, he struggles to put the facts together in such a way that leads to a conclusion that he can accept and understand. How does one reconcile two things that are irreconcilable? At one point, someone suggest that perhaps the story of this man rising from the grave could be true, Clavius grimaces and, somewhat cynically at that point, states, “What else could it be?”
What else, indeed. What Clavius eventually discovers and experiences I’ll leave you to find out by watching this excellent film for yourself, for it is his journey that makes this story so compelling. Eventually, though, when someone asks what he believes about all he encounters, Clavius answers by stating, “I believe…that I can never be the same.” It’s a powerful statement that reveals exactly what an encounter with Jesus can do to a person. When one truly investigates who he was, what he said, and what he did, the result is that person can never truly be the same again. Now, some might decry the fact that Clavius doesn’t say the sinner’s prayer or become a disciple, but I think his conclusion is perhaps more honest. Not everyone who encounters Jesus, no matter how radical that encounter may be, always chooses to believe and follow; but they also can’t ever truly be the same again. Jesus always changes people, which is perhaps why some are so fearful of ever having an honest and true encounter with him in the first place. It’s also why at times some people would just as soon avoid or marginalize those of us who have had that encounter (and who are willing to tell others about it).
As intriguing as the premise and the story is, it wouldn’t mean much if it wasn’t told well. My biggest concern going into the movie was that it would another low quality, slightly cheesy “Bible movie.” However, despite the clearly limited budget, Risen is actually a high-quality film. The cast is uniformly outstanding, the direction is confident and does a lot with very little when it comes to establishing a strong sense of location without ever really showing much (a fine cinematic trick), the writing is smart, the music avoids melodrama, all of which results in a high-quality, enjoyable film regardless of the subject matter. In fact, the only major issue I had with the film is that our protagonist goes from instigator, one who’s making things happen, in the first part of the film to just an observer in the second half.
Far too often “Christian” movies are dismissed because of their obvious low quality (and admittedly, I have done some of that dismissing), in the case of Risen, however, it will be much more difficult for skeptics to write it off on that characteristic alone. What’s more, it’s thought-provoking in all the right ways. It gets the viewer to think about what it would be like to see these events unfold, and to perhaps view some rather familiar sections of scripture in a new way (that’s assuming one can get past how “biblically accurate” everything is or is “supposed” to be).
Personally, I found Risen to be one of the more intriguing films I’ve seen this year. Despite knowing the answers, I found the investigation to what happened at the tomb to be fascinating and even tense at times. I loved the fact that this movie got me thinking about how I pictured all of this unfolding when I read those (perhaps overly) familiar passages of scripture. Far too often, these types of films prove to be a disappointment (like The Nativity), so it’s always refreshing to find one that not only meets, but even exceeds expectations. Look, just go see Risen, and tell me it doesn’t get you thinking about the greatest events in all of history from a different perspective.
Score: 6 of 7 – Risen is a compelling look at the resurrection that’s told from a different perspective that’s challenging, thought-provoking and quite fascinating.