Mary Magdalene: Setting the record straight

March 16, 2018


Mary Magdalene (M)

Rating: 4 / 5 


Biblical biopics have always been popular, but Mary Magdalene is an eye-opener, because the protagonist is female and the familiar events of history are seen through her eyes.

The historic character of Mary Magdalene as a follower of Jesus Christ has had a chequered history, mostly with unproven implications that she was a repentant prostitute. 

After centuries of bad press, it wasn’t until June 2016 that Pope Francis declared Mary as ‘apostle of apostles’, thereby redeeming her undeserved reputation and recognising her as the equal of the other apostles.

Mary (Rooney Mara) lives in a fierce patriarchal society, where marriage and children are her lot in life. She makes the incredibly brave decision to leave a loving father and sisters to follow the charismatic Jesus of Nazareth (a rather too mature Joaquin Phoenix) and spread the word about the new Kingdom of God that he has promised his followers.

Although her presence draws mixed reactions from the other disciples, Jesus sees her talents and she is fully included in his ministry, including baptising new female converts.

While there is an obvious love of Mary for Jesus, it is that of a soulmate and devotee, not as a romantic partner, making it a fascinating relationship to observe. But Mary’s closeness to Jesus does draw resentment from the other disciples, especially Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor).

As Jesus’ ministry draws to its in­evi­­-ta­ble conclusion of his crucifixion. Mary’s loyalty and bravery never swerves—she is with him until the end and is the first person to witness his resurrection. Un­­like Judas (Tahar Rahim), whose rapt adoration turns to disappointment and betrayal when the promised new Kingdom isn’t happening fast enough. Rahim gives us quite a different Judas, a personable but flawed individual rather than a wicked traitor.

The cinematography is outstanding—the audience is taken on a real journey, not a Hollywood makeover. The collection of accents is a veritable United Nations, from the broad American twang of Jesus, to the marked European and North African accents of the various disciples. At 120 minutes, Mary Magdalene is too long and the pace does drag until the last gripping 30 minutes, but despite this it’s a fine movie that will keep you reliving it long after you have left the cinema. 


Highlight: Mesmerising performance from Rooney Mara and superb cinematography
Red flags: Violence and gory scenes


Tags: Salvation Army Australia

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