Risen (Reynolds, 2016)

The story of Christ’s resurrection is perhaps the best-known of history: mankind crucified the Son of God, and, on the third day, He rose again in accordance with the Scripture.

Usually, the Resurrection story is presented as the joyous fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation and new life in Christ. Yet, Affirm Films’ Risen tells the story differently from what most of us have heard in church. Director Kevin Reynolds leads the film down a different path from what audience’s have walked before. Rather than walking in the footsteps of Jesus, we witness the incredible resurrection journey by a Roman soldier, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes). The movie adopts an action-packed “detective story” tone as Clavius searches for the body of Christ so that he can prove that Jesus is not the Son of God. In this detective story, the protagonist discovers faith in God and comes to realize his error. Even if you’ve already screened the film, the extra features on the DVD will add to your understanding of the film’s theme and the character Clavius, so that you too can learn something about yourself and even God.

What exactly makes a movie an action/adventure film? Well, one of the opening scenes is a raging battle between the Roman soldiers and the Zealots. The blood and gore does not end there but continues throughout the movie. In the special features, “Making Risen,” the producers and director state that they wanted the film to be a “detective story” about the Resurrection because it would be a new—but still loyal—take on the Biblical story. So after taking part in this fast-paced manhunt, you can watch the bonus features and understand the reasoning behind the specific direction.

The movie is not only filled with sword fights and disciple chases that make our hearts race; the big action is balanced by the devil in the details. Instead of trying to compete with other action movies by creating over-the-top bloody battles, Risen focuses its attention on small moments so tense they’re impossible to forget. During the  crucifixion scene, the sound of the hanging men’s legs being broken will make you cringe. Right after that, you hear the sound of a spear piercing Jesus’ side, along with His muffled last breath. After death, the crucified men are callously cut loose from their crosses; they are then rolled into a pit with decomposing corpses. The gruesome scenes are not meant gratuitously, as we learn in the extra features. The movie creators explain that they wanted the crucifixion to be a moving, powerful scene. The scene purposefully causes you to feel sickened and maybe even guilty. We witness Christ’s death almost as complicit bystanders. The creators of Risen use Clavius as an every man vehicle who, by extension, causes us to experience the horror of the crucifixion as well. The commentary within the extra features adds to our understanding of the film and its intentions.

Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) watches from a distance as the apostles rest while crossing the desert in Columbia Pictures' RISEN.
Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) watches from a distance as the apostles rest while crossing the desert in Columbia Pictures’ RISEN.

The depth of Clavius’ character captivates our attention just as much as the action-packed plot. In the “Script to Scene” bonus feature, the makers share that they wanted their protagonist to be empathetic, and they think that viewers will care how Clavius thinks and feels. You get a nice look into Clavius’ head when you see him at a Roman funeral; this scene lets us know that Clavius respects the dead, which leads us to question how he must have felt when he had to exhume several Christian bodies to try to find Christ’s body. Another good glimpse into Clavius’ character is when he prays to a Roman god for help to find Christ’s missing body. Clavius believes—and has for his whole life—the antithesis of Christianity (an idea of a one and true God); therefore, we want to know how Clavius adjusts as his faith becomes more and more conflicted. In short, you might buy the DVD because you want to see some fights scenes, but you get treated to some character depth too.

Not only can we recognize the complexity in Clavius’ character, but we can also see him grow. After Clavius discovers that Christ is risen, a whole new adventure starts. Clavius joins the disciples as they travel to Galilee to meet with Jesus. They befriend him, and there is a touching scene where he eats with them by the fire. All the while, Clavius realizes that the faith and convictions he previously held were wrong. In a dramatic scene between Christ and Clavius, Christ asks Clavius, “What frightens you?” and Clavius responds with, “Being wrong.” If Clavius were not an empathetic character in the beginning, he certainly becomes one by the end. We all relate to the struggle to admit that we are wrong, and, for many of us, what keeps us from fully believing in Christ is the fear of being wrong. The movie started out as an action-driven adventure and ends as a deep reflection of fear, failure, and human nature.

Risen’s fight sequences may make you jump out of your seat and the gruesomeness may make your skin crawl, but Clavius’s realization of Christ’s true identity will hopefully make your heart skip a beat. The film gives us an account of the most important manhunt in history, which culminates with a man’s conversion and acceptance of Christ. The DVD’s bonus features provide a look into the creators’ minds and a better understanding of their fresh take on the greatest story ever told.

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