This weekend’s conversation starter:
What under-the-radar film from recent years would you recommend? I’m thinking specifically about movies you wish more people had seen so that we — the big cultural We — could talk about it. Or even just so that you could talk to other movie fans about it.
My choice may be unexpected to longtime readers, who know I have little patience for religious movies: Mary Magdalene, released in the UK in 2018 and in the US in 2019. The film was delayed in the US because it was caught up in the collapse of The Weinstein Company, but I’m not sure it would have been widely welcomed anyway, because it is most definitely not like the sermonizing “faith-based” movies that tend to do well in America. As I said back in 2018, this film — starring Rooney Mara as the much maligned figure from the story of Jesus, and Joaquin Phoenix as the big guy himself — is a “fiercely feminist and proudly revisionist historical drama,” and:
a very humanist, very grounded take on [the Jesus story]… The script… lends no sense of grand portent to the story: no one here has any idea that the future is watching, which is as it should be yet isn’t a quality that most Bible movies embrace. (The name “Jesus” isn’t even mentioned at all until quite far into the film, long after we’ve actually met him, when Mary does. He’s merely “the healer” or “the rabbi.” We understand why so many people are in love with him, but it’s not because of the dogwhistle his name has become today.)
And why do I wish more people had seen it? Also from my review:
Mary Magdalene also offers a powerful and much-needed rebuke to how modern Christianity has strayed far from the messages of its roots. Whether you’re a believer or not — and I certainly am not — there is no denying that the story of Jesus is a foundational one for our culture, one that has had and continues to have an enormous impact on all of us, of all faiths and of none. And the way it is being used today, especially but not only in America, as a way to bully and shame, as a stamp of approval to get rich and ignore the poor– oof. It’s not only that the Jesus of this movie — a rabble-rousing, anti-establishment hippie — would not approve, though he wouldn’t. Mary Magdalene also suggests that because Mary’s gospel was sidelined — oh, how Peter here scoffs at her presence among the Apostles, at her influence on Jesus, on her audacity to contradict Peter’s way of carrying on Jesus’ teachings — Christianity went down a twisted path that Jesus absolutely did not intend, and would not like. Mary — a woman! — was a true prophet of Jesus, Mary Magdalene would like us to know. Maybe the only one.
So many people need to hear this message.
(I’m reviving my “questions” posts — just on a weekend basis — as an experiment, to see if there’s any interest in them. I’m also posting these as free posts at Substack or Patreon. You don’t need to be a paying subscriber at either service if you’d prefer to comment at either of them, but you will need to register with either site to comment.)