The kingdom, through Mary's eyes
A portrait of Mary Magdalene, one of the most enigmatic and misunderstood spiritual figures in history, hits UK cinemas this March
There are some people in the Bible whose stories we only glimpse. Their names get forgotten by history - or tradition fills in the gaps, eventually turning creative interpretation into accepted fact. Few figures in scripture, argue the makers of a new film, have been neglected and misunderstood like Mary Magdalene.
In 591, Pope Gregory claimed that Mary of Magdala was a prostitute - a misconception which has been widespread ever since.
‘I've always been very interested in the story of Jesus and felt that what happened to Mary Magdalene and her identity over the centuries was a travesty,’ says screenwriter Philippa Goslett, who co-wrote the script for Mary Magdalene. ‘Here was an opportunity to give a voice to someone who had been silenced for so long.’
The film imagines Mary (Rooney Mara) as a spiritual searcher out of step with her traditional community. Her family want her to make a good marriage - the only path open to a woman - but she knows this isn’t right for her. When a travelling preacher called Jesus of Nazareth (Joaquin Phoenix) comes to town, she decides to follow him, whatever the cost.
‘Most other films about Jesus are solely about him,’ reflects actress Rooney Mara. ‘In Mary Magdalene we still see all of the things that we're used to seeing in biblical films, but we see it through her eyes. And so we get to see it in a very different light.’
Through Mary’s eyes, the kingdom Jesus preaches looks truly surprising and radical. While his other disciples, including Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Judas (Tahar Rahim), assume that the ‘kingdom of God’ is about political power, Mary’s position on the margins of society helps her see the truth: that Jesus’s real message is one of sacrificial love.
Though a variety of rabbis, priests, Jewish historians, biblical scholars and archeologists consulted on Mary Magdalene, the filmmakers are clear that what they’ve made is intended as art, not a theological or historical text. Christians will find plenty in the film to debate over - but it’s unquestionably a powerful portrayal of how it might have felt for one woman to walk alongside God himself.
This article comes from Damaris Media, who create free film resources for churches and community groups. Mothers' Union and Damaris Media are partnering to create a free, official resource based on Mary Magdalene, in UK cinemas 16 March.
Find out more at damarismedia.com. If you want to get in touch and let us know how you’re using our resources, or to tell us what kind of resources would be helpful to you, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep up to date on the latest Damaris Media resources by subscribing to our e-newsletter at damarismedia.com.