““If there’s a demon in me, it’s always been there. I wish there was a demon…” – Rooney Mara, Mary Magdalene
In the first century, free-spirited Mary Magdalene (Rooney Mara) flees the marriage her family has arranged for her, finding refuge and a sense of purpose in a radical new movement led by the charismatic, rabble-rousing preacher named Jesus (Joaquin Phoenix). The sole woman among his band of disciples, Mary defies the prejudices of a patriarchal society as she undergoes a profound spiritual awakening and finds herself at the center of an Earth-shaking historical moment.
While there have been many retellings of the Crucifixion of Christ over the decades, this film sets itself apart due to the perspective from which the story is being told. Directed by Oscar-nominated director Garth Davis (Lion) and written by Helen Edmondson and Philippa Goslet, Mary Magdalenetells the story of the Jesus Christ through the eyes of one of the more famous women in his life. Mary Magdalene, who receives her ‘last name’ due to the Magdala region in which she lives, is known as one of the central figures in the life of Christ due to her commitment to him throughout his darkest hour. Often a side character in other Christ narratives, she is front and centre in this version as a woman of courage and mercy in the midst of oppression.
Having been taught her entire life that she is secondary to her husband and unfit for her own active faith, Mary feels trapped by a culture that doesn’t value her as a person. “I’m not as I’m supposed to be,” she aches, searching for hope. However, through her relationship with Jesus, she begins to experience what it means to be empowered with equality and grace, despite how others choose to view her. Bringing an inner strength to her character, Mara gives reverence to the film and anchors it emotionally.
While people have suggested for centuries that some form of romantic relationship may have occurred between Mary and Jesus, Mary Magdalenereveals the nature of that love to be one rooted in mutual respect and admiration. Though some depictions of Jesus have emphasized his kindness or rebellious teaching, Mary Magdaleneportrays him as one who seeks to empower those who lack hope, especially women. There is an equality inherent to his character in this film that challenges social and political boundaries in a masculine-dominated culture (even amidst his own disciples). He teaches a Kingdom that isn’t built upon power and control but redemption and forgiveness. (“The Kingdom is not something we can see with our eyes… It is within us…,” Mary beams.)
However, as the title suggests, the real focus of this film is Mary herself. As one of the disciples, she also becomes one who best exemplifies the teachings of Christ to the others (Peter, in particular). In the end, although Jesus is the light of the story, Mary is the one who reflects that light onto others.
Mary Magdalene tells her side of the story in theatres on Friday, April 12th.