That would be the expression on my face too if I had just signed-on to play Jesus Christ in a biopic of Mary Magdalene. You see, historically, movies about Jesus Christ are almost always destined to be failures. That doesn’t stop the Hollywood Powers That Be from trying, but at the end of the day, if yo look at the track record of Jesus-themed films that have been made, it’s not been a particularly successful theme (what was that sound? Lightning!?).
According to the entertainment gossip jungle drums of the internet, the film is set to star Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus Christ. The film is set to be directed by Garth Davis, and is being touted as one of the “truest: cinematic portrayals of Mary Magdalene ever.
It is set to be an authentic and humanistic portrait of one of the most enigmatic and misunderstood spiritual figures in history
Not sure about this one on several fronts. first of all, it’s painting with a pretty wide brush to call anything that has been gleaned from the Bible, or any other religious text as “true” or “historical”. True to the text, perhaps, but religious texts are collections of stories that have been handed down via the oral tradition….while there are certain historical clues that still exist in the world, it’s kind of a rich to call this one a “true historical account”…and that, I believe, is where this film is going to run into trouble.
Religion is a personal endeavor. Every person talks to their God(s) in his or her own way, and I think it is that very reason why movies about religious figures, in particular those who claim to be the “truest” or the “most historically accurate” tend to be flops. People who talk to their God(s) already have a pretty well-formed idea of what he or she might look like, how they interact with people, and how their relationship may or may not have been with the other figures in the stories that are so interwoven into the narrative of modern life. Hell, I’m not even a Christian and my first reaction to this was “Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene!? Really!?”
Why is that? Because even though I don’t practice Christianity, I still know the stories, and I already have a fully-formed idea of what Mary Magdalene looks like in my head (hint: it is not the sort of gothic, skin and bones aesthetic that Mara has, however beautiful she may be.) I see Mara as Persephone, Queen of the Underworld, or perhaps Lilith, a female demon found predominantly in Jewish mythology. This is likely a direct effect of her stunning turn as Lisbeth Salander in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, as well as her red carpet aesthetic of always wearing black or white, ad leaving her skin as pale as pale can be. It’s just a perception thing. Can actors transform? Sure they can, and both Phoenix and Mara are exceptional actors, and would/will likely do just that. However, you still have to get people in the front door.
The other issue I see with this film, like all those of this ilk that came before it, is that the Society For the Pedantic Picking-Apart of Absolutely Everything in Great Detail that May or May Not Have Happened in the Bible will likely be pretty quick out of the gate to correct Hollywood’s “historical accuracies” that they’re so proud to be boasting of right now. Let’s face it, there has never been a film, even one that is based on true events (as opposed to the written word, which is what we’re dealing with here), where Hollywood hasn’t added a little tweak here, a (much younger than the guy) love interest there…it will be impossible for them not to embellish, and there will be those who have a problem with Hollywood messing with “their ” Bible. I’m actually kind of surprised that it hasn’t happened already, but it’s early days yet. Give it a week or so. Make no mistake, Jesus has superfans, and they’re gonna be pissed-off.
On the subject of director Davis’ “true cinematic portrayal”, one thing that sort of bothered me…and again, I’m surprised that nobody has brought it up, 2000 years ago in the Middle East, Jesus would have looked Middle-Eastern. Scholars have often said that Jesus would most likely have looked like a black Egyptian. Phoenix, as you are aware, is a white guy. Am I the only person who finds it ironic that yet another whitewashed portrayal of Christ is being sold to us as “authentic?”
Maybe by “true portrayal”, Davis simply meant that everyone in the film would be wearing sandals. Yes, that must be it. I don’t need my crystal scrying ball to tell you that I foresee a bit of a kerfuffle in the not so distant future about this one.
Watch this space.