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Here’s what I thought of the Mary Magdalene movie

Mary Magdalene movie review

I saw the Mary Magdalene movie tonight and a few people have asked what I thought of it. So I’ve written this brief review.

Even though I took into account that playing the part of Jesus is a difficult role, I was disappointed. Jesus is depicted as flakey, unsociable, and pessimistic and, apart from an excerpt of the Lord’s prayer (with my prefered “tomorrow’s bread” translation), Jesus barely says anything that is reminiscent of his words recorded in the canonical Gospels. I have no idea what he was going on about in his first speech in the movie. His dialogue is utterly uninspiring. Also, unless I missed it, there’s no hint that Jesus is the Son of God or divine, but he is portrayed as a healer.

The casting and characterisations were not well done. For example, Mary Magdalene is depicted as young and inexperienced, and, unlike the real Mary, not as an independently wealthy woman who financially supported Jesus’ mission (cf. Luke 8:1-3). And the actress who played Jesus’ mother is too old. Some of the actors playing the Twelve are too old also. Jesus’ real disciples would have been, most probably, all young men. (Think of the age of students.) Not to mention that Joaquín Phoenix, at 43, is about 10 years older than Jesus was when he was crucified. And only a few of the actors look ethnically Jewish, though there was an attempt to sound “Jewish”.

Perhaps not surprisingly considering the title, Mary Magdalene is the central character of the movie, but it is at the expense of the male disciples, and even of Jesus, whose characters are wishy-washy and unappealing. Mary is the heroine. She is the one who understands and keeps the faith. Of the male disciples, Judas is the most likeable. Simply because he’s the only character who is cheerful and has some verve.

Thankfully, the movie does not portray Jesus and Mary Magdalene as husband and wife, or as lovers. And thankfully, it doesn’t portray Mary as a penitent prostitute. On the other hand, early in the movie, “Jesus” contradicts what the Gospel of Luke says, that Mary had seven demons (Luke 8:2).

There were some slightly odd things in the story, such as men and women sitting separately in the synagogue, and Peter and Jesus baptising new disciples. But there were even more very odd things, like the “cave of the dead” scene. And I was horrified that a woman was told by “Jesus” that she needed to forgive the men who had raped and murdered a woman in her village. Why on earth did they stick that in the movie?! What were the script-writers thinking?

As I was watching the movie, I was wondering how the script-writers were going to tell the story of Mary Magdalene being the first person to see the risen Lord, as there are minor variations in the Gospel accounts concerning this. The solution was to come up with a couple of scenes that bear no resemblance to the Gospel accounts. It is even unclear in the movie that Jesus really has risen from death; it could be understood that Mary is, instead, seeing visions of the post-crucifixion Jesus that only she can see. (After the mercifully short crucifixion scene, Jesus only appears to Mary in the movie, twice, not to the male disciples, not to anyone else.)

The major characters, the setting, and the bare outline of the movie’s story come from the four Gospels of the Bible, but there are also strong allusions to the non-canonical Gospels of Thomas, of Mary, and of Judas. And, apart from the Lord’s Prayer and a reference to the temple being called “a house of prayer”, the dialogue is, disappointingly, all made up. The dialogue is also unnaturally sparse.

In the movie’s favour is the scenery. The movie is visually impressive and beautiful to look at. And the ancient city of Jerusalem, with its temple, looks suitably imposing and real enough.

Some other pluses: I thought the character of Jesus was introduced slowly and cleverly. I liked Mary’s water-dream scenes, though it wasn’t clear what they symbolised. The attempted exorcism was interesting. The shame her family experienced because of Mary leaving to follow Jesus was expressed well. But I was hoping they would do more with the idea that Mary had a compassionate, healing nature exhibited in a confronting childbirth scene and in the “cave of the dead” scene.

I don’t recommend this movie. The script and characterisations are awful, even if the acting and scenery aren’t. Overall, the storyline is vague, dull and unedifying. The music score adds to the depressing and lethargic tone. There is no joy in the movie and it was hard to sit through. Sadly, Mary Magdalene’s story was not told.

Related Articles

Who was Mary the Magdalene?
Jesus had many female followers—many!
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13 thoughts on “Here’s what I thought of the Mary Magdalene movie

  1. Thank you, Marg, for your insights into the movie Mary Magdelene. Disappointing but not surprising that there is nothing redemptive in the script. If you have the time, your overview of my son’s movie “Undeserved” would be very much appreciated. This movie is currently available on Amazon Prime and christiancinema.com. “Undeserved” is a low budget film written and directed by Marc Steele and produced in Portland, Oregon. It is Marc’s fist faith-based film and is currently being translated into Spanish and German.

      1. Yes, you found the correct movie. Thanks.

  2. Thanks Marg,
    It seems clear to me and apparently to you (because of the Holy Spirit’s guidance) that the spiritual evil in this world (satan) is working overtime to distort the true character of Jesus (as described in the Bible) and making Christianity seem boring and irrelevant. It’s a more subtle form of an attack on the faith, so that anyone who would see this movie would walk away with no desire to know Jesus and no real understanding of truth. But if people will open their hearts and minds to the risen Lord and invite Him into every aspect of their lives. Read the scriptures regularly (listen to God), and pray frequently (talk to God) in other words, have a real and meaningful relationship with God. Then He will give them love, hope, joy, purpose, guidance and peace in this life. Thanks for the great review, I always enjoy your articles.

    1. I personally don’t think the movie with its mediocre and distorted picture of Jesus will have much of an influence. At least I hope not.

      Thanks for your kind words, Nick.

  3. Thanks Marg,

    That is disappointing, what an opportunity wasted, it could have been so good.
    Ah well I am glad to have read your critique.

    All the best,

  4. Also Centre for Public Christianity has some interesting critiques on the Biblical Films on offer including Mary Magdalene.

    1. I read Justine Toh’s (senior research fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity) review of the film, but I didn’t find that Jesus’s radical treatment of women, which she mentions in the review, was highlighted in the movie to a significant extent. Or perhaps, I’m just used to the way Jesus treats women and it didn’t make an impression on me while watching the movie.


  5. Larry Hurtado, a top New Testament scholar, has written an excellent review of Mary Magdalene. I love this phrase he uses about the spirituality of Mary and Jesus depicted in the movie, that it is a “kind of mindfulness in lieu of messianism.”


  6. I’m not sure why films allegedly about faith-based subjects can’t seem to put it together. Either there’s great acting and scenery OR accuracy. Seldom both.


  7. Hey Tony, $50 m was a tongue-in-cheek remark, but think of the possibilities if we were able to raise the cash as a coalition of independents–people who are concerned about Bible accuracy as well as art–it would be interesting to see the effect on audiences. I have always kept an eye on this, wishing we could do a better job.

    I’ve also cultivated friendships with several professional filmmakers, just in case, one day…

  8. Thanks for the review. This film is based on the Gnostic Gospel of Mary, so there are a number of Gnostic influences that shape the overall feel and tone of the film. It’s trying to bring out that perspective, and I think the director and writers were more interested in telling that story than a traditional gospel story. On the one hand, the film is an advancement in terms of breaking away from the wrongly-held and unbiblical view that Mary was a prostitute, which nearly every other Hollywood movie portrays her as. On the other hand, it goes off on its own tangent and makes it more about Mary being the main disciple while the twelve are seen as both secondary and somewhat jealous of her. So it’s kind of two steps forward but one step back (I wouldn’t say it’s one step forward and two back though).

    I have yet to see a straight up traditional gospel story that manages to be more balanced in its view of Mary Magdalene. I want to see her as the former demoniac but also effectively a disciple in her own right as with the other women who followed Jesus from Galilee. But these should not be in competition with the Twelve. They should just be like how we have both male and female disciples in the modern church today who are equal in the Kingdom of God and able to pray for others, minister to others, provide help for others etc. I think that would be as much as they would need to show of Mary M without having to make her a rival to Simon Peter or still almost making her the Beloved Disciple as the DaVinci Code hints at.

    1. I’d love to see a fully rounded and, at least, a somewhat biblically accurate portrayal of Mary Magdalene. She is a very interesting person.

      “. . . like how we have both male and female disciples in the modern church today who are equal in the Kingdom of God and able to pray for others, minister to others, provide help for others etc.”
      I wish this was indeed the case in the modern church. This is my prayer for the church.

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