Edinburgh Cinema

Edinburgh’s cinemas have their own, different feel. When I visit them, I’ll be writing about both the film and the place, giving you the organic experience. Film critics on the big scale can’t really cater for this, so I hope my reviews bring something extra in this respect.

Mary Magdalene

mary-magdalene-1

Mary Magdalene

With mainstream films about Jesus, there's usually a fault line to contend with, between faith and secular interpretations: do you treat Jesus as a secular, historical figure, or the Son of God? Do you show the miracles as real? Or go for ambiguity, showing just enough for an open interpretation to satisfy different audiences? These are no small questions, of course: the legitimacy of Christ for most, if not all Christians (and indeed, Muslims), is that he possessed powers that were beyond human – proof that he was sent by God. Anything less than this, and you miss the point of Jesus. Equally, though, for the non-Christian (majority?) audience, to keep the miracles is arguably to make Jesus a figure you can't believe in or relate to, historically. Perhaps most significantly from a character and story-telling point of view, Jesus is a symbol of purity and goodness. How can one relate to someone who is perfection, in terms of narrative arc?

It's a balancing act that the film Mary Magdalene pulls off impressively, nevertheless. Set on the rugged coastline of Judea, and later the labyrinthine shadows of Jerusalem, the locations feel beautifully authentic. An excellent cast, meanwhile, with Rooney Mara on top form as Mary of Magdala, elicits both sympathy and fascination. Mara's central performance is credible as the enigmatic single woman unable to countenance an arranged marriage and family life while other, spiritual issues plague her. With overtones of a witch trial, Mary is even dragged into a ritual of exorcism that nearly kills her. This proves to be the tipping point, while around her people talk about a healer known as Jesus. Eventually, they meet and share a conversation. From that point for Mary, there is no going back, or indeed, staying still in her community.

Mary's central presence, her journey from curiosity to commitment and ultimate enlightenment, means we get to see Jesus but not in depth. This is not a film that focuses on the different sides of Christ as done before, e.g. the torture endured (Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ [2004]), or Christ's human side (Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, [1988]). Nor does the film explore the existence of God, at least to the degree taken by Silence (2016). Instead, this is Christ played by Joaquin Phoenix as a likeable, well-meaning figure whose impact is measured and debated by those around him. Peter (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) expects Jesus to rid Judea of Roman occupation; Judas (brilliantly played by Tahar Rahim) wants Jesus to signal Judgement Day so he can see his dead wife and child again. It is Mary, however, who begins to understand that the message of Jesus won't change the external surroundings, but rather the internal, thereby making everyone responsible for their own salvation, and their surroundings. A recurring image is of Mary floating in the ocean, repeating the words of Christ about transcendence: of becoming like the mustard seed, growing while nurturing life around you. Mary's journey draws you into her desire for spiritual enlightenment; concurrently, the miracles that appear in the first half of the film give way in the second to the limitations and struggle for understanding of the disciples, as if Christ has set in motion this next part: over to you. My job is done.

Overall, this is a portrayal of Jesus Christ that works for different audiences, religious or otherwise. Of course, the centrality of a female figure, historically marginalized but triumphantly liberated here, adds to the film's value. Rooney Mara, as gifted and charismatic an actress as exists in Hollywood, can sometimes overplay the doe-eyed ingénue. But not here: this is a role she seizes with passion and intelligence, bringing to life a hugely significant, historical figure of which we've known too little, for far too long. The fact that this film has the potential to contribute to this change says much about its quality. 

Unsane
Red Sparrow
 

Comments

No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Guest
Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Captcha Image

My Latest Posts

August 21, 2019

Hearty by Emma Frankland

Hearty by Emma Frankland Raw and dripping with punk aesthetic, this one-woman-show's one-woman emerges in ripped tights and a T-shirt that paraphrases loudly the words of anti-trans theorist Germaine Greer: Lop Your Dick Off. My first impression of Emma Frankland is edgily uncertain and in awe, her Lady-Gaga-looks combined with Heath Ledger's mesme...
August 21, 2019

Pronoun, Pass, & Amnesty International

Transgender drama: Pronoun To be clear at the outset, this was the production of a youth theatre group, not a highly resourced team of experienced, professional career actors – although some of the performances left a powerful impression, and the show as a whole achieved some remarkable moments. Pronoun , written by Evan Placey, follows the transit...
August 13, 2019

Transgender Dance: Sound Cistem

Transgender Dance: Sound Cistem It starts with a heartbeat, the dancer-directors Lizzie and Ayden in slow-motion entry, setting the scene of a nightclub featuring two young transgender bodies who are in fact multiple. Sound Cistem is theatrical dance set to a series of pulsing, dance-floor rhythms and the voices of several trans interviewees projec...
August 04, 2019

Drone by Harry Josephine Giles

Drone by Harry Josephine Giles The blurring of human and machine reiterates here in a comedically surreal, startling performance by the performance poet Harry Josephine Giles. Drawing on visual and aural effects, Giles presents the disturbingly evocative middle-class arc of the life of an electronic, military drone. With Giles as both narrator and ...
August 03, 2019

Burgerz by Travis Alabanza

Burgerz by Travis Alabanza Playing currently at the Traverse Theatre is Travis Alabanza's poignant and comic one-person show, a thought-provoking meditation created out of a jarring personal experience. Back in 2016, Alabanza, a non-binary person of colour, was abused in a London street, with a burger thrown at them by a stranger. The show's series...
August 03, 2019

While transphobes get more hateful, I become more freckly

While transphobes got more hateful, I became more freckly Written weeks after the conference Transgender: Intersectional/International There's nothing good to say, even the films I enjoyed watching this past week, Midsommar and Apollo 11 , I've lost the Sunday will to write. Perhaps Brexit Britain will become like the village cult in Midsommar , bu...
June 09, 2019

Dark Phoenix, John Wick 3, Godzilla: my reflections

Three fantasy movies within three days: X Men: Dark Phoenix; John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum; Godzilla: King of the Monsters The Lacanian feminist Kaja Silverman says about cinema, we go because we need the affirmation, to see the things we hope to see and fail to see in the real world. In Lacanian-speak, Silverman says we go because 'the desire ...
June 02, 2019

Personal Reflections on Transgender: Intersectional/International

Personal reflections on the conference Transgender: Intersectional/International (28-29 May) ​​Note: these reflections do not represent anyone else who contributed to Transgender: Intersectional/International I got involved with Transgender: Intersectional/International in order to create an LGBT/queer space that accommodated discussions on racism,...
April 28, 2019

Gina's Moving Castle

Saturday afternoon 27.04.19 Enough with marking papers. Enough about conferences. Outside is a blue sky. There's a book shop nearby, my temple, its owners are trying to remove stickers of transphobic messages pasted on their door. Yesterday I met a guy who'd been set upon by a group of 17-year-olds. He still had the scars, and the trauma. They saw ...