Coming to theaters from director Garth Davis, writers Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett along with IFC Films comes the story of “Mary Magdalene.”
Mary Magdalene (Rooney Mara) is a young woman living in Judea in 33 AD that is having a difficult time finding her place. Her family is constantly worried because of her emotional state and can’t understand why she doesn’t marry.
When her father tries to have her cleansed of what ails her, Mary falls into a serious state. That’s when she meets Jesus (Joaquin Phoenix) who speaks to her in a way no one else has. She finds comfort in his company and to the astonishment of her family, Mary decides to follow Jesus.
Followers Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Judas (Tahar Rahim), James (Tawfeek Barhom), Philip (Uri Gavriel), and Matthew (Michael Moshonov) among others are not sure how they feel about Mary being with them. They are even more surprised that Jesus speaks freely with Mary and includes her in helping to speak with people.
But they have ideas of their own about what Jesus should be doing and how he should be freeing his people. Mary is surprised by what they think and does not hesitate to tell them so. The problem becomes more pronounced when Peter makes it clear that he believes Mary is weakening Jesus.
That does not stop Jesus from sharing with Mary his feelings and also shares what is to come. Their next stop is to Jerusalem where Jesus is not welcome by the Roman’s or his own people. As what is to come draws close and Jesus feels the weight of the world, Mary makes it very clear that she will be with Jesus every step of the way and beyond.
It is what happens three days later when Mary tells Peter and the other apostles about Jesus that she is once again comes under scrutiny. She doesn’t let it stop her from the strength she has gained in her journey with Jesus nor do they change the path she is dedicated to faithfully continuing.
Mara as Mary puts in a performance of a struggling young woman ahead of her time. She doesn’t want to follow traditions of what her family thinks a woman should do and be. There is something more out in the world and she knows its just waiting. The dilemma is the hurt she knows her family feels, especially when she turns down a marriage proposal. Mara puts in the emotional time showing every thought this character had up on the screen mixed in with her continuing struggle against those who would try to put her back in the box.
Phoenix as Jesus is Mary’s mirror in that he also struggles with not being a traditional man but instead going out into the world to do good works. He is in constant pull between what everyone else thinks his role is and what he knows his role is. Jesus and Mary discuss what they can together and come to understand their protection of one another. Phoenix gives his take of Jesus as a man who already knows the course his life is to take and even in his human frailty and questioning knows Mary will help him see it through.
Ejiofor as Peter is the man that stands between Jesus and Mary as I see it. He wants Jesus to be the symbol of Jewish freedom but by Peter’s standards and he wants Mary to just serve the wine at dinner and stop talking to Jesus. Ejiofor portrays Peter as another who struggles but his, it seems, comes from a sort of jealousy. Rahim as Judas decides to force Jesus to do what they all think he should and the repercussions of his decision are here with us today. Rahim definitely has the role of a character who doesn’t examine beyond the choices he makes and this actor does so exceeding well.
Other cast include Tsahi Halevi as Ephraim, Shira Haas as Heah, Ryan Corr as Joseph, Charles Babalola as Andrew, Tcheky Karyo as Elisha, Lubna Azabal as Susannah, Denis Menochet as Daniel, and Ariane Labed as Rachel.
“Mary Magdalene” is, of course, the story of a woman who has been throughout history cast as a harlot, a prostitute and a woman of questionable morals. This film examines otherwise and shows instead a strong woman who sees herself as something more than a wife and a mother. In 33 AD, being anything else meant that there was something wrong and it had to be the devil working his ways.
When Mary does take a stand for what she wants and where she is going, Mara gives this moment a face we can all identify with. Now we see another side of a woman who not only boldly breaks with tradition but follows a belief that makes sense to her heart and soul. Phoenix Jesus treats her as an equal, speaks to her as an equal and allows her to stand as an equal.
This film is beautifully put together with a star filled cast yet each actor downplays their character in a way that is relatable. Each is also emotional, understandable and brings us into their personal struggle with who they are and the paths they take.
In the end — her story will be told!