Theme: A Day without Death
Most biblical movies follow the stories of Jesus portrayed in the Gospels climaxing with his crucifixion. Sony Pictures’ new release Risen, directed by Kevin Reynolds, is a thought-provoking account of what happened after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a surprisingly good, well acted, powerful film sure to satisfy believer and critic alike.
The story begins and ends with a window. There is a wooden cross in the center of the window which means everything viewed through the widow will be seen with the cross as its core. Thus, the symbolic window is the new paradigm, the new “way of seeing” for the storyteller who is recounting recent events in Jerusalem.
The storyteller is a Roman tribune as signified by the ring he wears. He begins his account with a typical day in his life as a solider. Rome is at war in Judea, thus his days begin and end with death. The story is told in flashback to the sequence of events the tribune has recently experienced; however, the scope of the film is intended to be much greater than this one life. Rome equals the entire world and Rome is always at war. Therefore the story is about a “fallen” world ruled not by capricious pagan gods but by Death itself. And day after day the same sad story is enacted over and over again. Death, not Rome, is always the Victor.
Clavius, the Roman tribune, returns to Jerusalem just in time to be instructed by Pontus Pilate to put an end to the crucifixion of Jesus. At the foot of the cross he learns from a much shaken centurion that Jesus is dead after only six hours. In order to make absolutely sure he has Jesus speared in the side. After inspecting the body and giving final instructions to the centurions, he returns to Pilate meeting him in a Roman bath.
As the two men soak and discuss the day’s events, Pilate the Prefect asks Clavius “what do you desire?” His answer is not a surprise to Pilate for he has noted the tribune’s ambition. He wants of course to go to Rome, to get out of the backwater of Judea. He wants to gain a position which will lead to power and wealth, resulting in the possibility of having a good family and a place in the country. Ultimately by this way of thinking he will have a “day without death”, which reveals his heart’s true desire . . .peace.
Just as Rome represents the “fallen” world, Clavius represents “everyman”. He lives in a world at war doing what he must do under a cruel system and a harsh taskmaster. His hopes are the way of the world; seek a position which will give you power and reward you with wealth. So that perhaps, just perhaps, someday you may “retire” to a place in the country and find peace, find a day without death. It is an illusion of course for there is no way out of death for “everyman” . . . but there is, as Clavius finds, a way through death.
On the morning of the third day, Clavius is confronted with this news; the body of Jesus is missing from the tomb. He is assigned by the frantic Pilate to find the body at all costs. The central portion of the film is this exacting search for the missing body, convincingly dismantling theories of what “could have happened” which are opposed to what actually did happen. In his cynical and exhaustive search for the missing body of Jesus, Clavius comes face to face with the risen Christ.
The New World
In a written note to Pilate, Clavius explains two things he has discovered: he (Jesus) was dead, and he is alive. Leaving the Roman world behind as signified by the stripping of his uniform, he pursues the disciples of Jesus into Galilee. He finds in these “followers” forgiveness not retribution, love not hate, peace not war; in essence a whole new world.
So when his protégé, Lucius, confronts Clavius and the disciples with a drawn sword in a hidden gorge, he tells the young tribune “there are no enemies here; you (Lucius) hold the world in your hands . . . I believe it resides in these men, no one dies today”.
The new world which resides in the disciples is the Kingdom of God now on release with the resurrection of the King.
The Heart Searcher
Clavius, the outsider, the pagan, the “everyman” who was embraced by the disciples now has a personal encounter with the risen Christ. Jesus introduces him to the Father and tells him to speak his heart, eliciting from the confused and doubting man a painful confession. Not only was he present at the crucifixion, but he tells Jesus “I helped”. Yes, as everyman he represents the solemn truth; everyman was at the foot of the cross and everyman helped to put Jesus on it.
Jesus’ response to this confession is not condemnation but a question, “What do you seek? Certainty? Peace? . . . day without death? Taking Clavius into his deepest desire with the words he spoke to Pilate, Jesus reveals himself as The Searcher of Hearts who knows all things and in that knowledge Clavius at last finds his peace.
The movie ends where it began with Clavius sitting in a hut in the Judean desert circa 33AD. Staring out the window, he simply tells his listener “I believe I can never be the same”. Taking off his last vestige of Rome he pays for his drink with his tribune ring, and walks out into a new world. As a follower of the risen Christ he has found a day without death.