Whither Thou Goest

Mary Magdalene
Stars: Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tahar Rahim, Shira Haas, Uri Gavriel, David Schofield, Charles Babalola, Tawfeek Barhom, Zohar Shtrauss, Mchael Moshonov and Irit Sheleg
Director: Garth Davis
Scriptwriters: Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett
Composers: Hildur Guonadottir and the late Johann Johannsson (“Sicario”)
Cinematographer: Greig Fraser
Film4/Focus Features/IFC Films
Rating: R for violence
Running Length: 120 Minutes

All through the centuries, Mary Magdalene, or rather, Mary of Magdala, was thought to be a follower of Jesus because he reformed her from prostitution.  Alas, the century stories had it wrong, and yes, Mary of Magdala was a follower of Jesus—an important follower, it seems.  She is one of the first to see Jesus after he rose from the dead.  To backtrack, where did Mary of Magdala get this sordid past?  It seems as though Pope Gregory, back in the Fifth Century, started the story which continued until 2016, when the Vatican restored Mary to a place of importance at the time of Jesus and his disciples.  One wonders, who else within the company of Jesus followers, has been given a different past?  Luke is supposed to have been a physician, was he really? 

This film, “Mary Magdalene,” begins with a young adult Mary (Rooney Mara), living in a seaside village with her family, working with fish nets, and trying to evade getting married. Mary, is a natural midwife, and would like this occupation, but her father says “no, you must marry.” The family tradition, you see.  After an attempt by her male relatives to drive, what they think is a demon, from Mary, and almost drown her, she runs away and meets with the men being gathered as Jesus disciples.  Now, in this part, we meet Jesus (Joaquin Phoenix). Judas (Tahar Rahim) and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peter. Now you are either going to like the casting of Phoenix as Jesus, or not. It took me awhile, but I got used to his calmness, wanting to be alone and away from the group, his consideration for Mary and his effort at performing miracles. He would rather not do them, but the disciples and the crowds almost demand it.  What gets everyone in trouble is celebrating the Passover (and what would become the Last Supper) in Jerusalem. 

The story is in small scenes and taken as a whole, the story of Jesus. Mary becomes friends with Judas who, at first, is the only disciple who would speak with her.  Women should know their place. Gradually, Mary earns respect and reaches out to women, who are always on the outskirts, and in one scene, Jesus preaches only to a crowd of women, who listen attentively. Because of gender, they are outcast in a man’s world. We meet Jesus’ mother, Mary (Irit Sheleg) and he has tender feelings for her.  She senses that Mary of Magdala is there to help Jesus, but the older Mary never knows if she will see her son again. 

This is a rough world with dirt-covered hands and feet, sleeping on the ground, barely having enough to eat and carrying your belongings in a small bag. Travel is by foot along rough pathways. Roman soldiers stand guard and their word is law. The scenery shows a grey world and a rather grey lighting, as though the sun has nothing to show anyone. The music score by the late Johann Johannsson has special music for each scene and that, in itself, becomes part of the cast.  He had the same idea for one of his previous films, “Sicario.” 

Rooney Mara is a quiet Mary, who comes into herself as she learns she has a role with this new group. No longer belonging to her father’s family, she has a new family. Her steady eyes speak volumes. The surprise is Tahar Rahim as Judas who seems the happiest of the group, but has hidden thoughts. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Peter is a stubborn man, always questioning and never looking beyond his own two feet. No wonder, he was called “the rock,” and that can have more than one meaning. Then, we come to Joaquin Phoenix and his portrayal of Jesus.  When he first appears on the scene, you don’t know who he is. Scruffy beard, unkempt hair and always staring, either at people. or into the countryside. When he speaks, it is with sparse words, but people get his message. Phoenix’s  version of what we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” is well done.  Jesus knows who wants him to continue to the end, and he is complying, but hesitantly---death at the hand of the Romans. Soon, though, the problem is that the population thinks the Kingdom of God will happen immediately and when it doesn’t meet their expectations, well, you know the rest. 

“Mary Magdalene” gives you a different viewpoint of a woman at the time of Christ. Her role is becoming important as a follower who stood with Jesus and the rest of the disciples.  After 2000 years, it’s about time she is brought out of the shadows. 


Copyright 2019 Marie Asner