In bible times, everyone named their girl babies Mary, which has led to a lot of confusion over the years. Mary Magdalene is often confused for the Mary who was a whore – you know, the “sinful” woman who washed Jesus’s feet. In fact, Mary Magdalene, which is to say the Mary who came from the fishing village Magdala, was not a prostitute; she left her village to follow Jesus. She was the 13th apostle, never so named because of course she was a woman, but the truth is, the bible mentions her by name more times than it does any of the actual apostles. So Mary Magdalene was important. She witnesses Jesus’s crucifixion, his burial, and his resurrection. The catholic church now owns her as a saint in her own right.
This movie is a feminist take on a story that has always been told from the male perspective. When Sean asked me how I liked it, I said something like “Well, it’s the role Joaquin Phoenix has been dying to play.” To which Sean thoughtfully responded “Mary Magdalene?!?!?!” and I had to say “No, dummy, Jesus” to which Sean should have gone quiet but instead admitted “Oh yeah, I forgot who else was in that story.” So yeah. This is Mary Magdalene’s story of her time spent with that weird dude named Jesus.
In the movie, Mary M. (Rooney Mara) is a more independent woman than most. She does not want to get married. So her father and brother obviously assume she is possessed by demons and try to drown them out of her, which mostly consists of drowning her. She barely survives their ‘help.’ Then they have the balls to act all shocked when she runs away from home to join the circus. I mean Jesus. She joins up with the Jesus train, which is not all that different from a circus when it rolls into town.
Jesus (Phoenix) is charismatic and he draws a big crowd. Mary M. isn’t the only one desperate to hear about this wonderful kingdom, free of oppression. But she realizes that women in particular might like to hear more about the end of tyranny, so she schools Jesus on how to talk and minister to them directly. Oh, the other apostles are shocked and appalled. Of course they are. Who is this woman who is automatically Jesus’s new teacher’s pet? Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is particularly jealous and mistrustful. Of course, if you know anything about the bible, you know they’re all in for more difficult times thant these. The official film synopsis calls it a “dramatic turn of events” which is hard to say about the most-repeated story for the past 2000 years. It’s not exactly an M. Night Shyamalan twist. Spoiler alert: Jesus dies! AND he is risen! Lord have mercy.
Director Garth Evans takes a winding and melancholy route to death and resurrection, but it’s beautiful, and the cast is really strong. Mostly I just loved hearing this overly familiar story from a female perspective for once. It broke down the world’s most pervasive myth and made you think about it from outside the box – not a lot, just a little. It pushed the boundaries. But just accepting that the boundaries are flexible to begin with is a huge deal, and I found myself looking at the thing from all kinds of new and interesting angles.
Opens April 12 just in time for Easter for a special one-week engagement at Toronto’s Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas and VIP, Mississauga’s Cineplex Odeon Winston Churchill Cinemas, Vancouver’s International Village, Calgary’s Cineplex Odeon Eau Claire Market Cinemas, Edmonton’ Cineplex Odeon South Edmonton Cinemas, and Montreal’s Cinéma Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin.