Mary Magdalene Parent Guide
Director Garth Davis presents a spiritually sensitive Mary, confidante to a feminist Jesus within a script that deviates significantly from the biblical account.
Parent Movie Review
“What think ye of Christ?” Jesus asked his followers. This question has echoed for centuries and has received numerous answers – Son of God, Savior, Risen Lord, teacher, itinerant preacher, political revolutionary. Mary Magdalene, follower of Christ, has also been seen from varied perspectives. Traditionally (and inaccurately) portrayed as a prostitute, Mary was declared by the Vatican in 2016 to be “apostle of the apostles”, one who proclaims the “joyful central message of Easter”. In Mary Magdalene, director Garth Davis hews much closer to the latter perspective, presenting a spiritually sensitive Mary, confidante to a feminist Jesus. Whether or not audiences enjoy this movie will depend to a great extent on how they feel about this and other extra-canonical changes.
Viewers familiar with the New Testament will note that the screenwriters put their own slant on the characters and events. Joaquin Phoenix’s Jesus is burdened and uncertain, drained by his healing miracles, the endless expectations of others, and premonitions of his imminent death. Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a strategizer, worried about how Jesus is seen by others in life and about establishing a stable church (without female influence) after his death. And Judas (Tahar Rahim) enjoys a significant amount of whitewashing: instead of being a duplicitous traitor, he is transformed into a disillusioned would-be revolutionary. But the biggest change goes to Mary Magdalene herself. The Gospels provide only fragmentary glimpses of Mary Magdalene, depicting her as the beneficiary of a healing by Jesus and later as a witness of his trial and crucifixion. She is also acknowledged as the first witness of the risen Christ. But in this movie, Mary functions as an additional apostle. She baptizes and gives blessings to women, she provides consolation to a weary Jesus, and she is the first of his followers to truly grasp his teachings about the kingdom of God, later sharing her insights with the less-than-receptive apostles.
Luckily, Rooney Mara shines in her portrayal of this woman and her spiritual quest. Mara somehow manages to appear translucent, as if light is shining through her eyes and her porcelain-clear skin. She is able to be still and to let that stillness expand to soothe others and to fill the screen. It is thanks to her that the film works at all. Unfortunately, Joaquin Phoenix is a less satisfactory Jesus. He mumbles, chews on his words, staggers about, and makes ambiguous comments that keep his apostles in a state of confusion. His powerful teachings receive short shrift and his miracles get pride of place in the screenplay. But even the miracles aren’t shown accurately. The writers make so many changes to events that there isn’t space to describe them all here. But there is no reason to mash together the story of the raising of Lazarus with the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. The film is also deliberately ambiguous about the nature of Christ’s resurrection – with no one verbally asserting whether it is a literal or spiritual resurrection.
In terms of content issues, this movie gets a mixed grade on handling violence – some conflict not found in scripture is included as is canonically correct material such as the crucifixion. Fortunately, none of the violence is gratuitous and even the crucifixion is not treated in detail, but Christ’s bloody body is seen carrying the cross and later nailed to it. The Restricted rating is unnecessary: while Mary Magdalene is too gory for children, it is certainly suitable for older teens.
That being said, this isn’t a bad film, although it’s not a great one either. It is likely that progressive and feminist Christians will enjoy it and more traditional Christians will be unhappy with the many changes made to the Biblical accounts. Whether or not audiences agree with this movie’s perspective on Mary Magdalene, it provides a powerful example of discipleship which can profitably be studied by Christians of any persuasion.Directed by Garth Davis. Starring Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Running time: 120 minutes. Theatrical release April 12, 2019. Updated April 13, 2019
Watch the trailer for Mary Magdalene
Rating & Content Info
Why is Mary Magdalene rated R? Mary Magdalene is rated R by the MPAA for some bloody and disturbing images
Violence: Corpses of those who have been crucified or burned are seen at a distance. Jesus brings a dead man back to life which might unnerve some viewers. A rape is discussed. A man hangs himself and his dead body is shown. An exorcism scene involves a near drowning. Starving and emaciated people shown dead or dying. Blood from animal sacrifices is seen on priests’ clothing. Two women are shown in labor: one screaming about needing to be cut in order for her child to be born; the other so emaciated she dies before the birth. There is a brief physical altercation involving pushing and shoving. A crowd mobs a man, seeking miracles.
Sexual Content: A main character has a mildly see-through dress after being baptized.
Profanity: None noted.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Characters have wine with meals but this is historically accurate and it is not used for intoxication.
Page last updated April 13, 2019
Mary Magdalene Parents' Guide
What do you think about the difference of opinion between Mary Magdalene and Peter? Do you agree with their differing interpretations of the Kingdom of God? Peter sees the kingdom of God as an institution. Mary sees it as people transformed by Christ who can go out to change the world. Do you agree with either of them or with both?
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To learn more about the biblical Mary Magdalene, your best bet is to go straight to the source material. Click here for links to the Bible stories which specifically discuss Mary Magdalene.
If you want to learn more about Jesus Christ and his message, you can read his teachings in the New Testament. Bible Study Tools offers free access to over a dozen translations, allowing you to choose whichever one you find easiest to understand. The King James Version provided on ChurchofJesusChrist.org comes with detailed footnotes, linked videos, and the ability to cross-reference scriptures with your own notes.
Related home video titles:
Son of God illustrates the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. With a gentle performance by Diogo Morgado, and an over two hour runtime, the movie doesn’t skimp on details.
The Passion of the Christ, with its graphic and gory depictions of the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus, is not for everyone. But some viewers find the movie gives them greater empathy for the sufferings of Christ.
Taking its story directly from the Bible, The Gospel of John uses a narration from that book by Christopher Plummer to tell the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
If you want to watch scripturally based vignettes from the New Testament, you can turn to The Life of Christ Bible Videos. These filmed episodes come directly from the King James Version of the Bible.