Review: MARY MAGDALENE Is A Biblical Epic Without The Biblical Scale

mary magdalene mara
Rooney Mara as “Mary Magdalene” in Garth Davis’s Mary Magdalene. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

After being shelved for a year and a half due to the Weinstein scandal, Garth Davis’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated film Lion is finally making its way to U.S. audiences. Mary Magdalene tells the story of the eponymous Biblical woman as she leaves behind her community to follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

The story of this movie is definitely very interesting, particularly for followers of the Christian religion. Mary Magdalene was an important figure in the Bible, one of the earliest major female followers of Jesus and a witness to many of the most important events in the story of Christ. A film with her as the protagonist offers the potential for a great perspective on interesting events.

However, the movie loses all of its narrative steam after the first thirty minutes. Once Mary Magdalene leaves her village to follow Jesus, the main conflict of the film lets up, and the movie becomes quite boring. It’s a shame that this is so uncinematic because the events are so epic. How does a film make Jesus curing blindness and being crucified feel boring?

mary magdalene jesus
Joaquin Phoenix as “Jesus” in Garth Davis’s Mary Magdalene. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

In terms of characterization, the movie was somewhat lackluster. In the first thirty minutes, the protagonist is made to be relatively compelling, but her development becomes relatively stagnant after that point. The supporting characters aren’t much more developed, some of the disciples being underused. Even Jesus isn’t made into that compelling of a character.

The film does have some interesting themes about feminism, although these aren’t fully developed. Often in Biblical movies, the female characters take the back seat to the male perspective on the story. This film emphasizes the relevance of female characters in the story and their importance in society.

mary magdalene mary peter
Rooney Mara as “Mary Magdalene” and Chiwetel Ejiofor as “Peter” in Garth Davis’s Mary Magdalene. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

The best parts of the movie are the performances. Rooney Mara is excellent as the protagonist, playing the character with a ton of subtlety and emotional nuance. The beginning of the film gives her a ton of room to shine. She also has great chemistry with Joaquin Phoenix, who plays Jesus. Phoenix seems like a great fit for the understated character. The supporting cast, including Chiwetel Ejiofor and Denis Ménochet, are underused.

On a technical level, the movie is also relatively solid. The visuals look pretty good, doing a nice job of periodizing the setting. That being said, much of the cinematography is straightforward. Some of the shots are quite hectic, especially as Jesus is performing his miracles. Additionally, the score of the film is rather generic too.

Overall, Mary Magdalene was a disappointing movie. Although the acting and visuals are strong, the film doesn’t do justice to the story, instead feeling anticlimactic and boring.

Mary Magdalene opens in theaters on April 12 and is on VOD beginning April 19.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *