A friend and I were given free tickets for a preview of the upcoming film Mary Magdalene.
The visuals were truly exquisite, bringing to life the stark beauty of poor Hebrew dwellings, their dress and cuisine, and the simplicity of life in a fishing village, with the soothing susurration of the waves ever present.
However, I was really disappointed with the lack of true understanding of Mary Magdalene’s role as a disciple of Jesus, and how the film pits her against the apostles. The film has a strong feminist bent while funnily leaving out Jesus’ other female disciples.
We are introduced to Mary as a strong-willed though mild young woman who refuses to marry, despite her father’s attempts to match-make her.
She flees to the synagogue to pray in distress, and is rebuked for bringing dishonor on her family by appearing crazed.
Her stubbornness is interpreted as demonic possession, and she is tricked into an exorcism ritual where she is nearly drowned.
However, she encounters Jesus, who is mobbed by villagers seeking cures. She runs away from home to follow him and his apostles to Jerusalem.
The apostles are portrayed as clueless Jewish patriots who see Jesus as the key to overthrowing the Roman Empire. Judas is portrayed in a sympathetic light, as someone who lost his wife and child to the Romans.
The movie depicts Mary Magdalene as being the only one to understand Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness. At her instigation, he preaches to the women of a town, especially one who is filled with hatred and unforgiveness over another’s rape. This is in contrast to the Scriptures, where Jesus needs no one to prompt Him to approach the Samaritan woman, or to visit Mary and Martha, or to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead.
Also, Mary Magdalene is shown baptizing women, using a strange formula about being “baptized into the Light.” There is no mention of the Holy Trinity, which is necessary for a valid baptism.
Peter resents Mary’s presence and declares that she will cause division among the apostles. However, he is sent with her to minister to the towns. She tends to the dying, and he realizes that she, more than he, has grasped Jesus’ message of mercy.
Mother Mary meets them as they enter Jerusalem. Far from the beautiful and stately Mary portrayed by Maia Morgenstern in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004), she looks crabby and restless. She sharply states to Mary Magdalene, indicating Jesus, “You love him, don’t you?” Mary Magdalene is then depicted lying down near Jesus, his one companion in his distress as he approaches his death.
Jesus is also shown breaking down in tears before entering Jerusalem, while Mary Magdalene comforts him, cradling his head in her lap. It is a poignant reminder of God making Himself vulnerable in His humanity, and that we can comfort Him by doing reparation for sins. Yet, all this intimacy between Mary Magdalene and Jesus in the end does a disservice to the Gospel, where Jesus pursues His earthly mission as both God and man, the Anointed One with the strength to resist temptations alone in the desert.
The movie also omits the true friendship Christ enjoyed with the apostles, particularly St. John the Beloved, who stayed with Him to the bitter end and was entrusted with His mother’s care. Instead, after the Resurrection, Mary and Peter are again depicted at odds, with Mary Magdalene pledging to carry Jesus’ message despite the corrupted message she feels Peter and the apostles will pass on in forming a church. Yet, Scripture records that Peter was the one who stood by Jesus when others deserted Him over the Eucharist.
Oddly enough, the movie ends with references to the very Church built on the rock of Peter (Matthew 16:18); yet, again, it distorts the message of the Catholic Church. It notes Pope Gregory the Great as wrongly conflating St. Mary Magdalene with the penitent prostitute, and claims that because the Vatican has recognized her as the Apostle to the Apostles, that means she is equal to the apostles.
“Apostle” is simply Greek for “messenger”, and yes, Mary Magdalene brought news of Christ’s resurrection to the Apostles, so she was the messenger to the messengers of the Gospel, the messengers ordained by Christ to preach and to forgive sins with His authority (Matthew 18:18). All this hype about “equality” is a tone-deaf rendering of the roles of both men and women in the Church, which are different though complementary.
By denying St. Mary Magdalene‘s identity as a penitent, the film has omitted the awesome wonder of God’s grace working through a repentant sinner to bring the Good News that Christ conquered sin and death.
In the end, the 2018 film Mary Magdalene may be remembered for its beautiful cinematography, but it fails to deliver the salvific truth of the Gospel as ministered through the seven Sacraments instituted by Christ. The Gospel is not just about human charity and forgiveness or equality between men and women. It encompasses God’s great design for human salvation from the time of the Fall to the present day, and the movie very disappointingly lost His plot.
(Also, they forgot the donkey when Jesus made His entry into Jerusalem, foretold in Zechariah 9:9.)