OK I feel slightly daft saying “Spoiler Alert!” when in comes to the story of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Because I’d be pretty surprised if you didn’t have at least some idea of how that panned out.
But specifically, I want to talk about the Mary Madgalene movie directed by Garth Davis, starring Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tahar Rahim, released earlier this year. One of the final scenes has stayed with me since I saw the film a few weeks ago and I want to mention it here. So if you haven’t seen it yet and you really want to, then you might want to open a different browser/app, book your ticket then log off and go and sit in the sunshine instead of reading on.
So anyway, the end of the film is nigh: Jesus has died and, as has been pretty solidly established by all extant biblical sources, Mary was the first and only apostle to witness his “return”. In the movie, they have a brief but suitably symbolic exchange then Mary rushes back to tell Peter et al what she has experienced. At first, they are skeptical, then somewhat annoyed that he chose to appear to her and not them. But as the truth of her story dawns on them, debate swings to the true meaning of The Kingdom.
This is a recurring motif in the movie, as I imagine it is in the gospels (disclaimer: I haven’t read them). In the movie, Mary is the only person who thinks to ask The Rabbi “What does The Kingdom feel like?“, something that pleases him greatly. When she communes with Jesus after his death, she finally understands that The Kingdom is here and now. And everywhere. And it is within all of us.
She fears that the remaining apostles will continue to wait or search for something external to themselves. She has witnessed the consequences of Judas’ misunderstanding about the new knowledge for which Jesus was reputed to be the catalyst, for which he paid the ultimate price. (I have to say, I loved the way this was handled in the film). She fears that they will all miss a tremendous opportunity to live as The Rabbi did by example, and empower others accordingly.
But Peter being Peter says something to the effect of, “Yes. I believe you, Mary. You have seen Jesus and discussed The Kingdom. That means that Jesus has risen and The Kingdom is coming. He is going to deliver it to us. Any time now. And he wants us men to get out there and spread the good news. So that’s what we’re going to do. Now shut up and get out.”
And we all know what happened next.
I know that many learned people out there will be discussing this film and coming to more useful conclusions than I. I also know it was not the perfect film and not just because of its interpretation of the known story.
But I really loved Mary Madgalene. I thought it was made with skill and reverence and after a lot of research and consideration. It makes me happy that this film is out in the world now and that it has got people thinking and talking.
For me, that final scene resonates with some of the big questions I am asking my self at this time in my life. Questions about looking outside of myself for some unnameable sense of feeling complete/arrived/beloved. Questions about searching and waiting for something. Questions about authority. Questions about how to love what is, however incomplete, anxious and imperfect (both the life what is and the attempting to love).
And overall, it makes me feel lucky to have the time and resources to think all of this through. I am falling down the research rabbit hole of Mary Magdalene and it’s a privilege to add her to my private pantheon of the sacred feminine, classical goddesses and Mesopotamian iconoclasts.
It feels like there’s so much more to all of this than resurrecting “misunderstood women of history”.
It fees like a call to arms.
But in the most private, non-confrontational, feminine way possible.