Risen: A Brief Review

I took the eldest to see the film Risen tonight. I thought I'd write a few reflections.

This movie is a welcome breath of fresh air in the arena of Christian or "faith based" entertainment.  Sets, costuming, casting, screenplay, cinematography, music are all very well done. Not a Best Picture, by any stretch, but we're definitely competing in the same ballpark with Hollywood. From a filmmaking standpoint, my only sort of negative impression is that the pacing seemed to drag in a few places. I stifled a yawn or two a few times.

The story is very clever and well-conceived: Clavius, a Roman Tribune, is tasked with finding the body of a recently crucified Nazarene named Yeshua. The narrative proceeds from his vantage point as he tracks down the followers of this Jewish Rabbi and questions them. And, yes, he discovers the truth: This Yeshua has risen from the dead! The portrayal of the disciples is simply superb. Unlike most Bible epics, Risen gives a realistic picture of what this rag-tag band of Galilean fishermen must have looked like to the casual observer. They had no gravitas, no special skill set observable to the naked eye. No one would suspect that these few would very soon change the course of the entire world. The sheer improbability of their small movement conquering the world is very evident.

I enjoyed the film, and give it positive marks. And I agree with everything my friend Andrew Sandlin writes here.

Now, for a negative critique. One of the "sins" of Christian films is that they often "preach" too much. The films are not generally done "for art's sake," but for evangelism's sake. They pack in as much theology, conversion story, and "Christian-y" jargon as they can. I've been quite critical of this tendency in the past.

The problem with Risen, by contrast, is that it preaches too littleI'm not trying to be a perpetually unsatisfied Goldilocks here, but this is a real problem with this film. Jesus' disciples, understandably, are bewildered at the resurrection appearances. They don't know what to make of it, and frankly tell Clavius as much. That's not so much the problem (it's likely that was actually the case!); the problem in Risen is that by the time Jesus ascends into heaven, his disciples appear just as clueless. Jesus commands them to preach the "gospel" to all nations, and viewers may be forgiven for scratching their heads as to what, exactly, that is. Pardon the pun, but there is barely any flesh on it. There are some oblique references: Mary Magdalene talks about being "free." Others talk about "love." And "eternal life" is mentioned on a couple of occasions. They are clearly deeply moved by him. They revere him. They worship him. But there is little to no content to their beliefs about him. I just think it is all too easy for someone to leave this film wondering what, exactly, this resurrection is supposed to mean. And it's not like such content would be unduly intrusive or preachy. This is a movie about the resurrection of Jesus. I wouldn't think non-Christian viewers who go the length of buying a ticket would exactly be offended by being told what it means that Jesus is risen. As it happens, telling people what it means is sort of the exact job description of the very disciples being portrayed. It's a missed opportunity.

And I'm not asking for a systematic theology lesson here. Here are some words that never appear in Risen: "Repent." "Kingdom of God." "Forgiveness of sins."  Not only were these central to Jesus' teaching, they form the core content of Apostolic preaching. Maybe I'm too picky. But is it asking too much of a Christian film to mention, say, the forgiveness of sins? I don't think so.

While too little, what Risen does say is true, good, and beautiful so far as it goes. There are some genuinely moving and lovely scenes. On the whole I agree with the San Francisco Chronicle reviewer who wrote: "Whatever your religious affiliation, you will come away thinking that if all this did actually happen, it probably happened something like this."


And My Candidate Is... Marco Rubio

I've explained why I think Donald Trump would be a catastrophe.

I've explained why I think Ted Cruz would be a mistake.

I do not fancy myself important enough to issue "endorsements" (or to have it noticed if I did), but a reader did ask me, "Then WHO????" I've decided to answer by way of a personal * endorsement anyway.

*This is a personal endorsement, and should not be confused as an official view of either of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations with which I am affiliated. 

I endorse Senator Marco Rubio.

His bona fides as a conservative leader are beyond impressive.

Despite his youthful appearance, his political leadership experience exceeds that of his rivals.

He is easily the most articulate promoter of conservative principles we've seen in thirty years.

And, if nominated, he will be elected.

I say all this knowing full well the usual criticisms of Senator Rubio. I find none of them compelling.

Marco is the "Establishment" guy. If so, I'd like to join this "establishment." We should pinch ourselves if, at long last, the imagined backroom cigar-smoking cabal has given us a Marco Rubio instead of a John McCain or Mitt Romney. Yet, for all that, it isn't really true: Marco is a person who openly defied the so-called "Establishment" when they told him not to run for U.S. Senate. He's done it again by running for President alongside his friend and mentor, Jeb Bush.

Marco worked with Chuck Schumer on the "Gang of 8" immigration bill. Yes, and he didn't support the final product. Next question.

Marco is for "amnesty." Marco Rubio supports the legalization (not necessarily citizenship) of law-abiding illegal immigrants who meet a number of qualifications. I believe this to be to his credit. The easiest thing for Senator Rubio to do after the Gang of 8 debacle was to stick his finger in the air, assess which way the conservative winds were blowing, and renounce his support for any kind of legalization. That's exactly what Senator Cruz has recently done, to my dismay ("I do not intend to support legalization."). But Marco Rubio has consistently and straightforwardly told us that, while strongly in favor of border security, he is against a mass deportation of law-abiding people and that they must be brought out of the shadows to become legal participants in our society. This is not only a humane position, it is the rational position.

I have watched Senator Rubio in many different contexts: long-form speeches, 30-second cable interview soundbites, debates, stump speeches, Q&A sessions, etc. I have come to the conclusion that he cannot be stumped. He is never at a loss for words. And the answers that roll off of his tongue are typically brilliant. His only embarrassing moment ever captured on camera was taking a drink of water in the middle of speaking on national television. His knowledge of public policy is encyclopedic. His awareness of foreign policy challenges is simply unmatched. He is a once-in-a-generation political talent. A prodigy.

Too many conservative politicians, including Senator Cruz, play exclusively to the "base." Marco can throw red meat, but he has the all-too-unique ability to communicate and persuade people on the outside. He does not just preach to the choir; he makes the choir loft bigger.

We live in a celebrity saturated culture. Marco Rubio is approachable, gracious, good-natured, likable, and (yes) handsome. It is not to our credit that so much rides on "image" in our political process, but it is reality. And the truth is that with Marco Rubio we have the best of two worlds: A prime-time-ready, culturally savvy person whose conservative convictions are marrow-deep. 

The age-old Democrat playbook fails at every turn against Senator Rubio as the nominee. He is not old, white, angry, rich, or privileged. He is young, Cuban, joyful, of modest means and humble beginnings. For his age and station in life, he is unusually earnest about his faith and his family, as well as protecting your faith and your family. He exudes gratefulness for the opportunities he's been given, and his decision to campaign on the themes of freedom and opportunity is a winning general election message.

Given the full political package Senator Marco Rubio offers, I believe Republicans shouldn't look any further. I wholeheartedly endorse him, and urge primary voters to give him your support.