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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Mary Magdalene focuses on Jesus' only female disciple (here played by Rooney Mara). The film is very visual, relying on sweeping images to tell much of its story. There's little dialogue (and no swearing); when characters do talk, it's often fairly obscure theologizing, which may be hard for kids to follow or engage with. And there are multiple violent/disturbing scenes, including blood, torture, animal sacrifices, starvation, and death -- all of which have significant impact. A bloodied Jesus is shown carrying a cross and dying after being nailed to the cross. There's a verbal description of a woman being raped and drowned, and starving people are left to die (some do). But Mary shows clear compassion and is strong and determined.
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What's the story?
MARY MAGDALENE takes place in first century C.E. and follows Mary (Rooney Mara), a woman who doesn't quite fit the era's traditional model of womanhood. When a small band of men, led by Jesus of Nazareth (Joaquin Phoenix), who claims to be the son of God, visits her village, she feels inspired to join them. The group makes their way to Jerusalem, where Jesus succumbs to his fate and Mary discovers the true meaning of his teachings. The film includes many of the most important events in the famous religious journey, from preaching to gain followers, to the last supper, to Judas' betrayal, to the crucifixion and a resurrection (of sorts).
Is it any good?
This earnest retelling of an ancient tale is scenically beautiful, even as the story plods slowly along. Wide shots of craggy mountainsides, crystal blue seas, and the imposing, bustling city of Jerusalem are a pleasure to watch. But it's much less of a pleasure to watch the difficult visuals that depict the violence of the time, even if the scenes work to bring realism to what was a harsh, difficult era. Perhaps most important is the fact that the film relies so heavily on its visuals and the mood they create. The action is quite slow, and the small amounts of dialogue mostly consist of disjointed theologizing.
With so little actual story, the whole film ends up feeling more focused on Jesus than on Mary Magdalene. We don't really find out much about who she was -- other than that she wasn't a prostitute, as history has wrongly labeled her. Mary Magdalene's unique approach to storytelling isn't for everyone and may be particularly hard for kids to grasp.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how visuals were used to tell the story of Mary Magdalene. Is the violence warranted? Does it enhance your understanding of the story? What about the landscapes?
Do you think it was difficult for Mary to go against what was expected of her and follow Jesus? What made her different from the others in her family and village? Was she brave? How does she demonstrate compassion?
Religion-based stories are some of the oldest, most well-known, and most fiercely defended stories around. Does film have a special duty to treat religious stories in a certain way? If yes, how so?
- In theaters: April 12, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: September 3, 2019
- Cast: Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor
- Director: Garth Davis
- Studio: IFC Films
- Genre: Drama
- Character strengths: Compassion
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: some bloody and disturbing images
- Last updated: November 13, 2019
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