Timed perfectly to coincide with Holy Week in anticipation of Easter Sunday, “Resurrection” premieres globally on the new online Discovery+ platform on March 27. Directed by Ciarán Donnelly and written by Simon Block, the project was produced by MGM and LightWorkers, a division of MGM, combining the efforts of Roma Downey, Mark Burnett and “The Bible” showrunner Richard Bedser. While pandemic shutdowns have complicated the creation of many films, the team behind “Resurrection” crafted this new full-length motion picture employing footage from Downey and Burnett’s vast archive of biblical-related projects.
“Resurrection” opens to an evocative score as we push with a large crowd through Jerusalem’s gates into a street teeming with bustling crowds. Captions set the scene we know so well from Scripture: “Israel is under brutal Roman occupation. The Jewish people crave a savior, a messiah who will set them free. Many thought it was Jesus of Nazareth, but those in power see him as a threat, and he has been arrested. How can his followers continue to believe in him?”
Amidst a throng, Donnelly’s cinematographic choices place us elbow to elbow with the jeering men and women who push their way in to witness Jesus, bloody and battered, awaiting trial and judgment. Away from this action, a desperate Peter runs through now darkened streets. Our perspective again shifts to sharp iron nails being forged in fire. As viewers who have spent a lifetime reading and praying with this story, we know their intended use. But the sight of them red hot and vicious is just one way in which the painting of small details in this movie draws us into the events of Holy Week.
Peter, his face cloaked in a hood to hide his identity, pushes his way into the crowd just as Caiaphas enters to level the Sanhedrin’s accusation of blasphemy against Jesus, a charge that carries the penalty of death. In a touching moment of near wordless storytelling, Jesus gazes through the crowd into Peter’s eyes. Peter yells in anger one word to a man standing shamefully nearby: “Judas!” And just as Judas fearfully runs from the crowd, a woman yanks the cloak away from Peter’s face, accusing him of being a follower of Jesus. With grief in his voice, Peter denies her claim. With rage in his voice, he betrays Jesus two more times. In the distance, a single cock’s crow draws our perspective back to Jesus, who watches wordlessly as Peter runs fearfully from the crowd into the dark night.
What follows is a not-strictly-biblical retelling of Jesus Christ’s passion, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. We witness the political machinations that motivate Pontius Pilate’s decisions. We look on at the foot of the cross as Jesus is crucified. We stand in the company of his mother Mary, the beloved disciple John and Mary Magdalene. As Judas admits his betrayal and takes his own life, we grieve Jesus’ death with Mary, who lovingly holds his battered body in an image that invokes Michelangelo’s Pieta. Joseph of Arimathea arrives to offer her a final resting place for Jesus, his own tomb, and the political intrigue continues.
The fact that so much action is packed into the first third of “Resurrection” points to the message most central to this project: that which unfolds after Jesus is laid in the tomb. We come to know not only Mary’s primacy as Jesus’ first true disciple, but also the evolving stories of those men who chose to follow their teacher and become “fishers of men.” Mary Magdalene’s place in “Resurrection” is central. Her devotion to Jesus reminds us to love him and those around us as she did. As “Resurrection” unfolds, we witness the disciples’ tremendous grief, their listless and leaderless fear, and their doubts surrounding what they had believed was the reality of Jesus in their lives.
Just when that fear is about to climax, the filmmakers invite us to ponder the miracle we celebrate every year at Easter: the glory of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Mary Magdalene discovers the empty tomb. Peter and John race to investigate and question for themselves what has happened. Mary, largely wordless, trusts and believes. When the disciples, now led by a newly bold and committed Peter, have their first encounter with Jesus, we stand alongside them in the Upper Room. Mary never doubted that the promise her son made would come to fruition is with them. After time in Christ’s company, his followers are now similarly emboldened sufficiently to accept the Holy Spirit’s Pentecost gifts and to commit themselves to a lifelong spreading of the Gospel.
Readers who have studied the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles will note in the film both careful attention to some scriptural details and liberties taken with others. While some of the technological effects meant to render the power of moments such as the Crucifixion and Christ’s ascension are overwrought, “Resurrection” is filled with strong performances, nuanced storytelling and attention to detail. Families with young children may want to pre-screen the film to determine if sensitive viewers will be impacted by the graphic scenes of the Passion and Crucifixion.
“Resurrection” concludes with an enthusiastic address by Peter to assembled members of the early Christian Church and a lovely montage of some of the more than 2 billion followers of Jesus worldwide whose lives are impacted by what they passed along. As a reminder of the true story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the film serves as an excellent prompt to open our Bibles, pray over the Gospels and rededicate ourselves to what Christ taught.
“Resurrection” premieres March 27 on Discover+.
Lisa Hendey writes from California.