Though the story is about Jesus, the film is supposedly about Mary and she does struggle to outperform her leader in most of the film’s key moments.
Without knowing the deep history behind Mary Magdalene, the film appears as a intricate telling of the story of one of Jesus’ apostles. Yet, as its revealed in the film’s closing words, Mary was seen, until 2016, as a prostitute, making the film a re-telling of her story. A way, through film, of redemption and apparent clarity to her story. It’s a fascinating idea that the church’s stance on one of Jesus’ apparent main disciples could change in such a strong manner 2016 years after its birth, and that seems to be what Garth Davis is attempting to promote with Mary Magdalene.
However, the film doesn’t always feel as if it were attempting to tell Mary’s story by often making Jesus the centre of its attention through Mary’s eyes. Rooney Mara’s portrayal is a strong one, but there doesn’t seem to be enough substance behind her character to show off her newfound story and personality. With such a strong actor in Joaquin Phoenix portraying Jesus Of Nazareth, Mara needed to open up and express herself more vividly. The focus is taken off her, and allows for the story to become Jesus’ not her own.
When a Rabbi, Jesus (Joaquin Phoenix), speaks to her local community, Mary (Rooney Mara) decides to leave her family and promised lover behind to follow him in his preaching. As they move from village to village across Israel, Jesus and his followers look to spread his message, with the proposed Son of God showing his miracles and faith to all he can.
Garth Davis creates a stunning set of visuals with his beige and eggshell colour tones, and an incredibly simple set of costumes. But the lack of colour allows for the dialogue and performances to take over in a resonating and visual picture, perhaps lending itself to Phoenix’s expressive style of acting but not Mara’s. Though the story is about Jesus, the film is supposedly about Mary and she does struggle to outperform her leader in most of the film’s key moments.
Nevertheless, Mary Magdalene does allow for a well-told story to hold a new light as it becomes a visual and acting master class. Phoenix is hugely influential in his performance, and Mara does give Mary a depiction that has never been seen before, even if the overall picture doesn’t promote what Davis actually wanted it to.