It would appear LION’s masterful director, Garth Davis, has not created a masterpiece in his second outing as we were hoping. From Kernel John’s review it would appear he struggled to stay awake in this two hour snooze-fest about Jesus of Nazareth’s only female Apostle, MARY MAGDALENE. MARY MAGDALENE will only be for the serious religious genre lovers or those who wish to follow the story of Jesus’s last days from another angle. MARY MAGDALENE releases this Thursday 22nd March in Australia from Transmission Films, just in time for Easter viewing.


In 591, Pope Gregory claimed that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, a misconception which remains to this day.  It took almost a millennia and a half to correct this when in 2016, Mary Magdalene was formally identified by the Vatican as Apostle of the Apostles – their equal – and the first messenger of the resurrected Jesus.

Director Garth Davis (LION) seeks to explore the woman behind the legend in this, his second directorial film, MARY MAGDALENE.


Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene image
Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene



Set in the year 33 CE, Mary of Magdala, played by Rooney Mara (CAROL), is presented to us as a simple daughter helping her family fish in the sea off Judea.  She assists in the delivery of a fellow villager’s baby, regularly goes to Temple with the rest of the congregation, and generally lives a humble and modest life.  When her family arranges her marriage to a fellow villager, Mary tries to run away.  Thinking that their daughter must be possessed by demons to act the way she is, the family enlist the aid of a rabbi to perform an exorcism, a process during which Mary almost drowns.  Lying catatonic and mostly unresponsive for days, a healer is finally summoned to tend to Mary; one Jesus of Nazareth, played by Joaquin Phoenix (YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE).

Coaxed out of her depression by Jesus’s kind words, Mary follows him back to Magdala where she witness him speak, baptise the faithful and perform miracles.  Certain of her path now, Mary decides to leave Judea to follow Jesus and his apostles through Galilee, Samaria and beyond, on their road to Jerusalem for what will ultimately be that fateful Festival of Passover.


Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus image
Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus



MARY MAGDALENE is a beautifully presented film.  The cinematography and scenery of muted colours are wonderful, setting the scene and showing off the Holy Land to the audience in such a way as to transport the viewer back 2000 years.  The towns and villages are likewise superb in their construction and presentation, especially Jerusalem itself with its impressively forbidding magnitude and force.

The film’s score also rates special mention.  Stunning notes puncture the movie throughout, breathing life into it and immersing the audience.  The masterful work of Academy Award nominee Jóhann Jóhannsson (THE THEORY OF EVERTHING) in this, his last composition before his untimely death.


The stars of MARY MAGDALENE, though reasonably solid in their performance, do not do enough to really enliven this film.  Far from being the woman of strength and purpose that Davis had no doubt envisioned to negate the misconceptions of the past, Mara’s portrayal of Mary comes across as weak, shy and quiet.  There is one redeeming moment at the end of the film, where Mara displays some semblance of force in her mannerisms and speech, though other than that, Mary’s views are mostly ignored by those around her, to the point where she is often seen walking away from the group to be on her own or to talk with Jesus privately.

At the other end of the spectrum, Phoenix tries his mightiest to reign in his prowess to the point where Jesus is mostly seen as a confused and dazed individual, not in command of his own actions or destiny, and only moving in the direction that he is thanks to the weight of future history.  Even still, his performance is so much more compelling than those around him, including Mara’s, that a mostly muddled Jesus steals the spotlight whenever he is onscreen, even when he does not say or do anything.


Tahar Rahim as Judas in Mary Magdalene image
Tahar Rahim as Judas in Mary Magdalene



This film does not rise above base mediocrity in almost every meaningful metric.  Pretty scenery and a distinguished score do nothing to lift MARY MAGDALENE from the myriad of problems with its story and execution.  This is the tale of an individual whose only reason for still being known two millennia after her death is because she was in some way connected with Jesus Christ.  As such, her story cannot be told without that link to Jesus, a figure whose presence is literally biblical in size.  Because of this, try as the film might, Mary’s narrative is all but lost in the magnitude of her backdrop.  She is an incredibly passive viewer to the events of her own life, and it became all but impossible to pick Mara’s performance out in this movie, as Jesus kept on getting in the way.


Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus and Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene image
Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus and Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene



The one part I did truly enjoy in the story of MARY MAGDALENE was the Judas Iscariot subplot.  Portrayed by French actor Tahar Rahim, Davis has reworked Judas’s tale from the traditional one of greed filled betrayal to that of heartbroken desperation.  Misunderstanding Jesus’s teachings and believing that the dead will be reunited with the living in the immediate wake of the Messiah’s message, Judas betrays his leader so as to force Jesus’s hand.

Disillusioned with the scant progress being made and desperate to be reunited with his dead wife and daughter, Judas goes to the Sanhedrin knowing full well that Jesus will have to act if he is to save himself.  Realising too late the true message of Jesus, and knowing that his actions have done nothing more than doom the Messiah, Judas sorrowfully leaves the group, announcing with a sad smile “I go now to be with my family,” before taking his own life.  With this retelling, far from being the embodiment of the very center of Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell, Judas is seen instead as a highly relatable man who wants nothing more than to be able to hold his loved ones again.

That aside, at two hours long, this film drags something horribly.  It is slow to the point of boring in many parts and only when we finally arrive in Jerusalem late in the movie do things start to pick up.  Which of itself is a major problem, as the Jerusalem act has much more to do with Jesus, obviously, than Mary, again drowning her character out.


Check this one out if you’re an aficionado of the genre or seriously interested in the story, but expect to be underwhelmed.





A lifelong lover of the silver screen, Kernel John strives to engage and entertain his audience through the shameless use of humour in his reviews, even when it probably isn’t warranted. When not musing for Salty, you can often find John bouncing between his extreme states of either puppy watching down by the beach, or reflecting on the deepest mysteries of the Universe.

** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor/publisher – credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.