Risen Started Out Great—Then Came the Random Cloud of Bats
The success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in 2004 renewed Hollywood’s interest in Biblical epics. In 2014 Darren Aronofsky and Ridley Scott each took cracks at the genre with Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings, both of which failed to generate much excitement. The latest contender is Risen, about a Roman officer who investigates the resurrection. Historian Richard Carrier praises the film for its accurate depiction of the Roman Empire.
“The battle scene was highly realistic,” Carrier says in Episode 192 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “They showed the use of Roman tactics. They used the testudo formation to mount a siege wall. You watch it and you go, ‘That is brilliant! These Romans are fantastic tacticians.’ So all that was very realistic.”
He found the early sections of the film engaging, but was less taken with the second half, which grows increasingly aimless and nonsensical. Former preacher Dan Barker agrees. While he enjoyed the mystery and thriller aspects of the story, he was baffled by certain scenes, such as the random appearance of a cloud of bats.
“It seems to me that maybe it was saying, ‘Isn’t this a batty movie?’” he says. “But there was no point. Here’s all these bats flying in your face right after Jesus is blessing his disciples. So I think that pretty much summed up the ending for me.”
He doubts that Risen will generate much enthusiasm among filmgoers.
“I saw the movie on opening night in Madison, Wisconsin,” he says. “There were five people in the theater, including me. And three of them were really old people. It felt like no one really cared.”
Carrier thinks Risen should have downplayed the supernatural aspects of the story, which might have introduced some much-needed suspense. But as it stands he thinks the film is unlikely to appeal to non-Christians.
“Had it kept up the writing that was in the first half of the film, I would totally recommend it,” he says. “Even if they had a whole preachy gospel thing at the end, I would still recommend it to atheists had the last half been well-written, but it just wasn’t.”
Listen to our complete interview with Richard Carrier and Dan Barker in Episode 192 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Richard Carrier on Biblical history:
“You look at the Book of Acts and there is no manhunt. The Romans don’t care. The Romans aren’t saying, ‘Someone just committed the capital crime of the theft of this body. Someone’s claiming this escaped convict is alive again and giving orders.’ They would be doing a massive manhunt. They would be hauling people in just like they depict in the movie. But that doesn’t happen in the Book of Acts. … So it’s funny that the movie itself is kind of a refutation of the Bible, because it’s showing what would have happened, and when we look at the first history of the early church, it didn’t happen. So that actually calls into question the original claim that there ever was a body to begin with.”
Richard Carrier on pagan religion:
“So pagan religion, the way it would work is you would give something to the god, like gold or something like that, and say, ‘Hey, I’ll give you this present if you give me the thing I want.’ That’s called votive religion, and that’s not really the way Jewish religion worked. And so for [Clavius] to pray to Yahweh and say, ‘Here’s some gold coins’—and I think he said, ‘I will build a temple and hold games in your honor,’ which totally makes sense for a pagan to say that, and it made sense for a pagan to not understand that Yahweh would not like either of those things. … I found that funny, I laughed at that scene. … So that was actually good. I liked that.”
Richard Carrier on the afterlife:
“The picture of a skull—a skull or a skeleton—was very common in pagan art, to remind people that, yeah, we’re all just going to be bones someday. And we have epitaphs where that’s what people say—’We’re not awake, we’re not in heaven or anything like that, we’re just bones.’ But we also have epitaphs where people think they’re going to some sort of blessed place, so there was a diversity of belief among pagans. But the more you got up into the more educated classes, the more you ended up with the materialistic view that we’re just going to be corpses and that’s it. So that’s plausible to have someone like Pilate say that.”
Dan Barker on his new book:
“Richard Dawkins asked me to help him document his famous sentence about ‘the God of the Old Testament is the most unpleasant character in all fiction.’ He always gets a laugh when he says that. And then he lists these 19 nasty adjectives—jealous, infanticidal, genocidal, misogynistic, and so on. Because he wanted to make a keynote slide. It came to over 1,500 verses, and then he had the idea that this would make a good book. … So he said, ‘Why don’t you make each of these adjectives a chapter of its own?’ … If you’re debating somebody about the moral qualities of the Old Testament God, it’s a handy list, just stack upon stack of verses. Maybe they could weasel out of one or two of them, but when there’s 1,500 that really show you what he’s like.”
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