Dr. McDonough recently presented his research, “Tribune, Do You Really Believe All This?" Empire and Empiricism in Risen (2016) at the Film & History Conference in Milwaukee, WI on October 27, 2016.
Unlike Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, a certain skepticism pervades Risen (2016), directed by Kevin Reynolds and released by Affirm Films, the “faith-based” branch of Sony Pictures. In Risen, Joseph Fiennes is Clavius, a jaded military tribune who, after ruthlessly crushing a not unsympathetic Zealot rebellion, is sent by Pontius Pilate—played with edgy anxiety by Peter Firth—to locate the body of Yeshua (Jesus) which has gone missing despite the Roman guards posted at the tomb. “Witness the manhunt that changed the course of human history,” declares a promo for the film, which more than one critic has dubbed CSI: Jerusalem. The forensic investigation eventually brings Clavius to the risen Yeshua himself. While certainly a work of Christian apologetics, Risen depicts its Roman soldier protagonist expressing doubt in the face of physical evidence as well as bewilderment on how he can reconcile belief in Jesus with that of Mars. If The Passion of the Christ is an artifact of the evangelical-supported Bush administration, Risen reflects the concerns of a public weary of wars—those in Iraq and Afghanistan, the War on Terror, and the “culture wars” that relentlessly pit red and blue state sensibilities against each other.