The official trailer for a new film about the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene launched this week, and has swelled the expectations of film fans and the faithful alike. Starring Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix in the central roles, Mary Magdalene appearsto follow the entirety of the relationship between the two as depicted in the New Testament. While it chooses Mary as the lens through which to tell the story, it seems clear from this two-minute preview that this will still be very much a 'Jesus film', including a brutal-looking crucifixion scene.
Of course, trailers can be misleading, but from what we've seen so far this appears to be a movie that's faith-affirming, rather than faith-antagonistic. Here are just a few things that we learn from the trailer:
1. There's an awful lot of talent involved
Some of Hollywood's brightest and best are on board this project. Beside the two leads, the Oscar-nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor plays a key supporting role as Peter, while the film is directed by Garth Davis – whose first film Lion was in the running for Best Picture awards all around the world last year – and produced by Iain Canning, the man behind The King's Speech.
2. We're going to get plenty of the real gospel story
The trailer is packed with familiar moments from the Gospels, including healings, the cleansing of the temple, and of course the crucifixion. This looks like it's going to remain fairly faithful to the story we know, rather than offering lots of speculation around the characters.
3. It might not hold back
The opening of the trailer deals with the shame that Mary has brought on her family, and seems to include a fairly horrific ritual which is halfway between a drowning and a forced baptism. The shot of Phoenix on the cross, battered and bloodied, also suggests that this won't be family viewing.
4. It's going to challenge ancient gender bias... and modern too
The film is billed as 'the untold story' (although of course, Mary is prominent and close to Jesus in the biblical text), and seems to focus on their close platonic friendship. There's no hint in the trailer of any romantic relationship – the kind to which other more controversial works have alluded – but it's clear that this Jesus views Mary as equal, and supports her as she questions why women are given lesser access to God than men. It seems from the footage that this places her at odds with Peter particularly, but it may mean that the film is difficult to swallow for those who still believe leadership is male.
Again, it's just a trailer, but from these two minutes, Mary Magdalene looks like it might just be that rare thing: a brilliant faith-based film that is able to rise above its obvious audience and break out way beyond it. It's exciting to imagine what God might do through Mary Magdalene, just as he did nearly 2,000 years ago...
Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and the Deputy CEO ofYouthscape. Follow him on Twitter @martinsaunders.