Listen: Laura Bennett chats to film director Garth Davis about ‘Mary Magdalene’
With films like Noah, The Passion of the Christ, and Paul, the Apostle of Christ all making it to the big screen, it’s clear there’s something magnetic about the stories of the Bible.
What makes each movie different though is how they handle the text, and depict its characters.
Out March 22, Mary Magdalene is the latest film to take on the tenets of Christian faith, exploring the life of one of Jesus’ lesser-known followers and imagining what it was like to be a woman amongst the disciples. Relying on historical evidence, a trip to Magdala and a handful of scriptures, director Garth Davis (Lion) was intrigued by Mary’s life.
“The script had this humanity and spirituality that I fell in love with…I really connected with [it], and I thought I could really explore [that],” said Garth. “The thing that struck me was that women were not free to explore their spiritual calling… where the men were free to explore everything. It just showed me how courageous Mary must have been to follow her calling.”
One of the big questions Mary asks in the film is about the kingdom of God; is it outside of us? Possessed by only a few ‘religious elite’? Or is it something we each bring to the table in our love for God and each other?
“[Mary] discovers that true freedom and liberation can only come through unconditional love,” said Garth, “that God is in us, it’s not in some building or temple or person… you find God in yourself. And if you can embrace unconditional love – which is probably the hardest thing to do… then you have access to God.”
Preparing the actors to play such iconic characters and build authentic relationships between them requires skill. One technique Garth uses is “relationship building through art making”.
“If there are relationships in the movie – like brothers and sisters – I need to make sure some rehearsals connect that relationship. So we do all sorts of things, [and one is] to trace each other and paint each other as they understand that relationship to be …these paintings do some profound teaching for the actors …I’ve got Dev [Patel] and Rooney [Mara] from Lion. I collect [the artworks] and have this secret fantasy that in 20 years’ time I could have an exhibition.”
“Mary discovers that true freedom and liberation can only come through unconditional love.” ~ Garth Davis
One relationship central to Mary Magdalene, is of course that between Mary and Jesus. Not wanting to get lost in the stereotypes, Garth said his approach to Jesus was to communicate His struggle between the flesh and the spirit; to show “someone who was both human and divine, and to acknowledge the responsibility that He held”.
“I think there’s a part of [Jesus] that doesn’t want to let go of being a human being… He loves the earth, He loves humanity… so there’s an acknowledgement of the pain of letting that go,” Garth said.
When asked how he was affected by making the movie as a spiritually curious non-Christian, Garth said, “It just validated more of what I’ve always felt, so I got more passionate about it …the message of the film is what I believe in. One of the inspirations for me was [activist] Malala [Yousafzai], and how she forgave the Taliban for the attack. And how she thanked her father for treating her as a person not as a woman…they’re real symbols of hope, and that kind of light that I saw in those people I saw in this story as well.”
Mary Magdalene is in cinemas March 22.
Discussion Guide Download
To learn more about the themes explored in the movie Mary Magdelene and think through how the story is presented on the big screen, check out the downloadable discussion guide.