This is the last in a series of short posts for Easter this year looking at film portrayals of the resurrection. The idea is to take each of the Gospels in turn and look at one or two films that have sought to portray the resurrection in a manner that fits with that particular Gospel. Yesterday I looked at the resurrection in Mark's Gospel and so today we end with the Gospel of John.
As is well known, John's Gospel is significantly different from the other three "synoptic" gospels. Whilst the resurrection scenes are not an exception we do see something interesting in how John essentially takes the basic plot structure from the other three gospels and expands it with the writer's own ideas as well as adding on a significant chunk of new material towards the end. This is essentially a microcosm of what John does with the Synoptic text as a whole. (I realise that some dispute whether John was even familiar with any of the synoptics).
What we have in John's gospel is Mary Magdalene visiting the tomb, finding it empty, running to tell the apostles, who run back to the tomb and find it empty. When they leave she comes face to face with Jesus, although initially she mistakes him for someone else. That evening Jesus appears to the disciples. John then adds a 2nd appearance eight days later, this time where the "doubting" disciple is present. Then we get a later incident, sometimes called an appendix or the epilogue where Jesus appears on a beach and cooks the disciples fish for breakfast before rehabilitating Simon Peter. One of the reasons this second chapter (21) is sometimes called an epilogue or appendix is because the text seems to have come to a close at 20:31, but then starts up again.
Overall these incidents are not that well represented in film, indeed when thinking about them the main two that spring to mind are the two word for word adaptations, one from the Visual Bible in 2003 and 2015's version from the Lumo Project. That said two versions of the appearance to Mary Magdalene - the episode from John's resurrection scenes that gets the most coverage in Jesus film - are worth a brief mention.
The first is in The Miracle Maker (2000) which as I alluded to yesterday gives better coverage to the events of the resurrection than practically any other film. Here we get a nice point-of-view shot as Mary first sees the risen Jesus, partially accounting for her failing to recognise him.
Also mentioned yesterday was the BBC's The Passion (2008). As with the Road to Emmaus scene in Luke's Gospel where Jesus isn't recognised by seemingly close friends, the film uses a different actor to portray Jesus as he meets Mary.
The Lumo Project's Gospel of John (2015)
So how do the word for word translations do? Some of the Lumo Project's Gospel of John of the resurrection are available on YouTube. The Magdalene, Thomas and Simon Peter scenes are obviously filmed specifically for this instalment but there's quite a bit of footage that is recycled in the other films. Part of the disappointment with this version is that it doesn't really do anything particularly interesting with what it has available and conversely part of the disappointment is that, again, some of the nudges in the text are ignored. I suspect it's the practicalities of trying to create re-useable footage, more than a desire to minimise the distinctives of each gospel that is the driving consideration here, but the result is much the same.
The Visual Bible' Gospel of John (2003)
In contrast I find the Visual Bible' Gospel of John more moving and it uses a couple of nice filmic techniques to good effect. It actually spends fifteen minutes on these two chapters, not quite as long as The Passion, but still one of the longest treatments.
The first thing that really stands out here is that Magalene's case of mistaken identity is because Jesus is rather oddly crouched down behind a plant. This seems a little bit odd (what was he doing at that moment? Had he got distracted from his important business of making his debut post-resurrection appearance by a stray weed or something?), but is one way to deal with a somewhat odd bit of the story.
What really stands out about this film's resurrection sequence - memorable to me even before I watched it, is the very end of the film. As Jesus' conversation with Peter draws to a close, the group of them are walking along the beach. Peter gestures towards the disciple that Jesus loved and asks "What about this man?". Jesus replies "If I want him to live until I come, what is that to you". The "other" disciple is standing behind the two of them but compositionally he is in the middle of the frame between Jesus and Peter. Once Jesus has spoken the line he an Peter walk past the camera (which is tracking back very slowly) such that the other disciple is left alone in the middle of the frame and gradually moves closer to the camera looking more than a little taken aback. Then the footage freezes, the image turns sepia and then merges into a sketch -type version of the image (pictured above). At the same time, the music to the film - which I find to be one of it's strong points - swells in a particularly moving way. The freeze frame/sepia-ing/distorting of this image really conveys the passing of time and the sense that the live action we have been witnessing passed into history. It's my favourite moment in the entire film, poignantly placing an emphasis on what happened to these followers, and the church who followed in their wake, after the story we have seen has been completed. And when it comes to the resurrection, perhaps that is the most significant thing.