Should you watch ‘Risen’ at youth group?

Image: Should you watch ‘Risen’ at youth group?

Why we chose NOT to screen the film about the resurrection ... and a few things to think about if you do.

At first glance, Risen has a lot of potential. The recently released blockbuster frames the resurrection of Jesus as a mystery. 

Showing a movie during youth group is not something I would recommend for a standard week. Staring at a screen can be anti-social and is no replacement for learning from God's word. However, for a special occasion in can be an incredibly useful tool. 

Based on online reviews, our team had decided to show Risen as part of an evangelistic pizza night at our youth group. After we watched the movie, we realised that we couldn’t get behind the message the movie sent about following Jesus. 

What's Risen about?

Risen begins with energy, showing the day-to-day life of Roman tribune, Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) and the political mayhem surrounding Jesus’s death. By showing the crucifixion and aftermath from Clavius’s point of view, Director Kevin Reynolds has created a fresh take on the resurrection of Jesus. The action takes on an element of dramatic irony, with audience members aware that despite Clavius’s promises, Jesus will disappear amid claims of his resurrection. Although it is rated M (PG 13+ for America) due to the battle scenes and gory depiction of crucifixion, these are helpful to the plot, rather than distracting from it. The striking physical depiction of Christ's death and the evidence for his resurrection is well situated to address doubts about the Christian faith. 

Clavius's story is the viewer's story

The audience is meant to identify with Clavius, who seems to be following an ancient version American dream: be successful in the soldier, make it to Rome, where you will find rest and peace. Jesus’s death, and the disciples claims bring Clavius’ worldview under strain. While interacting with disciples and inspecting the empty tomb, Clavius begins to question his initial skepticism, eventually deserting the Roman company to follow disciples to Jerusalem. As a character, Clavius is believable and the portrayal of his softening attitude to Jesus is thought provoking, rather than clunky.

“I have seen two things which cannot be reconciled. A man dead without question. And that same man, alive again.” –Roman Tribune, Clavius

Although the film begins strongly, it loses steam when Clavius and the disciples find Jesus. Reynolds provides a two-dimensional representation of the disciples and Jesus, relying on Christian stereotypes rather than fleshing out these characters. While Clavius shows some remorse for his involvement in Jesus’ crucifixion, his interactions with Jesus are limited and unsatisfying. 

Why we chose not to screen Risen

*** Warning: Spoiler Alert ***

It wasn't until the final scene that we decided it wouldn’t be helpful to show the movie at our youth group. While the disciples are tasked by Jesus to go and tell others what they have seen, Clavius decides not to join them. And there are two things that happen at this point that left us feeling disappointed:

  1. Despite confronting head-on the proof that Jesus has been raised from the dead, Clavius is last pictured sitting in a pub, unwilling to follow Jesus.
  2. The disciples' response to Clavius is equally disappointing as they seem to accept his choice not to follow Christ as equally good as their own.

As leaders of young people - some who are still making up their mind about Jesus - we felt this ending was pretty weak. The truth about Jesus has transformed so many millions of lives across the ages ... there's so many great stories out there. So why would we show a movie about someone who chose to ignore the truth?

Some alternative ways to use Risen in your youth group

Although we chose not to screen Risen, there are still ways you could use the movie to glorify Jesus in a youth group setting.

1. As a story telling device 

You could use Risen as a way of exploring the facts about the resurrection. The images of the crucifixion and the evidence of the physical proof of Jesus's resurrection could easily be played in the background while the appropriate passages were read from the bible. This method uses Risen in conjunction with the biblical text, allowing youth to grasp an in-depth understanding of the reality of what we read in the bible. 

2. Using certain scenes to aid discussion 

This is a slightly more complicated idea, but could still be rewarding. One thing Risen does successfully explore is the different political stakeholders surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. Watching small scenes which depict the Romans, Jewish leaders and disciples and discussing the impact of Jesus’s resurrection on each group provides a nice segue to asking the youth about the impact of Jesus’ resurrection on their own lives.  For example: What did the Romans have to lose if Jesus resurrection is true? What did the disciples gain? What might you lose if Jesus really has risen from the dead? What might you gain? 

This could also be used in conjunction with a Bible verse or study. 

3. Watch the whole movie critically 

Watching Risen in its entirety and discussing and questioning Clavius’s response to Jesus would again provide a safe environment for individuals to admit doubt or struggles they have with living a Christian life. This is the most time-consuming option, and would only be appropriate for a mature group, but it could be rewarding.  

No matter how – or if – you decide to use Risen with your youth group, let me encourage you with a message it communicates effectively: there is overwhelming physical evidence for our belief in the resurrection of Jesus. And that truth continues to change lives around the world 2000 years later.

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