This is the second 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 Matthew's Gospel and so today it's onto Mark.
As I mentioned in my recent review of the Lumo Project's The Gospel of Mark
The agreed upon text of Mark appears to comes up short at chapter 16 verse 8 (before any sightings of the risen Jesus) and all we're left with is a series of fragments where others have sought to create a new ending. It's a scenario that suggested a series of interesting possibilities cinematically...Sadly no film has really sought to end their film in quite this way. As I noted in that review, rather than ending the film at Mark 16:8, or even dramatising the different alternate endings (but in a way that is notably different from the rest of the film) we simply get the most popular of the alternate endings presented in the same way as the rest of the film. Whilst it would obviously be too much to ask to see a Wayne's World style ending, perhaps the use of a different narrators voice, or a different actor playing Jesus might have been interesting.
Lumo's version of verses 16:1-8 (which you can view online) does follow the text of these eight verses fairly closely. There's a group of four women rather than three but they arrive at a tomb that is already open and go inside. They don't however meet a young man dressed in white, even if there is a hint that a white glowing object is present in the tomb. Then they run away from the tomb and the scene ends.
The absence of the young man dressed in white is a bit of shame. Those seeking to harmionise the gospels naturally assume he is an angel as we find in Matthew, but that is not actually what Mark's text says, and it's important to remember that Matthew was using Mark as his major source. Both Matthew and Luke tweak Mark's original wording, though in different directions. Incidentally, there have been some attempts to link the young man in the tomb with the other anonymous young man from Gethsemane who is sometimes known as the Naked Fugitive. (He is also absent from the relevant shot in the Lumo Project). Partly it's because these are the only two times that this particular NT Greek word for young man (νεανίσκος) is used in Mark and partly because of further references to a young man in an apocryphal text called the Secret Gospel of Mark. I must admit I find all this idle speculation interesting, but ultimately not very useful and highly tenuous. There's very little to suggest Secret Mark is any kind of credible source. But I digress.
A key question here is what are the options for the ending of Mark? Broadly speaking there are three. The first is that one of the endings we have was actually the original. One response to my Gospel of Mark review was from James Snapp who has argued elsewhere that the textual issues with the main "alternate" with Mark are overstated. I must confess not to be an expert, but note that even the majority of evangelical scholars concede that differences in style/vocab and the absence of this missing piece in some manuscripts is a little problematic. If Snapp is correct however then the Lumo project's ending is practically.
The second option is that the real original ending was somehow lost. Some have suggested that it was probably a key component of the endings we find in Matthew and Luke, perhaps the material that is common to both. From a filmic point of view this is rather unsatisfying. The text cannot be re-created. Even if we could determine that this was actually what happened we don't know if it was burnt by fire, eaten by worms or deliberately suppressed. One could try to recreate it from the endings of Matthew/Luke but even this would be highly speculative. Mark's distinct voice would be lost and any attempt to recreate it would probably reflect the new author's agenda and perspectives more than Mark's.
The third option however is potentially more fruitful. This is the theory that, for whatever reason, Mark intended the gospel to end at verse 8. This was perhaps controversial which is why Matthew and Luke added their own as did the unknown writers who sought to provide a climax that was (according to them) more fitting. But perhaps Mark intended his gospel to end on a question mark, something more mysterious, unknown and open-ended.
The only film that really fits in to this perspective is Roberto Rossellini's Il Messia (1975). Here we get a group of around 8-10 people heading to Jesus' tomb on the Sunday morning. The group is a mixture of men and women (again at least four), but as they approach they are met first by two soldiers running the other way and then by another woman (seemingly Mary Magdalene). This prompts Mary the mother of Jesus to run on ahead. She climbs up to the tomb and on finding it empty falls to her knees and worships (as pictured above), with the rest of the group on the ground below.
Whilst this fits the details of verses 16:1-8 no better (there is still no young man, and Magdalene is not mentioned as reaching the tomb before Jesus' mother in Mark) it does seem, to me, that it accords better with the possibility that Mark intended his gospel to end at this point. As I noted in my review a few years ago this is typical of Rossellini's strategy in his history films:
Jesus has gone, and Mary kneels in worship, but the conclusion is far from solid and there are no appearances of the risen Messiah... It is not denying the miraculous necessarily, but almost placing the viewer in the moment of its occurrence, almost unable to tell yet that something miraculous has happened. Only on reflection do we work out what has happened.