How Joaquin Phoenix’s Role as Jesus Transformed His Perspective on Forgiveness & Women in the Church


While Hollywood has long been known as a breeding ground for hedonism and anti-Christian sentiments, it seems the string of faith-based films to come out of America’s movie capital in recent years has had a profound effect on its actors. As in such with Joaquin Phoenix.

From Andrew Garfield’s role in the movie Silence to Dennis Quaid’s part in I Can Only Imagine, actors of all religious backgrounds have professed “falling in love with Jesus” on set and even reconnecting with their faith roots through their characters.

While not everyone proclaims a full transformation or conversion, it appears that no one can really dive into the story of Jesus without being captivated by the selfless love, mercy, and forgiveness that he practiced as well as he preached.

“What was really easy was falling in love with this person, was falling in love with Jesus Christ,” said Garfield after preparing for his role as a Jesuit priest in 2016’s Silence. “That was the most surprising thing… That was the most remarkable thing — falling in love, and how easy it was to fall in love with Jesus.”

Now, Joaquin Phoenix is professing a parallel experience after assuming the role of Jesus Christ in the 2018 faith-based film Mary Magdalene, which chronicles Jesus’ last days on earth through the lens of Mary Magdalene, played by Rooney Mara.

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While Phoenix does not currently prescribe to any particular religion, he admits that playing the part of Jesus total revolutionized his perspective on forgiveness.

“I’m really interested in the idea of forgiveness,” he told the Press Association. “And making this movie has changed his perception of what forgiveness — a big theme in Mary Magdalene — really is. I always thought forgiving somebody was like you were absolving them of their sins or their transgressions or whatever it is they did, and I started thinking it has more to do with the person forgiving than it is for the other person, it’s such a difficult task.”

“And it’s how it changes you that is the power, right?” the actor continued. “Because obviously you can forgive somebody, but what is that doing? You can’t absolve them of what they did. But it changes how you feel about it, and I really liked that idea. It’s something that really moved me.”

Phoenix explained that he’s equally passionate about the film’s woman-centric voice, as it really paints an impactful picture of female empowerment for today’s generation of young girls.

“It’s undeniable what an important figure [Mary] was in this movement,” says Phoenix. “None of the male disciples were at his crucifixion, and she was at his resurrection — that says a lot, and also shows how courageous she was.”

When asked if this portrayal of women in the media is more critical with #MeToo and Time’s Up ‘waging a war on Hollywood,’ he expressed, “It’s urgent at any time. It’s really disheartening and makes you sometimes feel very cynical about humanity.”

Phoenix went on to divulge that while Mary Magdalene is often portrayed by the Church as a mere prostitute, he hopes the movie will widen people’s perspective on the woman she was and the massive impact women can have in their own churches.

“I couldn’t help but think of young girls that are religious and have felt like their two examples in the Bible are either the virgin or the whore,” he shared. “It has to affect you and the way that you navigate the world and navigate your faith. It made me really excited, the prospect of young girls feeling like they’re represented in a biblical context in such a positive way.”

Kelsey Straeter
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Kelsey is an editor at Outreach. She’s passionate about fear fighting, freedom writing, and the pursuit of excellence in the name of crucifying perfectionism. Glitter is her favorite color, 2nd only to pink, and 3rd only to pink glitter.