"But the team behind the new film Mary Magdalene, directed by Garth Davis, is hoping to get back to basics. The movie, which came out in the U.K. on March 16, tells the story of Mary Magdalene (Rooney Mara), detailing her fraught existence in Magdala as a single woman determined not to marry, before she meets Jesus (Joaquin Phoenix) and follows him to Galilee and then Jerusalem, where he’s crucified. Yet, in stripping away the myths, this film portrayal of Mary Magdalene underlines what some scholars see as the real — and unexpected — reason why she’s so controversial. At the heart of the controversy is the idea that Mary Magdalene’s connection to Jesus was spiritual rather than romantic. For example, in the film’s version of the Last Supper, Mary Magdalene is seated on Jesus’ right-hand side. Though the tableau echoes a key scene in the 2006 film version of The Da Vinci Code, in which the characters examine Leonardo Da Vinci’s mural The Last Supper and debate whether the effeminate figure to Jesus’ right was in fact Mary Magdalene, the new movie doesn’t place her there as his wife. The significance of her seat lies instead in Mary Magdalene taking the prized position above any of the twelve male apostles, as Peter (Chiwetel Ejiofor) looks on in jealousy.
"It is likely that Mary Magdalene functioned in Gnostic circles not only as representative of the female followers of Jesus, but also as a symbol of the importance of leadership of women among Gnostics. She may have been a role model on which some women base their claim to power. Women may have played important roles in these communities, both as leaders and as sources of revelation and authority. This probably reflects the egalitarianism within the Jesus moved, itself rooted in the egalitarian form(forms) of Judaism. As one scholar, Rosemary Ruether has argued, "The tradition of Mary Magdalene as a sinner has developed in orthodox Christianity primarily to displace the apostolic authority claimed for women through her name. From the Gnostic materials, we can glimpse what was displaced, distorted, lost and overlaid by the legend of Mary Magdalene as the whore." (How Mary Magdalene Became a Whore" by Jane Schaberg)