There’s something about Mary: Four Marian movie meditations
By Aaron Lambert
The Blessed Virgin Mary stands alongside her beloved Son as one of the most revered figures in all of human history. And how could she not? God the Father chose her out of all of humanity and eternity to bear His only begotten Son so that whoever believed in Him would not perish, but have eternal life. She birthed and nurtured love Himself, mankind’s only means of salvation, and offered her entire life in worship to Him.
While the biblical narratives surrounding Mary and the rich tradition of the Church are certainly more than adequate in fostering devotion to her, Mary has been the subject of several films both new and old that do a good job of bringing her humanity to life. Moreover, some of these films can be viewed while meditating on a particular devotion or title of Mary. Here are four Marian films which can aid in deeper devotion to the Blessed Mother.
“The Nativity Story” (The Annunciation)
Every great story has a beginning, and there may be no greater beginning than the one ordained by God Himself as He sent His angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary on that fateful night, who proclaimed that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and she would bear the savior of the world as His mother. Many films have been made about the Nativity, but 2006’s “The Nativity Story” is notable not only because of its cast, but also because it was the first film to ever have its world premiere at the Vatican.
While some scenes in this movie do not portray a purely Catholic Mariology, young newcomer Keisha Castle-Hughes does a great job of portraying a young and innocent Mary (true to history, Castle-Hughes was only 16 years old at the time of filming), and she stars alongside a fresh-faced Oscar Issac of “Star Wars” and “Dune” fame who plays St. Joseph in one of his first major roles. Though it’s only rated PG, this is perhaps one of the grittier takes on the Nativity, as the film opens with the massacre of the innocents by King Herod.
The Marian meditation to focus on during this film is the Annunciation because it recounts the immediate events in Mary’s life following her fiat – her “yes” to God. To step out in faith and become fully submissive to the Lord as Mary did is something that does not come easily, and we would each do well to follow after Our Blessed Mother’s example in listening to the Lord’s will for our lives, even in the face of impossible odds. As Mary shows, it is precisely in those seemingly impossible situations that God makes all things possible – and brings about a good far greater than we could ever imagine.
“The Passion of the Christ” (Our Lady of Sorrows)
“The Passion of the Christ” is rightly esteemed as one of the greatest films about Jesus Christ. However, in true Marian fashion, it is also a film that reverently pays respects to the Blessed Mother and the suffering she endured during Jesus’ passion. For this reason, the film can in fact be viewed as a beautiful meditation on Our Lady of Sorrows, who is near us in our own suffering.
Throughout the film, Mother Mary, who is portrayed beautifully by Maia Morgenstern, is ever-present but always pointing toward her Son. The film’s most moving scenes are the ones that feature Mary, in her motherhood, alongside Jesus. She watches helplessly while her Son is scourged, she follows her maternal instincts and runs to Jesus as He falls while carrying His cross and He says to her, “Behold Mother, I make all things new,” and, in the penultimate scene of the film, she holds her Son’s lifeless body in her arms and her sorrowful eyes pierce the viewer’s soul, as if to say, “He did this for you.”
Our Lady knew what it was to suffer, but her faith in her Son never faltered. “The Passion of the Christ” illustrates this profound spiritual reality quite poignantly.
“Full of Grace” (Our Lady of Solitude)
The Scriptures don’t reveal much about what the remaining years of Mary’s life following Christ’s death were like, but thankfully Church tradition provides rich devotions and meditations to illumine that time. For those who have lost a loved one or feel alone or isolated, Our Lady of Solitude is a deep comfort.
The 2015 film “Full of Grace” is a moving and meditative movie on Our Lady’s final years before her assumption into heaven. It is a film that is contemplative in nature, even described by the director as a “cinematic prayer.” Mary is portrayed by Bahia Haifi, who brings a wisdom and tenderness befitting of her role as the Mother of God. The Gospel tells us that Jesus gave His mother to John at the foot of the cross, but it only makes sense that Mary and Peter would also share a special relationship, seeing as how Christ left it up to him to determine how to build His Church on earth. The film focuses on the relationship between Mary and Peter, the former of whom serves as a source of strength and guidance to the latter.
While devotions to Our Lady of Solitude are traditionally associated with Mary in her loneliness on Holy Saturday, it is also a fitting meditation for a film such as “Full of Grace.” There is a thread of › somberness that’s woven throughout, and though Mary has the apostles to be near her, one can’t help but notice how much she longs to be reunited with her Son in heaven. In this way, Mary acts as a symbol not only of holy grief, but also of expectant hope.
“Fatima” (Our Lady of Fatima)
Since the apparitions more than 100 years ago, the message of Our Lady of Fatima is as relevant as it ever has been, made all the more so with Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. Earlier this year, Pope Francis consecrated Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, thus fulfilling one of Our Lady’s prophetic proclamations to the three young shepherds in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. Given these timely occurrences, it’s well worth revisiting the story of Our Lady of Fatima, and the 2020 film “Fatima” recounts the story well.
Set against the backdrop of World War I in Europe and the rise of the Soviet Union, Our Lady of Fatima appeared at precisely the right time. Elegantly portrayed by Portuguese actress Joana Ribiero, she appeared to the young Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco on the 13th of every month beginning in May and implored them to pray the rosary fervently for world peace and an end to the war. Through ominous visions of hell and destruction, she warns the children about the tragedies that could befall humanity if it doesn’t turn away from its sinful ways and toward her Son, Jesus Christ.
Indeed, the world has been wracked with many tragedies over the past 100 years, and some might say that hell has manifested itself on earth through these countless tragedies. However, there’s a reason that devotion to Our Lady of Fatima endures to this day, and it’s because amid all the wars and violence and injustices, Our Lady carries an everlasting message of hope that can never be blotted out. As she told young Lucia during her first apparition, “you will have much to suffer, but the grace of God will be your comfort.” May Our Mother always draw near to us in our suffering and lead us to comfort and consolation within her Immaculate Heart.
Aaron Lambert is a writer from Denver.