Several months ago I had the opportunity to see the pre-release of a movie on the life of Mary post-resurrection called Full of Grace. Just recently, I had the opportunity to watch it again in anticipation of writing this review. As I watched the film for the second time I could not help but marvel at the beauty of the story and the marvelous presentation of Mary contained within the film. Many cinematographers seek to capture the beauty and life of Mary. Most recently Ignatius Press attempted to do this in their film Mary of Nazareth. Never before (to my knowledge) have filmmakers sought to portray the life of Mary post-resurrection, meaning her role in the early Church leading up to her dormition/assumption. At the pre-release screening, I learned that the film did not consult many of the ancient texts (The Life of the Virgin by Maximus the Confessor; Dormition homilies of the Early Patristics). Watching the film, you could have fooled me! Many of the traditions regarding the Dormition contained in those writings were present in the film, such as, Mary knowing the time of her death was approaching, the gathering of the disciples around her deathbed, and the funeral procession. Overall, I found the film thought provoking in many ways, not only on a spiritual level, but on an intellectual level as well. Here are some of my takeaways from Full of Grace.
The Early Church
Full of Grace does a wonderful job presenting the Early Church after the death of their leader, messiah, and savior, Jesus Christ. It shows the role of St. Peter in the early Church as he engages in the debates which surround him. At times I felt the debates distracted the viewer from the overall premise of telling Mary’s story. On at least one occasion though, Peter turned to Mary for advice about the situations he was facing, so in this way, the debates did serve some purpose in relation to the story. Peter revealed many of the early theological controversies in the early Church which include: Jesus was never man, only spirit; Jesus lacked the authority of the commandments; denied the trinity and real presence of Christ in the Eucharist; and the brothers/sisters of the Lord controversy and some even claiming to have been Jesus’ wife. Mary gave a comical response about the brothers and sisters of the Lord which surely will bring a smile to your face. The movie adequately portrays Peter as the leader of the Church.
Calling Mary Mother
Mary has been rightly called the mother of God since it was defined in 431 at the Council of Ephesus. What Full of Grace shows is the universal motherhood of Mary especially towards the apostles. Mary engages Peter in conversation once he arrived at her home. In the style of the conversation between the two one sees the motherly concern of Mary as she asks about Peter’s family, and assures him of her prayers for them and for him to send his family her love. As the disciples arrive to gather around Mary’s bedside, one asked, “How is mother?” Not only did Mary see herself as their mother, but they looked to her in this role. This movie reveals the truth that we know today, that at the foot of the cross, Mary’s motherhood was extended to all believers, and so in return we call upon her as our mother.
“Mary kept these things, reflecting on them in her heart”
Full of Grace beautifully captured these words from Luke’s gospel. Whenever Mary spoke in the film, it seemed as if she was recalling the events of her life with Jesus. During Mary’s farewell discourse to the disciples, she recounted the events of both Jesus’ and her own life. Not only did Mary treasure the moments of Jesus, but it was apparent she held other memories in her heart too. On one occasion she told Peter she woke up with their (previous) conversation on her heart.
The movie also portrayed a method of Mary’s remembrance, namely by walking along a path. She told Peter, “I take this walk to remember Him, all complications of life disappear.” At the close of Mary’s farewell discourse, she spoke about the walks she had with the apostles and how she longed to take them again. Viewers of the film can take inspiration from Mary’s walks with the disciples, because Mary wants to walk with us. She wants to remember the events of Christ’s life. She wants to journey with us and pray for us. One way we can walk with Mary is by praying the rosary, and allowing her to take our hand and walk us through the gospels.
The script for Full of Grace was quite beautiful and had many lines which could be the subject of meditation and reflection for the viewers. Here are a few of them (paraphrased):
- The frailty of humanity is to never be satisfied, to always be seeking. Many have holes in their hearts so big that only He can fill them.
- Peter speaking: I speak of a man (Jesus) who can give them what they don’t have.
- Peter asking Zara about why she believes in Jesus since she never met Him- When I look into her (Mary’s) eyes, when I see how she lives, that’s how I know it’s all true. I see Him in Her. I hear Him because of her.
- The Lord has not left you, he has gone away so we can find him. He has gone away so we can seek him.
- The question is not whether we will struggle, we will struggle greatly, the question is to whom do we look to in the struggle.
- Our hearts beat one together, never separated even in death, and my own soul has rejoiced, has been saddened, and crushed, bruised, bloodied, killed, and resurrected.
Controversy and Debate
Some people watching Full of Grace might be surprised that it depicts the death of Mary. Because after all, wasn’t she assumed into Heaven? Theologians debate regularly the question of whether or not Mary died. Surprisingly, the Church’s dogmatic declaration regarding Mary’s Assumption into Heaven body and soul, Munificentissimus Deus remains silent on the question. There are three different theological “camps” regarding Mary’s death: the Dormitionists, Assumptionists, and Immortalists.
The Dormitionists uphold that Mary fell asleep and then was later transferred body and soul into Heaven. The Assumptionists believe Mary died, was buried, and then was translated into Heaven body and soul sometime thereafter. My sense of Full of Grace is that this is the theory they put forward given the funeral procession, that is, carrying Mary’s body through the streets to her grave. Maximus the Confessor espouses this belief in The Life of the Virgin as he suggests that like Jesus, Mary was in the tomb three days, and once St. Thomas, arriving at the tomb late, requested it to be open so he could pay his last respects. When the tomb was opened, Mary’s body was nowhere to be found, she had already been assumed body and soul into Heaven. Lastly, the Immortalists propose that Mary did not die and experienced the Assumption without falling asleep. For the Immortalist, Mary could not experience death in light of her Immaculate Conception. Death was a consequent of sin and Mary is without sin. Jesus, dying on the cross, had to do so because he was the redeemer, the savior. Mary has no need to die.
Full of Grace treats a controversial topic as it presents the last days and death of Mary. Consequently it renews the debates of old in our day and age.
There is no gospel account that tells us about the life of Mary after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The only account we find post-crucifixion is Mary’s presence in the Upper Room on the night of Pentecost, when she was persevering in prayer with the disciples. Any cinematographer making a film about the end of Mary’s life will take liberties as a result. The producers of Full of Grace have offered the viewer a beautiful film depicting those events of Mary’s life, which give us occasion to reflect at greater lengths on the dormition of Mary, which we focus on each time we pray the fourth Glorious mystery of the rosary. I highly recommend watching and praying with this unique and artistic portrayal of Mary’s life.