When Joaquin Phoenix took on the role of Jesus in the new film “Mary Magdalene,” he did many of the expected things: Grew long hair, adopted an intense and otherworldly stare, even meditated on a mountaintop.But there was one thing he would not do.Near the beginning of “Mary Magdalene,” which opened Friday in the United States, the script called for Jesus to heal a blind woman by rubbing mud in her eyes, an echo of John’s Gospel. (It’s a blind man in the Bible, a blind woman in the film.)”I knew about that scene from the Bible, but I guess I had never really considered it,” Phoenix told CNN in a recent interview.”When I got there, I thought: I’m not going to rub dirt in her eyes. Who the f*!# would do that? It doesn’t make any sense. That is a horrible introduction to seeing.”The Bible doesn’t fully explain why Jesus used mud or clay to heal the blind, though some experts say it was a common practice among first-century healers.In “Mary Magdalene,” Phoenix decided to go with his gut, licking a mudless thumb and gently rubbing the woman’s eyes.”It freed me up, in some ways, to discover what is truthful in the moment,” he said. “That moment is not so much about a real miracle. It’s about someone who has been dismissed by society finally being seen, embraced and encouraged to join the broader community. To me, that is a miracle. There’s something profoundly beautiful about that sentiment.”That humanistic message captures the essence of “Mary Magdalene,” a film that aims for historic fidelity in some respects, but whose emotional and intellectual currents are radically contemporary.

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