The Passion of the Christ

A major hypocrisy exists when it comes to morality and movies. The moral majority screams at the top of their lungs when it comes to violence in films, yet rally behind “The Passion of the Christ,” one of the most violent and disturbing films of recent memory. I believe director/co- writer Mel Gibson when he says he was attempting to achieve the unimaginable horror of the last twelve hours in the life of Jesus Christ.

To that effect, “The Passion of the Christ” makes it painfully clear that being scourged and crucified is the ultimate price to pay for one’s faith. What “The Passion of the Christ” lacks is passion. Gibson has made a film for the faithful, an built-in audience who can inject their personal passion into the proceedings. Those unfamiliar with the specifics of the story will find “The Passion of the Christ” two hours of unadulterated torture.

By focusing on the last twelve hours of Christ’s life, Gibson and co-writer Benedict Fitzgerald do the film and their audience a disservice. Missing in action are scenes of Jesus tending to his flock, spreading words of peace and tolerance. The writers drop all of the back story, assuming anyone interested in seeing the film will know the story. If Gibson truly believed this assumption, then he would have had the guts to release “The Passion of Christ” in Aramaic without subtitles.

The Los Angeles Times employs a music critic who in the past made no secret of his personal bias, always giving glowing reviews to his handful of favorites and trashing the rest. Which made me wonder why the paper would allow this critic to review groups he disdained. Even though he was a good reviewer, was his bias blinding the truth that another critic would have found?

I mention this because I’m not a religious person. I’m a person of faith, but don’t subscribe to any organized religion. I believe if people find comfort and security in the Bible, then good for them. I’m not fond of people who try to elevate their sense of comfort and security by forcing others to share their beliefs. So with that in mind, was I the wrong person to review “The Passion of the Christ?” On a religious level, absolutely not. On a secular level, you bet. After all is said and done, “The Passion of the Christ” is a film, one that uses images of man’s inhumanity against man to evoke feelings of humanity in its audience.

True to form, “The Passion of the Christ” affects different audience members in different ways. Some members of the audience I saw the film with were stunned, like someone hit them with a sledgehammer. Some people cried, others left quietly in the dark. If Gibson’s goal was to make a film that would create discussion and discourse, he has succeeded. Using mood enhancing photography, haunting music and film school editing, Gibson has crafted a sharp looking movie. Gibson’s attention to detail is apparent throughout, putting every penny of his $25 million up on the screen. The production design is distinctly old world, and Gibson’s use of an international cast allows us to experience the performance rather than the performer.

Jim Caviezel (The Thin Red Line), with his blood encrusted stringy hair, soulful eyes, and lithe body, looks the part of Jesus Christ. As he suffers one violent indignity after another, Caviezel’s performance, either through choice or necessity, becomes more insular. By the time Jesus Christ is nailed to the cross he’s a shell, a shattered bag of bones and profusely bleeding lacerations, a human testament to inhuman punishment.

The usual cast of characters and suspects are fleshed out by actors who bring a great deal of strength to their performances, including the wonderful Maia Morgenstern as Mary, who is forced to sit on the sidelines and grieve, and Hristo Naumov Shopov, who is powerful as Pontius Pilate, whose decision sets the tragic chain of events into motion.

As the film’s director, Gibson has a hard time letting the text speak for itself. He seems intent on creating a testament to his own sins. He incorporates imagery and creates stereotypes as cinematic shortcuts, tampering with the text’s reverence. These personal touches dilute the film’s authenticity. Gibson can’t have his cake and eat it too, but he sure tries.

Many films about Jesus Christ have been made, some good, most bad, and even though “The Passion of the Christ” fails as entertainment, I’m sure those looking for inspiration in its message will find it. Personally, I believe this story could have been told without the shock and awe of seeing every detail presented in extreme close-up. Gibson obviously didn’t have faith that his audience would “get it” without pandering to their sense of outrage. Less gore and more “passion” would have made the film accessible to those who need it most.

Gibson nails Crucifixion But there’s little Passion in this tale of Jesus


Jim Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci, Rosalinda Celantano, Mattia Sbragia, Hristo Naumov Shopov. Directed by Mel Gibson. Rated R. 126 Minutes.


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