Worth A Look: 13.93%
Pretty Bad: 10.57%
Total Crap: 13.93%
15 reviews, 506 user ratings
|Passion of the Christ, The
by Erik Childress
Take away all the religious underpinnings. Strip down the curtains of faith that millions live amongst. Forget the pre-hype and the charges leveled at this film and simply imagine the Bible (for this moment) as a collection of stories. Nothing more. You have may have read them growing up or perhaps even studied them in school just like you would have Shakespeare or Dickens. Break it down to the most easily definable terms and what you have is the greatest film adaptation of this story that Iíve ever seen.Thereís no sense going into my background as a student of Catholicism as it can neither strengthen nor diminish my job to encapsulate this experience to you. I am a Christian, but not a practicing one. The constant hypocrisy of the religious politics was enough to turn me into a more introverted believer instead of one to worship amongst my peers. I did not walk into The Passion looking to pray, nor was I expecting any sort of spiritual reawakening. I walked into a movie based on a book that I read several times and seen performed in various incarnations. On that basis, itís not so much different than The Lord of the Rings. And where Return of the King was the third act of a great story, so is The Passion. Iím reviewing a film, not a way of life.
"Have You Made Your Decision For Christ?"
It opens not with his birth or his following, but in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus Christ (Jim Caviezel) agonizes over his destiny. (The fact that heís sweating blood is the first realization that someone wasnít eliminating the little elements.) Satan is on hand to tempt him with doubt and what is personified in the appearance of Rosalinda Celentano is the most striking manifestation of evil Iíve ever experienced in the cinema. Beautiful yet abhorrent. Repulsive and still fascinating.
Thirty pieces of silver later, Jesus is arrested and put on a virtual mock trial for his indiscretions. Accused of blasphemy, the Jewish religious leaders look for support in ridding this threat to their institution. How dare this man announce his ability and willingness to tear down the Temple and rebuild it in three days? This metaphor is all but lost on the disbelieving High Priest Caiphas (Mattia Sbragia) and is also a perfect representation of classic storytellers using interpretive language to get their point across.
The politics of Jesusí arrest have never been the subject of the passion play. So it shouldnít come as a surprise that Pontius Pilate (a fabulous Hristo Naumov Shopov) is portrayed as a conflicted weakling in Christís fate. Fearing a potential uprising with either verdict, Pilate finds no cause to condemn this individual just to appease the religious faction of the day.
Likely this is where the charges of anti-semitism come from as Jewish leaders are more instrumental in pushing for a crucifixion. Pilate and a few other Romans look on with mournful faces while others wearing the uniform sadistically beat him to within inches of his life. In turn, itís only the Jewish Nazguls portrayed in a virulently negative light and even a few of them speak up in his defense. Without doing a headcount, there are certainly more Jews crying and protesting in Jesusí slow march to the mountain then there are screaming the choice for the criminal Barabbas. Whomever you believe is culpable for Jesusí death, how can this film where the hero (a Jew) preaches the word of forgiveness, even at his bloodiest, most soul-shattering state be viewed as hating anyone?
Make no mistake, it is the blood of Jesus in this film that is liable to shake you right down to the bone, as He is giving up enough for the entire world and Gibson is intent on showing us every drop. Every whiplash, punch, skin-scourge, thorn-piercing and fall is documented not to an exploitive degree but to visualize the horrible imaginations of those familiar with the graphic violence inflicted in the Bible by Jesusí tormentors. Of course itís difficult to sit through (I actively flinched twice) and a filmmaker could certainly wash over it to hit just the main beats. But would he be any better than Pilate?
Mel Gibson started with the gospels and filters it through his strengths as a filmmaker. Choosing to focus his film on the final 12 hours of Jesusí life, Gibson has done what several filmmakers have done with the subject; pick an element which they feel is important enough to tell and run with it. Weíve had films adapt individual biblical stories. Some have even tried to tell the better part of the Old Testament. Anyone remember Barabbas? The Passion evolves like the chapter-play adaptation (aka ďThe Stations of the CrossĒ) thatís acted out in Church every Easter.
Gibson has avoided reinterpreting the story, keeping it very simple without spelling out the connection from suffering to forgiveness for its audience. Through his constructive use of flashback to Jesusí greatest hits, we can assemble the puzzle for ourselves even if you only have a rudimentary Cliffís Notes version of the backstory.
Jesusí relationship with his mother, Mary (Maia Morgenstern, in a performance to be remembered at next yearís Oscars) has never been as heartrending. Iíve seen the crucifixion presented before. Iíve acted it out in school and know the story back and forth. Not until this film has the emotional weight of Maryís love for her son been felt so deeply and her final moment is like an emotive stigmata for our souls.
Gibson, co-screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald and editor John Wright expertly interweave the past to Jesusí present to structure the context of his message without having to put us through a miniseries. Even those with minimalist knowledge will know what the rescue of Mary Magdalene (Monica Bellucci) is all about without Jesusí immortal line ever being uttered. Caleb Deschanelís brilliant cinematography and John Debneyís all-intensive score contribute to a filmgoing experience that deserves to be bereft of its denouncers who fail to see past their predestined beliefs of what the film actually is.
Mel Gibson has never been one to shy away from martyrdom in his films. Think of his arms outstretched at the end of Braveheart and the scarred, outcast teacher in The Man Without a Face (both of which he directed.) How about his savior treatment in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, the internal conflict of Hamlet and even the priest with a crisis of faith in Signs? Here, even while not completely behind the camera (his hand places the nail in Jesusí hand), he may have placed himself into a no-win situation except maybe for his own heart.
Belief systems turn rooms uncomfortable no matter if youíre a Christian, a Jew, a Mormon or someone awaiting a screen adaptation of Dianetics. Martin Scorsese was blasted by fellow Christians in 1988 because amongst other things ďJesus had sex with Mary Magdalene.Ē Funny how no one had a problem with the violence then or Jews throwing stones at Jesus. If someone walked amongst our own societal Tower of Babel today pronouncing themselves as the Messiah, the Son of God, which of us would be the first to laugh at him; maybe even beat him without first listening to what he has to say. After all, who are we to judge?The Passion of the Christ is one of the sincerest personal cinematic triumphs to come along in some time and a riveting piece of storytelling to match. There will be arguments across every fence on the film and it will be very easy to spot who fashioned their opinion before seeing it. They are the ones who wonít be listening and very quick to condemn. Itís in that way where The Passion of the Christ is already a foretold prophecy. Widely considered that weíre all responsible in some way for Jesusí death, every one of us is likely to fit somewhere into the film; either as an attacker, one to cry its praises, or those in the background indifferent to it all. No matter which God you pray to or which story you believe, The Passion of the Christ is a tremendous FILM and if you look at it through those eyes you may believe that too.
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originally posted: 02/25/04 16:58:43