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Passion of the Christ, The

Reviewed By WGartside
Posted 11/19/04 05:48:51

"If Mel Gibson says Jesus invented the barsool, it must be true!"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Is it forgivable for Mel Gibson to substitute the grotesqueries of crucifixion for storytelling in "The Passion of the Christ?" Like the Romans, who used crucifixion to humiliate victims through the act of torture, isn't Gibson making Christ a spectacle of degradation and suffering?

“John was an eyewitness,” Gibson told Diane Sawyer. “Matthew was there.” Maybe. But Gibson’s desire to accurately represent Christ’s final twelve hours reflects little or no interest in the work of scholars and historians who suggest the Gospels were written forty to seventy years after the crucifixion by writers who held very practical reasons for downplaying the Romans’ role in it. Instead, he and fellow scriptwriter Benedict Fitzgerald took snippets from the Gospels, along with the writings of Mary of Agreda and Anne Catherine Emmerich, and manipulated them into a sometimes moving, oftentimes exploitative film that is unrelentingly graphic in its brutality and quite far removed from being a literal translation.

Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel did what he could with such dismal circumstances, but its obvious that Gibson was more interested in bellowing, “More blood! We need more blood!” than in studying Carravagio’s “The Flagellation of Christ” and Goya’s “Crucified Christ.” Paul Veerhoven would be proud! Gibson’s Christ is not so much a character as He is an object of aggression, and James Caviezel’s Jesus isn’t so much a triumph of acting as reacting. At times, I felt like I was watching The Devil’s Experiment!

The inclusion of an androgynous Lucifer (a brilliantly cast Rosalinda Celentano) is truly inspired (I have a female friend who believes the “actor” who played “him” was hot). However, Gibson’s use of her is the most damning evidence of anti-Semitism. Christ’s torture at the hands of the Romans, whether in the Garden of Gethsemane (where He is beaten and chained), during His scourging or His walk to Golgotha, the devil is prominently shown amongst the crowds, slinking in between onlookers, as if to suggest their actions are not their own. The camera lingers over the soldiers’ cruel torment and giddy reaction to Christ’s suffering so much that they seem more like ravenous dogs than human beings. Even Judas (Luca Lionello) is hounded by demonic visions before ultimately hanging himself. The actions of the Pharisees, on the other hand, are always depicted without the benefit of having the devil standing nearby. Lucifer’s presence amongst the crowds subtly implicates the Jewish people and blatantly absolves the Roman authorities and, by association, the Roman Catholic Church of Christ’s death. After all, the Emperor Constantine converted in the early fourth century and Christianized the empire.

The assigning of blame really all comes down to this very simple rule: good character, good teeth; bad character, bad teeth. Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov) is civilized and humane, beleaguered by the burdens of power and in possession of a great set of teeth. They aren’t as perfect as Jesus’ mind you, but, hey, He is the Savior. “Jesus, you’ve been beaten senseless and are absolutely grimy. But how does your mouth feel?” Cue Jesus smiling a divinely bright smile. “Fabulous!”

What Gibson ultimately fails to do is clarify that Jesus was the cause of His own death. Those who actually killed Jesus, or conspired to kill Him, were tools in the hand of God. If Jesus is God Incarnate, then no one could have taken His life away from Him against His wishes.

If there’s one good thing to come from this film, it’s that there are a great many people who can never again say, be it in passing or in a sermon, that there is no place or artistic value for violence in Film.

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