Gibson’s passion on unflinching display in “The Passion of the Christ”
Amid the flurry of controversy and curiosity surrounding Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” the normal movie review ritual seems inadequate. Indeed I find it impossible to separate an evaluation of the film’s artistic qualities from my own personal feelings of faith and the deeply religious subject material.
Most everyone who sees this movie will feel the same way. Being careful not to recommend the film outright to anyone, I must announce that “The Passion of the Christ” is one of the most powerful and important films ever made.
This review will attempt to answer some of the most obvious questions readers of this column will have.
How violent is the film? It should come as no surprise that Gibson, (“Braveheart,” “The Patriot”) who financed and directed the film, would make a brutal, unflinching depiction of the last 12 hours of Christ’s life, and focus on the savagery of the scourging, flogging, and ultimate crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of Roman soldiers.
These events form the basis of the film. Though delicate flashbacks to his ministry (The Sermon on the Mount, Washing of the Feet, initiation of the Sacrament at the Last Supper) temper the boldly gruesome scenes of suffering, many will find the sheer relentless physical abuse heaped upon Jesus (Jim Caviezel) difficult to endure.
Others will find this visceral reality worthwhile given that no other film in history has even attempted such a concentrated interpretation of these unimaginable events let alone do so with what I call such reverential explicitness.
Christians believe these events actually took place and that this agony was the greatest ever suffered by man. Could Gibson have shown more restraint and still made an effective film? Perhaps, but the film he did make is unquestionably powerful and made for adult viewers whose faith can overcome their discomfort. Once the numbing subsides a sentiment of extraordinary gratitude should remain. How non-believers will react is difficult to predict.
Is the film accurate? Gibson takes plenty of artistic license since many of the events are only loosely based on the Four Gospels. The most well documented events– his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas’ betrayal and suicide, Peter’s denials– are superbly reenacted with a few interesting, but never unreasonable, twists. Where the film rises to an entirely different level of greatness are scenes involving an ever-present satanic figure and the Virgin Mother’s (Maia Morgenstern) compassionate witness to her son’s ordeal. While injected primarily for their symbolism these scenes are at once haunting and majestic.
Some will criticize that this interpretation of Christ’s life spends too little time on his teachings, his miracles and the more gentle aspects of his ministry. Again, this is not the point of Gibson’s vision. Hollywood has been there, done that.
Is the film anti-Semitic? Let’s not go there. It is really a moot point anyway given that Christians believe the Savior willingly suffered all, that this was his mission. The depiction of the Jews in this film is, on balance, favorable-by Gibson’s intent. In reality, those watching this film will have no greater propensity toward hatred of Jews than those who watch “Schindler’s List” will have hatred toward Germans.
Vigorously paced, evocative in its imagery and camera work, and featuring heroic performances by its fervently dedicated cast “The Passion of the Christ” gets not a recommendation so much as an acclamation as one of the most moving depictions in the history of film.
Rated R (for sequences of graphic violence)