THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST



     I cannot find my original review of this film, so I have decided to post someone else's review here. A review that I wholeheartedly agree with. I have interspersed a comment or two of my own within the text.

"The Passion of the Christ:" excerpts from a review by James Berardinelli

There are so many issues surrounding the release of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ that they threaten to dwarf the 127-minute movie that lies at the maelstrom's epicenter. (The controversy, whether real, concocted, or some combination of the two, has provided an unprecedented level of free publicity.) So let me cut to the chase before backing up and looking at some of these appendage elements. The Passion of the Christ is a gripping, powerful motion picture - arguably the most forceful depiction of Jesus' death ever to be committed to film. It leaves an indelible imprint on the psyche; viewers of this movie may never look at a crucifix in quite the same way.

The most potentially damaging charge to have been leveled against this film is that it is anti-Semitic. Many (although not all) of those at the forefront of this accusation have not seen the movie. (Ironically, this is the same kind of negative wave that results when Christian groups attack a movie for being anti-Christian - like Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ or the Pythons' The Life of Brian.) Here, the controversy is unwarranted. Although the high priest Caiphas is depicted as a villainous individual, determined to bring about Jesus' death, he is not shown in any way to represent the entire nation of Jews. In fact, Caiphas has plenty of competition for the role of villain - the Roman centurions who beat and brutalize Jesus are presented in an even grimmer light.

The violence in the film is as necessary as it is disconcerting. There's no question that Gibson is pushing the envelope, going as far as he can without emptying the auditorium; 2 hour snuff film if you will. It's easy to be desensitized by extreme, graphic violence in a cartoon-like setting (like the Terminator movies, for example), but that's not what we're getting here. The torture of Jesus is presented in such a brutal, unflinching manner that it's almost impossible not to look away as chunks of flesh are ripped out by a scourge, and the bloody, mangled skin is shredded to appear like a grotesque parody of ground meat. This is tough stuff, capable of unsettling adults and potentially traumatizing young viewers. My advice for parents considering taking children is as follows: see the movie first, alone, then make a determination about whether it is appropriate for your offspring's sensibilities. (If they go, you'll have to attend with them, since it is rated R.) Do not assume that, just because the movie has a deeply religious message, it is appropriate for pre-teens.

Because information about the so-called "historical Jesus" is so incomplete, it's impossible to argue for or against The Passion of the Christ's factual veracity. It is largely in line with the gospels, and ultimately represents Mel Gibson's vision of Jesus' long, lonely final hours. Unlike many of the past movie and/or television depictions of the Passion, this version remains firmly rooted in solid cinematic soil. The Passion of the Christ is a stylish film, with the cinematography of Caleb Deshanel drawing us into the story. Words, spoken in Aramaic and Latin (with subtitles), are almost inconsequential - this is a picture of acting and images, with Jim Caviezel's unforgettable performance dominating throughout. (Looking back on this film, if anyone recalls anything other than Caviezel's tortured Jesus, it will be the sad, haunted eyes of Monica Bellucci and Maia Morgenstern). Originally, Gibson indicated that he intended to release the movie without subtitles - a choice that was heavily criticized at the time. Now, having seen the movie, I believe it would have worked that way. At times, the words almost seem to get in the way. (Those familiar with the gospels will readily be able to recall what Jesus is saying at any given moment.)

In making The Passion of the Christ, Gibson set himself up to fail. His goal - to take one of the best-known stories in all of human history and transform it into something new, vital, and emotionally potent - was audacious to the point of foolhardiness. Yet, somehow, against all odds, he succeeded. (His explanation is simple: the Holy Spirit worked through him.) It is hard to imagine even the most cynical atheist being unmoved by Jesus' ordeal. Understanding Christian doctrine - that this suffering was necessary to save sinners from damnation - adds an additional layer of meaning to the narrative. You don't have to be a believer to "get it," just as you don't have to accept the existence of Sauron and Middle Earth to be captivated by The Lord of the Rings. Good movies work on their own terms, and that's what happens with The Passion of the Christ.






drewbacca@moviepatron.com