Passion of the Christ. Newmarket
Films presents a film directed by Mel Gibson. Written
by Gibson and Benedict Fitzgerald. Running time: 126 minutes.
Rated R (for sequences of graphic violence). Starring
James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci, Hristo
Jivkov, Hristo Naumov Shopov, Mattia Sbragia.
of the Christ, The
forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Christ, on the cross
feel that, before I begin this review, that you should know
a few things about me. Firstly, I am an atheist. The Bible
stories seem to me nothing more than moralistic fables with
no basis in reality; they just don't make any sort of logical
sense. So it goes without saying that I see Jesus as nothing
more than a man. I don't believe he was the son of God or
that he died for my sins or anyone else's. Because of this,
I wasn't exactly psyched to see Mel Gibson's filmed depiction
of Jesus's death. I was afraid the brutal violence wouldn't
have any emotional effect on me because, well, I would just
be watching a man get beaten.
I was gripped by The Passion of the Christ. I was impressed.
I was, against all odds, affected, moved. Because Mel Gibson
has made a film that is, to me, not about the death of the
Messiah, but about an extraordinary man. A man with so much
love for mankind that, even after all he went through, he
could forgive his killers. The Passion of the Christ
is, at heart, not a religious sermon but a character study.
based on the gospels (as well as the reported visions of two
nuns, Mary of Agreda and Anne Catherine Emmerich), the story
of The Passion of the Christ should be at least familiar
to just about everyone. The film follows Jesus (James Caviezel)
through his final twelve hours - his capture at the hands
of Roman guards, his trial before High Priest Caiphas (Mattia
Sbragia) and the Sanhedrin, the scourging, his eventual condemnation
by Pontius Pilate (Hristo
Naumov Shopov), and the final, wrenching trip with
the cross. Also present are Mary (Maia
Morgenstern), Mary Magdalene (Monica Bellucci), and
John of Zebedee (Hristo Jivkov). There are flashbacks to the
Last Supper, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Triumphal Entry
into Jerusalem, but most of the film works chronologically.
violence of The Passion of the Christ is as extreme
as you've heard. The scourging goes on for nearly thirty minutes;
whips rip into Jesus's skin, tearing out chunks of flesh and
spatters of blood. The violence is not ridiculous or over-the-top,
as has been reported, but utterly convincing and disturbing.
It becomes nearly impossible not to look away as this innocent
man is ripped and torn. The crucifixion is nearly as difficult,
with close-ups on Jesus's hands and feet as nails are driven
through them. Many critics have suggested that parents view
the film before taking children; I'm going to take it a step
farther: do not, under any circumstances, take young children
to see this film. To do so would be irresponsible.
would be equally irresponsible of me to discuss The Passion
of the Christ without addressing the charges that have
been leveled against it. Some Jewish groups have claimed that
the film is anti-Semitic. This is an utterly damning claim;
or it would be, if it were true. But these attacks are no
more accurate than those made by fundamentalist Christian
groups against films like The Last Tempatation of Christ,
The Life of Brian or Dogma. It is true that
Caiphas and many of the High Priests are shown as villainous
individuals, pushing hard for Jesus's execution, but Gibson
makes no attempt to spread his condemnation of Caiphas onto
all Jews. And Caiphas isn't even the most villainous person
in the film: the Roman soldiers, laughing as they beat and
torture Jesus, are shown in an even worse light.
only remotely legitimate claim against The Passion of the
Christ is its historical accuracy, particularly to the
character of Pilate. But it is not my place, as a critic,
to question the film's historical verisimilitude, particularly
because the film is largely in line with the gospels and only
represents one man's opinion of what occured. Gibson and cinematographer
Caleb Deshanel have done their best to create a realistic
portrayal of the place and time. Characters speak in subtitled
Aramaic and Latin, although their words are largely unimportant.
Most people already know the story, and this is a visceral
film, filled with powerful images and performances, particularly
James Caviezel's wrenching physical performance. The rest
of cast does strong work as well (except for Mattia Sbragia,
whose Caiphas is too over-the-top), especially Maia Morgenstern
and Monica Bellucci, who make a lasting impression with minimal
Jesus is on the cross, he prays to God to forgive his killers.
It is in this scene that the cumulative effect of The Passion
of the Christ really hits. We realize that it isn't a
movie about the death of the Messiah, but about the power
of faith. Faith in God, or, in my case, the lack of a god.
Faith in something, anything. Faith allowed Jesus to accept
his fate and to forgive those who caused his death. The
Passion of the Christ won't change anyone's opinions,
but no one will be able to walk out of the theater and deny
that, as a man, Jesus was extraordinary. And that, I think,
is the biggest compliment anyone could give this film.
2004 Matt Noller