The goriest story ever told

Mel Gibson’s Passion somehow avoids NC-17 rating with extended torture story of Jesus’ last hours on Earth

SON OF GOD<br>Jesus Christ, as played by James Caviezel, displaying the cruel wounds of his last moments of life.

Jesus Christ, as played by James Caviezel, displaying the cruel wounds of his last moments of life.

The Passion of the Christ Starring James Caviezel and Monica Bellucci. Directed by Mel Gibson. Rated R.
Rated 3.0

Actually, while not really the goriest story ever told (I believe that honor goes to pre-Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson and his splatter-fest Braindead, a.k.a. Dead/Alive), Mel Gibson’s cinematic passion play certainly stands out as the only one to sneak by with an R rating.

Passion doesn’t take things to the (low) level of wannabe snuff films like the Spanish Aftermath or the Japanese Flowers of Flesh and Blood, but we’re still talking deep NC-17 territory here, folks. Gibson goes all-out in his fascination with utter and complete mayhem, spending an insane amount of time detailing each and every way the Romans tortured Jesus—in quasi-real time.

Following an intro wherein Jesus tortures himself with doubt, the Romans step in and begin to administer the real grief. Not content with just rods, they move on to scourges (nasty looking cat-o-nine tails with blades that remove swathes of bleeding flesh with each strike), continuing the abuse on up to the actual crucifixion (with each blow of the hammer onto nail lovingly conveyed).

An admitted horror-film buff, I was nonetheless cringing frequently. And especially since I’m also a pedant: The nail goes into the wrist, not the palm. Also, aside from his preternatural status as the Son of God, as conveyed here, the poor sap would have bled to death long before the movie was resolved.

I’m not sure who is being more irresponsible, Jack Valenti and his MPAA goons (who have traditionally demanded cuts from the live-action cartoons of stalk-n-slashers or zombie gut-crunchers down to the point of their being allowed to run uncut on FOX) or nimrod parents compelled by their religion to drag their toddlers to the equivalent of Bambi’s mother being killed in slow motion, with over two hours of rapturous spraying of blood that would put early Friday the 13th entries to shame.

Here I would say that the offending parents are the obvious definers of the word egregious, and there were several of them at the showing I attended. R means R, and since it’s pretty much a given that there’s not gonna be any gratuitous sex or swearing in a story about the last hours of The Christ, we’re talking nightmare central for the kiddies.

As far as the film goes, it works for those without faith as a very well-crafted but unconventional horror film, albeit one that is satisfied with centering on one person as the focus of two hours of simulated torture, as opposed to a cast of dingbat nubiles scattering away from some guy wielding tools from the woodshed. There are also a few moments that out-jump most contemporary horror films.

While admittedly non-evangelical, the narrative still demands a decent working knowledge of the backstory (only about half of the film is subtitled). Which is also a weakness of the film, in that very little is conveyed as to why almost everyone wants Jesus’ head on a pike, or why The Faithful are, well, faithful (and addressing the current “controversy,” it’s not just the Jews who want him dead here; Roman grunts weigh in as Deliverance-styled antecedents, while some Jewish characters weigh in as pro-Christ).

I can’t speak for the Christians who would approach this in the same way that D-Day survivors would use the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan as a primer as to the reality of the event, but I can follow Gibson’s attempt at achieving pure empathy. As a recidivist alternative to such vanilla gospel as King of Kings or The Greatest Story Ever Told, the film is clearly Gibson’s attempt to portray the price paid for bearing the sins of man.

But I would advise against taking the kids along before watching it first.