Powerful, moving, violent
The Passion of the Christ
After months of hype and controversy, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ has come to the screen amid screams of anti-Semitism, ultra violence and historic inaccuracies. Twenty-seven years after director Franco Zeffirelli depicted Jesus as human in Jesus of Nazareth, 25 years after Monty Python dared to poke fun at Christianity and organized religion in Life of Brian, and 16 years after Martin Scorsese showed Jesus having sex in The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus has shown himself still to be the most controversial of cinematic subjects.
All the controversy leading up to the film, and all of the critical drubbings the finished product has received (a visit to www.rottentomatoes.com reveals that only 38 percent of the site’s “cream of the crop” critics have given it a favorable rating), have distracted from a simple fact: Mel Gibson has made the most powerful film on the subject of Jesus Christ ever put to screen.
As for the violence, Gibson made clear his intentions to show a realistic depiction of the death of Jesus according to historical records and the Gospels. The Bible, especially in its description of the brutalities inflicted upon Jesus, is one of the more violent publications ever written.
The persecution of Jesus (played powerfully by James Caviezel) is relentless, harsh filmmaking. The violence is hard to watch, and violence should be hard to watch. This movie does not glorify violence in any way, and charges that it is sadistic are unfounded. The violence is unpleasant and completely instrumental in the telling of the story. Seeing Jesus endure his tortures and fighting to reach his destiny at Golgotha is, without a doubt, a tremendous and grueling film experience.
As for anti-Semitism, I just don’t see it. Sure, the Jewish leaders who call for Jesus’ death are miserable people, but so are the Roman soldiers who scourge him in the film’s most shocking scenes. In the region where Jesus lived, there were principally Romans and Jews, and Jesus wasn’t killed by their hospitality. The most heroic characters in this film, including a man forced to carry Jesus’ cross and a woman who tries to give him water, are Jewish. Any person who uses this film as a tool for anti-Semitism is a simpleton.
What Gibson seems to be saying with his movie is that Jesus was killed by his fellow man, and his death was a mission Jesus was determined to fulfill. The final look from Mary as she cradles the dead Jesus—straight into the camera and directed at the entire audience—drives this point home.
Gibson, a devout Catholic, has been public about his religious convictions and intentions with The Passion. It is very clear throughout the movie that its creative force believes that Jesus was divine, the son of God. Taking this into consideration, I assert that this movie is just as powerful for the non-believers and doubters of Christ’s divinity.
Those who believe in the Resurrection will take solace in the fact that Jesus will rise from the dead and ascend to Heaven in the film’s end. Those who believe Jesus was mortal will likely be devastated by the film’s destruction of a well-meaning, beautiful man. In effect, the film stands as a harsh statement of the cruelties of man, the violence inherent in our nature, and the frightening punishments we’ve inflicted on our fellow humans throughout time for simply speaking out.
It is also, in short, a terrific looking, strongly acted motion picture. The Passion of the Christ is inspiring both ecstatic praise and hateful condemnation. I find this appropriate when considering its subject.