The Passion of the Christ

| March 1, 2004

The following review is not a social commentary on the various issues that are evident in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ; if you are interested in that sort of thing, check your local news station. This film is an interpretation of the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ’s life, involving his capture, torture, and eventual death. Personally, The Passion of the Christ was the most troubling film that I have ever seen, it stayed with me for several days after I left the theater, the images seemingly scoured into my mind.
From the beginning of the film, I was able to see that Gibson wanted the audience to take notice of Christ’s conflict and suffering. The film opens with Christ (Jim Caviziel) in the Garden of Gethsemane, appearing scared and sickly, as he knows that the time has come for him to take on the burden of humanities countless sins. This is also where Gibson’s interpretation begins, as we are introduced to an androgynous Satan, who questions Christ’s ability to carry such a large burden. This opening sequence was indeed interesting, but it was almost like a well-made horror film; I expected to see the devil’s eyes turn red and fire burst in every direction.
Once Jesus is brought before the Priests of the Sanhedrin, he knows that his suffering is about to begin. High Priest Caiaphas (Mattia Sbragia) is portrayed as a sinister man who will stop at nothing until Jesus is dead. It is at this point that Gibson gives the audience the first of a series of flashbacks that depict Jesus as a benevolent teacher. Unfortunately, these flashbacks are rather minimal; I never got a good sense of why Jesus was so threatening to those that wished him harm. As a practicing Jew, I do not know much about the history of Christ and I left the film with a better understanding of his suffering, not his teachings. I felt that Mel Gibson made this film with little consideration for people who do not know about Jesus Christ, in essence, this made me slightly detached from the film.
The Passion of the Christ is at its most gripping when the priests bring Jesus before the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate in hopes of securing his execution. Gibson paints Pilate as a sympathetic character that is forced to put Christ to death by the mob of angry Jews. I do not know if this is true or not, but that is irrelevant, this is Gibson’s interpretation and the audience is captive in that regard. The gore begins as Pilate agrees to have Christ scourged but not crucified. This torture scene is perhaps the most gruesome piece of cinema that I have witnessed. Each time Christ was struck with a new device, I felt my body quiver–it was rather tough to deal with. The Romans are portrayed as mindless sheep that enjoy beating Jesus to a bloody pulp. The violence continues as Jesus, carrying the cross to Golgotha, is beaten beyond recognition and can hardly go on. At this point Gibson shows us a sympathetic Jew in the form of Simon. Simon stands up to the brutal Romans, and helps Jesus carry the cross. I thought this was an interesting scene because it shows Jesus in the waning moments of his life, that his sacrifice is not being made in vain. As Jesus is nailed to the cross, Gibson uses slow motion to intensify the effect of the scene. Several more unnecessary pieces of torture that take place during this time do not merit further discussion. I felt that the message of the film got lost at times, due to the overwhelming amount of blood and torture. Perhaps this was Gibson’s intention, but I think he could have minimized the horrific images presented throughout.
Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is a powerful, beautifully shot film, but as I left the theater, I could not help but think that he went a little too far. Certainly, it would have been possible for Gibson to stem his fascination with torture i.e. Braveheart, and The Patriot, to make a film that showed Christ’s suffering interspersed with his obvious love of peace and humanity. Controversies aside, this is an interesting film that does have a positive message buried beneath Gibson’s masochistic vision. I hope that the film will spark a dialogue of tolerance as opposed to anger and prejudice.

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