It is safe to say that Mel Gibson’s new film, The Passion of the Christ, is one of, if not the most controversial film ever made. Therefore, let me get my feelings on the subject out of the way right off the bat. Personally, I believe we live in a free country; which means 1) Gibson has the right to express his religious beliefs and 2) if you don’t like it then you have a right not to buy a ticket. There, with that out of the way we can talk about the movie which I thought was excellent.
The film is not so much a story of Jesus Christ, but rather a visual documentation of his final twelve hours, from arrest to crucifixion. Occasionally the film does flashback to certain well-known events as the Last Supper, the Sermon on the Mount and the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, but these flashbacks are very brief, lasting about 30 seconds each. Gibson filmed the movie in Aramaic and Latin and originally planned not to feature subtitles, making the film a purely visual experience—unless you speak Aramaic and Latin. Although the decision was eventually made to include English subtitles, the movie remains a mostly visual experience and there are long segments that feature little or no dialogue at all.
As you most certainly have heard, the film is also one of the bloodiest ever made (some have questioned whether it should have been rated NC-17 instead of R), but that was part of Gibson’s intention. The director wanted to portray the death of Christ as realistically as possible and we would be fooling ourselves if we actually thought that there would be no blood when Jesus was nailed to the cross. Still, I did not find it as bloody as I expected. The 10-minute flogging scene and the crucifixion scene are two of the bloodiest scenes ever created, but outside of that it is not too horrible. However, I must admit to having been desensitized a little after seeing so many violent movies.
For those who do not know the story of Christ’s crucifixion, the film might be difficult to follow. The brief flashbacks give us a little background, but the film basically assumes most of its audience will know the story going in. Personally, I kept having flashbacks to my childhood, when the crucifixion of Christ was reenacted in Church on Sunday. Everything I remember from those reenactments was in the film: Peter’s triple denial, the crowd calling for the crucifixion, Pilate’s offer to release one prisoner and the crowd’s subsequent selection of a known murderer over Jesus, Jesus’ frequent collapses as he carried the cross up the mountain, Simon’s assistance, the woman offering him water, etc.
As a filmmaker Gibson has succeeded again. Thanks to the cinematography of Caleb Deschanel, The Passion of the Christ is a stunning film to look at despite its horrific images. I particularly enjoyed the final shot of the film, which was the perfect note for the film to end on. The performance of former Mt. Vernon resident Jim Caviezel as Jesus is powerful, effective and daring. Caviezel (Frequency, The Thin Red Line) actually took a beating for the film, suffering welts on his back and a dislocated soldier, and he carries to weight of Jesus’ sacrifice in his eyes.
As the audience filed out of the theater, most eyes were filled with tears. This is a very emotional film and—especially for those who are deeply religious—very personal. The most powerful moment for me came during the flogging scene, when the sight becomes too unbearable for Mary and Magdalene. Their tears caused a lump in my throat. The scene immediately following the flogging—in which Mary and Magdalene attempt to clean up the remaining puddles of mud—is equally powerful and for that matter, so is the entire film.
Out of curiosity I have perused other reviews of this film and found a wide variance in opinion from four stars to zero and A to F. It has been called both anti-Semitic and visionary. Personally, I thought it is certainly one of the best films of the year. I give it an A.