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The Passion of the Christ
(Mel Gibson, 2004)
IMDB entry

Review by Lunacy, (c) 2004 Lunacy

Beware: Spoilers may be in the review

Went to see this today - thought it was...ok. I think people who are religious will likely be a lot more impacted by it than I was. Some random thoughts about it...

1. As a movie story I think I would have preferred to see the whole tale rather than just the last part. I know this is one tale just about every one knows and I know the intent of the film makers was not to tell a historical story but rather to portray the sacrifice of a figure fundamental to so many modern religions. Still - I like epic historical films and seeing the whole story unfold would have been more satisfying to me. For those of you who saw the Lord of the Rings films - PASSION story-wise is almost like just seeing the last part of LOTR when Sam and Frodo are struggling up Mt. Doom and the other characters are desperately trying to buy time. Even if you're familiar with the characters you would likely not have felt as emotionally invested in them because you would not have seen the journey which got them to that point. PASSION begins with the most horrific chapter in JC's life. Yes - this is a historical figure we know about and for the religious - a spiritual figure they KNOW - but storywise - in a movie - for me - it would have worked better if I could have become emotionally attached to the character prior to seeing him shred to pieces.

2. The torture scenes and crucifixion are quite gory but violence in movies has never bothered me so none of it held any shock value for me. I felt sympathy for the character as I would for any human being being torn apart that way but again - I didn't find myself THAT emotionally moved I think because the film just didn't bother trying to establish a connection between me as a viewer and JC. It just assumed the connection would be there - and I'm sure it probably will be for religious people. I actually found myself more moved by what Mary was going through. The only point in the movie where I teared up was in this one scene where JC falls to his knees while carrying the cross - Mary sees him - the film shows a flashback in which JC as a child of 6-7 falls and Mary runs to comfort him saying "I'm here" - then the film comes back to the crucifixion time period and shows Mary running to her now adult, blood-soacked son and whispering the same thing. VERY moving, heart-wrenching moment.

3. Interesting choices in the depictions of the bad guys. I've heard the anti-semetic charges against the film. There are certainly a lot of negative depictions of Jews - but there are positive ones as well. The Temple leaders who accuse JC are depicted as rich, aristocratic and snobby but there are a couple who show disgust at his capture and trial. The Jewish mob calling for his death is full of Jews with bad teeth and crazed expressions. Barrabas has bad teeth, a bad eye, bad hair - you name it. However, the Jew who helps JC carry the cross - I forget his name - though initially quite reluctant to do so eventually is quite touched by JC's suffering, offers him what words of comfort he can, and even stands up to the Roman bullies who continue to beat JC. Of course, JC himself, Mary, the disciples and the people who eventually cry over JC's suffering when he's carrying the cross ARE Jews - though I suppose if one wants to claim anti-semetism one can say they are Jews who will later turn "Christian". It does seem to me that the movie places "blame" firmly on the Jewish High Priest. At one point, when JC is in front of Pilate he tells the Roman governor something to the effect that he (Pilate) is not responsible for what is happening to him (JC) - the one responsible is he who brought him there. It's a vague enough statement that you could interpret it as it meaning God himself, or perhaps Judas, but for unbelievers like me it seems to point to the High Priest. I've read that Pontius Pilate was one heck of a bloody governor - probably NOT the somewhat sympathetic, torn individual portrayed here so that no doubt fuels the anti-semetic charges. I do think the film used some bad-guy stereotypes which may come across as insulting and may cause one to wonder what the film-makers were thinking with the casting. A number of times we see demonic creatures portrayed by midgets. Satan is portrayed by a female actress but in the film the character is completely androgynous. Herod is portrayed as an effeminate man in an orgy-type setting. Given the current war being waged in the US by our president and many religious leaders against homosexuality - I thought portraying key bad guys in this film as androgynous or effeminate men was, if nothing else, unfortunate.

I think it's hard when it comes to movies to say for sure whether the people making them had any type of nefarious agenda. I know that Peter Jackson was criticized in some circles for not having have black characters in LORD OF THE RINGS and for associating "black" or "dark" with evil. Well - there are no black human characters in Tolkien's novels and associating black/dark with evil is something that's been present in literature and mythology since the beginnings of civilization - no doubt stemming from our ancestors' fear of the night. In the mini-series ROOTS which many of you will remember - white American southerners were portrayed pretty badly - but...well...it was a story about a period in American history during which some white American southerners owned slaves, beat them, formed secret groups to terrorize them after they were freed. Does it mean that you hate white American southerners if you portray them this way in such a story. If you make a story about Germany in the 1930s and 40s and portray some of those Nazi leaders as cruel, mass murderers does it mean you hate Germans? I think it's best to look at an artist's body of work or their behavior in other arenas before taking one individual thing they've done and seeing it as an intentional attack.

4. Religious people will no doubt see TRUTH in this film. I saw truth as well but I think a different type of truth than what they will see. As a non-believer, to me JC was simply a human being - a person with a vision for a better world - an individual that was DIFFERENT and was suggesting different ideas. In the film he is captured and handed over to the Romans by religious leaders who fear him, hate him, who want him eliminated because he is a threat to their power and advocates different ideas from their own. The mob which later calls for his execution is driven by those religious leaders - urged on by them. I hope the religious people who go see this film grasp THAT particular truth and think twice before listening to religious leaders who advocate the condemnation of others simply because they're different. I actually found myself feeling quite sympathetic toward Pilate in this film. He is essentially portrayed as a man trapped between religious extremes - one individual claiming he is the son of God - a bunch of priests and an angry mob claiming that to be heresy and calling for the man's death. From a secular point of view - given that Pilate's mandate was to keep order - I can understand his choice. I think the officials currently in charge of trying to keep order in deeply religious places like Iraq and Afghanistan would be able to identify with him.

5. I was disappointed in the ending. Mel chose to end it by showing the resurrected JC emerging from his tomb and that's it. Once again - we all KNOW the rest of the story but me, personally, I wanted to see it. I particularly wanted to see ONE scene - his reunion with his mom. If they had given me that I would have come out much more satisfied emotionally.

6. The acting overall is ok but nothing particularly memorable. The actor who plays Jesus is visually impressive - he has a look which sells the part - but in terms of acting in this movie most of the time all he has to do is writhe in agony. He writhes really well - you feel bad for the character. The actress who plays Mary is also very visually effective - her face and eyes convey great anguish but like the JC actor - she basically just does the same thing through the entire film - she follows JC and the mob around looking anguished. The actress who plays Mary Magdalene is pretty and cries well. The actress who plays the androgynous Satan is visually striking...doesn't say much though - mostly just stands around looking mysterious. I think the movie plays out almost like a religious painting - lots of dramatic visual scenes and actors that are interesting to look at but nothing acting wise impressed me.

It's not a bad film. It's not a great film. If you're religious and believe in the spiritual aspects of the story it will probably touch you quite deeply. If you see it as I do as a moment in history - it's interesting though I think you can wait for it to show up on pay-per-view or DVD. It's not the type of movie you HAVE to see on the big screen - no epic scenery - no big battles.

One amusing note for XWP fans - I don't know if Mel ever watched XWP or Herc but it seems he used a common gimmick from those shows - seems JC invented dinning room sets ;-)

March 1, 2004


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