Note: By no means am I a Biblical scholar, or am I going to try to be one. This review regards the film as a whole. I feel that most people who will attend this film will have a decent grasp on the Gospels and the story of Jesus. I simply review the accomplishments or faults of a film.
The Passion of the Christ is finally here. After the weeks of endless controversy, anti-Semitism debates, and questions regarding the effect of this film on Mel Gibson’s career, the general public can now see the film and form his or her’s own opinion.
I have been following the production of this film for roughly eight months, dating back to when it was just called “The Passion.” Studio executives insisted that it would never receive a major studio release, or a possible release at all. After playing hot potato in the studio system for the past one year plus, Newmarket Films picked it up for distribution. What we have now is one of the most controversial and talked-about movies in my twenty-two years on this Earth.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past six months, you already know that The Passion of the Christ focuses on the last twelve hours of Jesus Christ’s life, namely the crucifixion. An extensive plot synopsis is unnecessary. The film contains the capture and trial of Christ, then the excruciatingly painful and graphic crucifixion that he endured, and briefly his resurrection. That’s the film in a nutshell.
But as we all have seen in the weeks leading up to the film’s release, what seems like a topical plot synopsis has a much deeper meaning worldwide. For some he is our Savior, for some he is a historical figure, and some are simply unsure of his meaning, or even his existence. Regardless of which group you fit in, this is simply one of the most powerful movies I have ever seen.
James Caviezel stars in the role of Jesus Christ, and his performance is simply incredible. He literally breathes the role of Christ in this movie, and also has a striking resemblance to how Christ looked, sans the darker skin. He reportedly experience a good deal of pain himself during the filming of The Passion in the form of being struck by lightning, being accidentally whipped, and experiencing frostbite and pneumonia. I fear that in the wake of controversy this performance will be overlooked. He carries the film in his own right.
The two Marys (Bellucci and Morgenstern) are portrayed as spectators to Jesus’ death, and are more often than not crying. After the gut-wrenching scourging scene, Mary (Jesus’ mothers) slowly walks over and begins to clean up Jesus’ blood with a towel. I found this to be one of the most touching scenes in a very touching movie.
Gibson has also included his vision of Satan, played by Rosalinda Celentano as an androgynous being that lingers in the background of several of the film’s most crucial scenes. I found this to be interesting, and it really added some horror elements to the movie.
Massive credit must also be given to The Passion makeup team and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. There was not one moment when I wasn’t convinced of the wounds inflicted upon Jesus. It has been reported that Caviezel went through six to eight hours of makeup daily, especially during the filming of the crucifixion. Astounding. Deschanel’s photography does an incredible job of setting the scene, both in the dark garden of Gethsemane and exterior shots of Jesus’ eventual crucifixion. Both of these aspects of the film play a crucial part in it effectiveness.
Credit must also be given to every cast member for pulling off the Latin and Aramaic languages fluidly. Subtitles accompany much of the dialogue, and I believe that their existence could possibly have been unnecessary. It is very easy to tell by the actions of the characters what is going, but the subtitles should have been complete rather than partial. I would have even supported them being removed based on the quality of the acting.
No review would be complete without acknowledging the controversy surrounding the film. Anti-Semitism charges have been first and foremost by many religious leaders across the country. Personally, I did not find it anti-Semitic. But, just like anything else, people who go into it thinking it is anti-Semitic will no doubt find sections of the film to defend their claim.
Instead, I think the Romans are shown in a much darker light. They are portrayed as drunken, vicious, and sickening. They take pride in their beating of a man who doesn’t even fight back, and how many bloody wounds they can inflict with their barbaric weaponry. The Jews are portrayed as ultimately forcing Pontius Pilate to approve the crucifixion of Jesus, but ultimately the Romans emerge as the most despicably portrayed group in the movie. Let us not forget that Jesus himself was Jewish, and it’s a Jewish man that helps him carry his cross. By no means did all Jews hate Jesus, and I feel that Gibson makes that very clear.
The violence depicted in the movie has also stirred up its own batch of controversy. It is indeed brutal, but not near as brutal as the “elite” media wants you to believe. My biggest fear entering the film was that Gibson would get carried away with blood and gore and knock us all into submission. Fortunately, it doesn’t. I’ll reiterate again that it is gruesome, but not unrealistically so. We see Jesus get pummeled by fists, the cat of nine tails (which is basically a handle with strings of chains that have shards of glass and spikes on its ends), bamboo sticks, whips, and ultimately nails during his crucifixion. From about the thirty minute mark on, it is relentless and graphically violent. Charges by many that the film should have received a NC-17 rating for violence is taking it a bit far. Similar films such as Saving Private Ryan and We Were Soldiers depict violence just as horrifically and graphically, and didn’t receive nearly the press about it. It should also be noted that this is NOT a film for kids. There were two pre-teens kids at the show I attended with their parents, and they were both mortified. Kids simply do not need to see this kind of brutality.
The final piece of the controversy puzzle regards Gibson and the effect this film will have on his career. He has even gone as far as to call this movie a “career killer.” The bottom line is this: Hollywood loves money. They love it more than you, me, and most other things in this world. I am writing this review on day two of The Passion‘s wide theatrical release, and it has already reportedly grossed $24 million. He invested $25 million of his own money (actually more like $40 million after advertising), and it is going to pay off big-time. If Gibson is done, it is in regards to being in front of the camera. He will for sure being doing more work behind the camera, should he so choose.
The Passion of the Christ emerges from all of the hype and controversy as one of the best films in recent years. It will no doubt be analyzed and talked about for the foreseeable future. It will also undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on most who see it with its brutality, setting, and interpretation of “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” This is highly recommended viewing for those who are old enough and those who have strong stomachs. You will be seeing one of the best films of this middle-aged decade.
Addendum: For a list of very interesting (and maybe spooky?) facts about the making of the film, check out this Boggling Facts article.
Studio: Newmarket Films
Length: 126 Minutes
Rating: R for sequences of graphic violence.
Theatrical Release: February 25, 2004
Directed by: Mel Gibson
Written by: Mel Gibson & Benedict Fitzgerald
Cast: James Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Claudia Gerini, Maia Morgenstern, Sergio Rubini, Toni Bertorelli