A review of this — 7 years ago
The hoopla and controversy surrounding Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” had threatened to swallow up the film in the months and weeks leading up to its release. Gibson’s promotional machine had reached levels of hyperbole that no film has ever seen since the release of “Gone With the Wind” some 65 years ago. Once the hype was over, the movie could be judged on its merits. Or, in the case of this film, it’s lack thereof.
With the exception of occasional flashbacks, the film focuses on the fateful last twelve hours in the life of Jesus (James Caviezel). Anyone who has gone to Sunday school is familiar with the story so no build up of the plot her is necessary so let’s move on to the questions everyone wants to know.
Is “The Passion of the Christ” anti-Semitic? No. And yes. No because those who will want to defend the film will not find anything to change their minds about it. Yes because those looking for a reason to declare the film anti-Semitic will find more than enough evidence to support their opinions. This comes not from any racist tendencies of the film or its filmmaker, but from the basic form the movie takes. Ignoring centuries of study of the Roman Empire in that period, the film takes the Gospel for, well, gospel warts, inconsistencies and all. This works both in the films favor and against it. Taking such a traditional approach to telling the story ignores the historical inaccuracies that even most religious leaders acknowledge, yet at the same time it allows for the comfort of familiarity. There are no out of left field declarations of blame that many feared. That said, the movie will polarize those who see it.
Now on to the second question: is the film really as violent as the say. I wracked my brain to come up with a response other than yes because yes simply doesn’t begin to imply the gorefest that Gibson is unleashing here. The movie is a religious snuff film with more blood and gore than even the most outrageous slasher film would ever dream of using out of fear of seeming over-the-top. Gibson’s obsession with Jesus’ suffering overwhelms the film beyond description. Like many of his action movies, Gibson’s vision is more than an orgy of violence, it is an exercise in sadomasocism not only on Jesus, but on the audience. This film, under no circumstances, is for ANYONE under the age of 17. I have long been an opponent of the movie rating system, but I have never believed before that a film was rated too low. This is an NC-17 movie more than any sex-filled romp I’m ever seen. The parents who felt it wise to bring preteens could be seen racing from the theater with screaming children in tow.
From a technical standpoint, the movie is remarkably well made. Gibson does have talent with a camera and the photography is superb. It is in his storytelling that Gibson falls short. By focusing on Jesus’ suffering with no real buildup of his teachings, Gibson renders the spirituality and ultimate sacrifice moot. The true power of the story of the Passion comes not from the unending brutality inflicted on Jesus’ body, but from seeing a kind, gentle man sacrifice himself for his love of humanity. Instead, Gibson bathes the audience in cinematic blood, needlessly increasing the visual onslaught by use of camera angles and needless slow motion.
The acting in the film is relatively unimpressive. Caviezel lacks the charisma that many actors have instilled in Jesus in the past. For the movie, Jesus is nothing more than a human scratching post, ripped apart for the amusement of others. Even this, however, requires a small amount of acting skill that Caviezel lacks.
“The Passion of the Christ” is not a bad movie, but rather a sickening one. Gibson has achieved exactly what he set out to do, bring discussions of Jesus and religion in general to the forefront. Unfortunately, he also has managed to do something no one could have possibly expected, by turning the most important figure in the history of the world into a “Friday the 13th” character.