The Passion Of The Christ

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Director: Mel Gibson
Writer: Mel Gibson, Benedict Fitzgerald
Producers: Bruce Davey, Mel Gibson, Stephen McEveety
James Caviezel as Jesus, Monica Bellucci as Magdalene, Maia Morgenstern as Mary
This film essentially follows the final 12 hours of Jesus’ life on earth. He gets caught, he gets tried, he gets punished and ultimately, he gets nailed to a cross and left to die. The passion (from its ancient meaning “suffering”) of the Christ ensues…
From much of what I’d heard about this film, audiences were likely to “get” what they could from it, depending on how much they, as individuals, brought into it, either emotionally, spiritually or obviously, religiously. I’m not a religious guy. I was brought up Christian, but I don’t practice any one religion and consider most religions to have both a good and bad side to them. I do believe in a higher power though…God, if you will. I went into this film with little religious faith and very little interest in “period” or religious movies. All that said, I was quite taken by this film, in fact…I was surprised to find myself moved by a few of its scenes, specifically those involving Jesus and his mom. The movie is shot splendidly, with Gibson putting on a directing clinic with slow-motion shots galore, POV (point of view) angles, plenty of violent, close-up action, as well as a concentrated use of characters to fine-tune the film’s evocative narrative. Word on the street was that Gibson initially didn’t even want to use any subtitles in the movie (the film is shot entirely in Aramaic and Latin), but eventually changed his mind. I think audiences would still have gotten much from the film without the dialogue (the visuals are plentiful), but having said that, many of Jesus’ last words got to me, so I’m glad that subtitles were ultimately utilized.

On top of the great directing, this film also featured a couple of rock solid lead characterizations, specifically Jesus, played bravely by the underrated Jim Caviezel and his mom Mary, portrayed by actress Maia Morgenstern. The rest of the cast members were also well played and didn’t feel like walk-ons from a B.C. acting workshop. The film’s ideal use of flashbacks also provided the audience which just enough background on Jesus and his entourage (and to be honest, a “break” from all the blood-letting), to balance out the day’s horrific happenings. I especially loved how Gibson went back and forth during two scenes in particular, one of which featured him falling down as a small child and the final one, during which he’s being placed onto the cross, switching back to the last supper with his disciples. Great stuff. As you surely know by now, the film is basically just a rehash of Jesus’ final 12 hours on earth, as seen through the mind of the film’s writer/director Gibson, and essentially features his half-assed trial, his sadistic flogging, his violent torture and ultimately, his crucifixion and the film’s beautiful final shot. Before the movie even opened, many had already knocked it for being both anti-Semitic and “extremely violent”, but having seen it now (yeah, it usually helps one’s credibility when they actually SEE a movie before accusing it of anything), I can’t agree with either count.

On the anti-Jewish point, the film does showcase the Jewish High Priest’s participation in Jesus’ march to death, but it also features many others as well, and certainly doesn’t paint the man as the voice of Jews everywhere. In fact, from what I knew of this history (and like I mentioned earlier, I didn’t know much), I had always believed that it was the Jewish people who executed him, but this film actually showed that to be false and that a lot of other people were involved as well, including many sadistic, smug Romans. I wonder why more Italians aren’t up in arms about this flick? As for the film being too violent, I suppose I’m a little jaded to movie violence, having watched so many such flicks growing up, but despite a couple of particularly graphic sequences, I don’t think there was more violence in this movie than there needed to be. The man was beaten, whipped and nailed to a cross…what did you expect, rose petals and tea? I also think it makes complete sense to feature that level of brutality in a film of this sort, since that’s part of its whole point. One man suffered greatly for all of our sins. Look at what this man had to go through and you’re sitting there complaining about your pants feeling too tight on you today? Get a grip. This film helped me put that same sort of perspective on my life, and re-acquaint myself with the inherent evil and good in our every day world.

It also showed me that even under the worst circumstances of “mob rule” (i.e. where everyone joins in to persecute others without thinking on their own), there are always some brave souls who stand up against the tyranny of others and feel compassion for their fellow man. Forgiveness of others (still working on that) and the hope for a better tomorrow were two other succinct messages delivered through this movie (for me). This is an important film that is likely to affect you depending on your age, your background, your own personal baggage coming into the movie and ultimately, how you’re feeling on the specific day that you see it. I saw it on an introspective day myself and it affected me positively. I came out feeling as though my life wasn’t much in the wake of such a grand sacrifice, but that every human being can ultimately make a difference, if only they stand up for what they believe is right in their heart and soul. I’ve always tried to do the right thing in life (in every little way that I can) and this film only re-affirmed my conviction to continue to do so. I also want to commend Mel Gibson for sticking by his own convictions and doing what he believed he needed to do in his heart. This film was one of the riskiest projects in the history of Hollywood but he created it for a reason and you gotta give the man that much. Nobody is saying that this is exactly how it all went down back in the day (nobody can say that with complete conviction anyway), but this is one man’s vision of that time and as a movie…it’s pretty damn good!

(c) 2021 Berge Garabedian

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