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The Passion of the Christ 


Directed by: Mel Gibson 

Written by: Benedict Fitzgerald & Mel Gibson 

Main Cast:
James Caviezel - Jesus
Monica Bellucci - Magdalene
Claudia Gerini - Claudia Procles
Maia Morgenstern - Mary
Sergio Rubini - Dismas
Toni Bertorelli - Annas
Roberto Bestazzoni - Malchus
Francesco Cabras - Gesmas
Rosalinda Celentano - Satan
Francesco De Vito - Peter
Hristo Jivkov - John
Luca Lionello - Judas
Jarreth J. Merz - Simon 
Matt Patresi - Janus
Fabio Sartor - Abenader
Mattia Sbragia .... Caiphas
Hristo Shopov - Pontius Pilate

Rated R  

To sum up: Jesus Christ takes on the sins of the world and, on our behalf, is going to have a real bad day. 

“Father, you can do all things. If it is possible, let this chalice pass from me... But let your will be done, not mine.” 

     "The Passion of the Christ" is a film that chronicles in up-close surround-sound, bloody detail the final twelve hours of Jesus Christ. It opens with his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, goes through his arrest, "trial", scourging, and finally crucifixion. It is probably the most brutal, bloody, and torturous two hours you will ever spend in the theater. 

     I've watched a lot of films on the life of Christ, but have always come away slightly disappointed at the lack of intensity portrayed in the crucifixion. I kept saying to myself, "It was good, emotional and all, but not bloody enough. I needs more  blood." I don't have a bloodlust but I just didn't feel that they really brought home the amount of suffering that I understood that Christ went through at the hands of the Romans. Well, for better or for worse, with  this film, I got my wish. It depicts the beatings Jesus took and the efficiency of Roman scourging. It shows whippings with a flogger that has pieces of metal, glass, and bone at its ends that grab hold and tear out the flesh when it is slammed against the back. It also presents the anguish of Christ as he carried the cross and finally the actual crucifixion. All of this is presented in such painful clinical detail that all that's missing is a medical expert to describe the physical reaction that the body has to the various torments. In short it is the opening 25 minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" stretched out to two hours and centered all on one man.

     Mel Gibson has crafted a deeply personal film. He has said that even with all of his success he was "spiritually bankrupt". Having refocused his life on his Catholic roots he has undergone a spiritual awakening of sorts and the result is this film; the most honest portrayal of the suffering of Christ ever put on film. 

     Now if you are an atheist, agnostic, or someone who believes in God but not Christianity, this film won't mean much to you. But to the thousands of Christians who believe that this was the way it happened (resurrection and all), then this film represents something that Hollywood isn't interested in, a respectful presentation of traditional Christianity. And for some reason, Hollywood has a problem with this. It's bold creativity to create a film that pooh-poohs traditional Christianity like "The Last Temptation of Christ", it's a call to free thinking when religion is skewered in "Monty Python's Life of Brian" (my favorite Python film I might add), it's fair game to have just about every recent film about Catholics deal with nothing but corruption,  it's even unspokenly ok to have one of the molesters in "Mystic River" wear a ring with a cross on it as well as a cross necklace. Janet Jackson can push the envelope of freedom by having a free-flopping moment in the Superbowl but Mel Gibson can't push that envelope with an accurate portrayal of Roman methods of execution. Instead we get people freaking out calling the film too violent and racist.

     Is the film too violent? I don't think so. It's not fun violent like "Starship Troopers" where bodies are torn in half, brains are sucked out of heads, and bloody, shredded corpses litter the ground. It is realistically violent like "Saving Private Ryan" showing pain and suffering in an unflinching manner.

     To me, however, the most ridiculous notion is the idea that the film is  anti-Semitic. Having seen the film I have to wonder where people get ideas like this. Let me see. There are the people who protest about the "travesty" of the trial of Jesus - good Jews. All of the Apostles and Mary, Jesus' mother - good Jews. There's the lady who offers Christ water as he is carrying the cross - good Jew. There's Simon who is forced to carry the cross for Jesus - good Jew. Jesus Christ himself - good Jew. Mathematically speaking how many good Jews are needed to offset the bad ones so that the film is no longer called racist. Are there evil Jews in the film? You betcha. But it's politics, baby. Just watch the news and learn how bloodthirsty politics can be. I don't understand it. Are the films of Steven Spielberg anti-German because a good chunk of them deal with the Nazi's? Are the film's of Martin Scorsese and "The Sopranos" anti-Italian because they deal with the mob? Actually, one could make a better case that "The Passion" is anti-Italian, or more specifically, anti-Roman, because almost all of them come across as wicked, animalistic sadists who salivate over the pain of others. In short, having watched the film, I think the idea of the film being anti-Semitic is pure nonsense. There are too many sympathetic portrayals of Jews in the film to back up that notion. Besides anyone who would blame a race of people for something that happened 2000 years ago is a moron. Every race, every gender, every culture, every nation has at one time performed unspeakable acts of cruelty to one another. 

     In terms of acting, this is a film that is hard to analyze. The only major performance is by James Caviezel as Jesus. He brings a determined earnestness to the role as he accepts what it is that he must go through and the endurance of all the trials that he is facing, all for His love of mankind. But how does one analyze acting during torture? I can only say that through the whole event he was totally human and totally sympathetic; rising above those around him and causing them to rethink themselves. All of the performers are good in their roles but there is really nothing there in the film for them to build a character with. Why they have so much to their performances is due to the tremendous amount of back history that has been written into the characters. It is in these terms that the film is interesting because all of the things that bring out the emotions of the audience, the tempting of Christ by the eerie androgynous Satan (Rosalinda Celentano), Peter's relationship with Jesus, Mary's love for her son,  Magdalene's love of her Savior, the animosity of Caiphas (Mattia Sbragia) towards Christ, the foundations of these things have taken place offscreen. It is the total familiarity of the Biblical story that enables the film to have the emotion that it has because it is never built onscreen. I can think of no other film where that occurs. But it does work. I also did not get the impression of Pilate (Hristo Shopov) be a pliable person, easily manipulated by Caiphas. He clearly was a person who was in danger himself, in fear of being called before Caesar for another outburst in the Judean territory. The fact that he was questioned as a governor for having to quell rebellion after rebellion weighed heavily on his mind. He came across as a man more plagued with trying to keep the peace, and trying to avoid another uprising. 

     The thrill of telling a story about the Christ comes from seeing exactly how the director is going to portray things that the audience is very familiar with. How does one make something interesting when the audience can quote the event word for word going into the film? Well, clearly the realistic manner of the torment is one way to do it. Another is having all of the actors speak in the original languages of the time, Latin and Aramaic. It helps the film achieve a new level of realism just by having those languages present. Gone are the English accents. Another way Gibson has done this is to increase the level of torment that Judas (Luca Lionello), who betrayed Christ, goes through that leads to his suicide. In this version, he sees demons and other quick visions that only heighten his anxiety and guilt. It's all very interesting. Another is the inclusion of Satan (a very interesting  Rosalinda Celentano). A creepy phantom, he/she is with Christ from the beginning in the garden, trying to convince him that one man cannot take on the sins of the world. It's too much. She/he is there throughout the film, during Jesus' torments, almost as an approving director, convinced that Jesus will break and give up his calling.

    There are a few things that don't work and come off as a bit clichéd. I thought the tearing of the Temple curtain just a bit overdone. I also thought that the comeuppance that one of the thieves on the cross gets was a little silly, an indulgence that seemed only one step away from being struck by lightning. 

     In the end I would recommend this film for those who believe the events that are depicted in it. It is a bold piece of film making that takes the events of the life of Christ and transforms them into something new, never quite seen like this. If you are not a religious person or have no interest in wondering what Christ went through then don't seen the film. For the rest, enjoy (if that's the phrase). Here is a film that will treat traditional Christianity with respect.     

     A passionate movie.

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