THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (Mel Gibson, 2004)
Mel Gibson's THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST has extremely polarized those who have seen it upon its release mainly because of its subject matter, which is religious in nature. Bring up any spiritual theme onscreen and people will speak up. If at all, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST became an effective film because it sparked cinematic discourse.
Either love it or hate it, the film knows what it wants and pursues it. It has a single direction. It quickly appealed to me because of its departure from the previous Jesus films, most of which ambitiously wanted to cover Jesus's entire life story. The result is an approximated two hours of condensed history that you'd feel burdened to watch by second viewing.
PASSION is different. It focuses on Christ's final hours, and filmmaker Mel Gibson pulls no punches in his delivery of blood and gore. We have been so occupied with what we have been taught about Christ's suffering for our sins, and how we should be grateful and all by doing good, and loving one another, but in my opinion the strong images of pain and suffering depicted in Gibson's film are a thousand times more effective than words of inspiration or Sunday homily. With every whip and trickle of blood and pounding of flesh that Jim Caviezel who plays Jesus takes, I felt the same. In as much as I wanted to feel hatred, I empathize with Christ, and his conviction to remain steadfast and righteous. "Forgive them Father for they know what they do," He says. I guess one's interpretation of Christ's sufferings in PASSION depends on personal faith. How much is your belief and understanding of Christ and His teachings?
What made PASSION such a powerful image of reflection is Maia Morgenstern's equally topnotch turn as Mary, Christ's mother. In scenes where Mary watches Jesus being dehumanized, we are invited to witness the immeasurable pain of a mother who is powerless to save his son from such ordeal, and feel her pain. Even though Mary understands that these things are bound to happen according to God's will, the sight and sound of blood and wailing of your own son is too much for a mother to bear.
Even Monica Bellucci in minimal dialogue as Mary Magdalene is captivating. With her portrayal, we learn more about Mary Magdalene as a pivotal character in Jesus's life.
The brutal cinematic slaughter of Christ is beautifully photographed by Caleb Deschanel- relentless, vivid, but still tastefully made. Yes, the blood may have been too much for some viewers, but tone it down and what you have is a sword and sandal epic where everyone dies but no blood is shed, perhaps to obtain a PG-13 rating?
In few flashbacks, we see some of Christ's teachings linked to his present suffering. Most of what I know from the Bible and from past Jesus movies surrounding Christ's passion is there- Veronica wiping Jesus's face with a cloth,
Paul's Peter's denial of Jesus, and Dismas's wish to Jesus that he be remembered when Jesus enters paradise (in the version of the Bible I read, this sinner had no name). All of these teaches us a lesson or two. Even in the opening scene where Jesus was praying in Gethsemane and he caught his disciples sleeping, we are taught patience and fervent prayer.
In the subtext, we can see the tumultuous political climate of the time. Jesus was a threat to both the Jewish priests and to the Romans. Jesus was preaching an idea that threatens the social order, hence he was met with extreme opposition.
Okay, enough of the religious history. THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is stunning and yet quite hard to watch, but never fails to inspire. Like what Terrence Malick would do later on with THE TREE OF LIFE, it is a film that must be experienced, and in the viewing experience lies the catharsis. Why the seemingly excessive torture porn, then?
First of all, porn is defined by its end result, which is self-gratification. PASSION aims to create an understanding. Besides, would you have been affected as a viewer, and as a human being had the level of violence been diminished?
Postscript: In my opinion, the only Jesus film worth watching is this one, and Norman Jewison's lively interpretation of the hit musical JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. I haven't seen Scorsese's adaptation of THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, but I hear it's good, and even more controversial than this one. It's already on my list on what to watch next.