The Passion of the Christ (2004)

One can’t deny that “The Passion of the Christ” was a bulldozer of endless publicity, and endless debate, and controversy, and uproar and anger and discussion, and feuds and so on and so on. Regardless of which blockbuster that was spawned on the American audience, “The Passion of the Christ” was a highly hyped and much publicized film, because it deals with religion. Religion takes brothers and sisters and family and divides them, it angers people, motivates them, inspires them, and causes them to commit heinous acts in the name of it. Thus explaining the Crusades, the search for the holy grail, and the war we are experiencing now. Religious wars. Religion, regardless of how you cut it is important, if an unnecessary and somewhat defunct part of the human condition that should be removed. Religious films aren’t just films, they expose a part of the human soul called religion, something many people live by and swear by. For better and for worse.

While watching the countless debates about the numerous backlash and discussions about director Mel Gibson’s opus, I knew this film wouldn’t just spark criticism, it would divide movie critics around the country down the middle, the reviews would be based on the critics’ views and thoughts and would not just be simple criticism on a film. “The Passion of the Christ” is riveting and powerful in a technical sense, wherein director Mel Gibson is able to show how much of a wonderful filmmaker he can be. Thematically and narratively, “The Passion of the Christ” straddles the line of exploitation and pure sadism that fails to teach any actual lessons, and feels almost obsessed with torture inflicted on Jesus Christ. Everyone knows the story of Jesus Christ, and “The Passion of the Christ” (translated in nearly five languages) succeeds in production value to help dust up an old story.

There are scenes in particular in which Judas (Lucia Lionello), after betraying Jesus is haunted and tormented by demonic children while Satan looks on in amusement, until he finally hangs himself. The most gruesome sequence in the film is that of when Jesus Christ is being whipped and tortured by the Romans in the town square and endures the beatings. He is whipped by jagged bullwhips that when lashed against his skin don’t create red thin lines as you’ve seen in the films, they take out chunks of his back and meat, at one point the whip gets stuck in Jesus’ back. Director Gibson offers an almost sexual thrill in these scenes of blood shed and gore, and posits the idea that there’s something to be taken from these scenes of human suffering. But what, exactly? Among the film are excellent performances especially by that of James Caviezel who I always liked as an actor, gives a heartfelt and excellent performance as Jesus Christ.

Monica Belluci is superb as Mary Magdelene, Maia Morgenstern as Mary, and Rosalinda Celentano is truly terrifying as Satan, a tempter and quiet onlooker to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Satan bears no true form but is merely a combination of both man and woman features, mainly a symbol for androgyny and the evil of homosexuality who manipulates not only Christ, but the audience in feeling something that we may not gather from seeing a man tortured and beaten to death. Clocking in at nearly two hours and ten minutes, if they would have added twenty more minutes and focused on why the Jewish ministry felt so threatened by him, it would have been more reason for the audience to discover why Jesus was so hated.

The film focuses mainly on the torture of Christ, but why? Does Gibson feel the need to beat the audience in to submission as well? Gibson in his insistence on featuring long drawn out moments of pain seems to reflect the very ideals of Catholicism where rather than help convert, he wants to guilt the audience. And moreso he wants to shame those already believing in his religion. As the religious faith of Catholicism is want to do. Why do we need to see so much gratuitous violence and horrible torture scenes to get the fact that Jesus suffered? The scenes are almost too hard to watch; I found myself having to look away at some of the scenes which border simply on senseless. It’s true that the film’s plot isn’t supposed to be thick with texture, but there’s barely any plot noticeable during my viewing of this.

Jesus is captured, Jesus is tortured (emphasis on tortured), Jesus is crucified, Jesus dies, the end. Where’s the character development and engrossing storylines from the bible that people claim to love so much? I couldn’t find any trace of it here whatsoever, and I would have appreciated more. The more sanctimonious viewer will enjoy what Gibson has to offer in the realm of pretending to give a lesson in sacrifice, when really he just wants to put suffering on display for the purposes of nothing other than handing off guilt to movie goers. The notion that many families have attended this movie with their children should be an indication that the religious are on the same page with Gibson all the way. It’s a shame there isn’t a good movie deep down in this excuse for gore and sadism.