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The Passion of the Christ
poster from The Passion of the Christ 11 out of 1011 out of 1011 out of 1011 out of 1011 out of 10+
Rated: R
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Current Voter Rating: 9.566 (272 votes)
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Merriam-Webster defines the word "Passion" as, first and foremost, "the sufferings of Christ between the night of the Last Supper and His death." The word has three other primary meanings: suffering, emotion, and love. This movie, The Passion of the Christ, could not be more aptly named, for no matter what is one's background, passion is the result. Never before, in recent memory, has a movie elicited such emotion and controversy, nor has a director endured such suffering for his beliefs, nor has a film so vividly demonstrated the very essence and epitome of love.

To me it is quite obvious that this is not a film to be judged solely in terms of the movie itself. To write a complete review, I feel that I need to address three things: the movie itself, the controversy, and the message.

The Controversy

I feel the need to speak to the controversy first, since the controversy came before the movie was ever released anyway. And there several controversies, not just one.

The first controversy over this movie comes from the skeptics, whether they are of a non-Christian religious background, are agnostic, or are simply atheists. These people have a problem with the film's representation of Jesus as a deity. This issue is really not so different from the notion of the separation of Church and State. While I may agree with some of the principles behind this separation, for it was given to us such that we might have religious freedom, I do feel that the pendulum is swinging a bit too far today. Some would prefer that religion should be invisible in our society, if not altogether removed. In other words, instead of having a separate set of leaders (governmental and church leaders) they feel that religious doctrines, customs, and beliefs should be eradicated from public view, be it in government offices, courthouses, or public schools. They would also, I think, like to go further and remove it from all places of business, public places, and even, well, movies. In my opinion, this sort of attitude is the antithesis of the ideals on which our nation was founded and really boils down to religious persecution. But I digress. Suffice it to say, if you have a problem with Jesus being represented as a deity, that is, as the Son of God, then don't see the movie.

The second controversy involves that of anti-Semitism. There are some Jewish people who are sensitive to the way in which their ancestors are portrayed in the movie, feeling that "the Jews" are blamed for the death of Christ. Furthermore, they fear that Christians will, after seeing the movie, be so inflamed as to lash out violently against Jewish people today. Some point to times in history of Jewish persecution, such as the Holocaust, and blamed anti-Semitic acts by some Christians on local Passion plays. Others have accused director, Mel Gibson, of anti-Semitism. So is Mel Gibson anti-Semitic? I certainly don't think so. Is the movie anti-Semitic? I believe that the film is quite faithful to the Biblical accounts of Christ's death and suffering. I believe, based on my Christian faith, that the Gospels are accurate in their representation. I believe that to alter these Gospel accounts in order to remove Jewish culpability would be wrong. However, I also believe that anti-Semitism is wrong. What's more, to blame the Jews for Christ's death is absolutely absurd. First of all, this happened 2000 years ago. Jewish descendants living today had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with it! Furthermore, the responsibility for Jesus' death is not limited to the Jewish Priests, or to Pilate, or to the Roman soldiers. In fact, Christians are the ones to blame! It was me. It was Mel Gibson. It was the sin of any Christian that nailed Jesus to the cross (that is why it is Mel Gibson's hand that holds the Roman spike that nails Jesus' hand to the cross...because he wanted to remind himself of his own culpability). Finally, why any Christian would be angry or upset at Jesus' death is beyond me. I can't understand it. After all, what would such a person prefer? That Jesus would have never died? That His sacrifice would not have occurred and that our own salvation would not be possible? Come on. That is lunacy.

The third controversy occurs among different sects of Christianity itself. There are some Protestant Christians who are opposed to this movie because of its Catholic influence. In fact, I know of a Protestant Church that has listed its "Top Ten reasons NOT to see the Passion movie." Now it is true that the movie is based more on the 14 Stations of the Cross than on the Gospel accounts themselves. The 14 stations are part of Catholic tradition of which only 7 are corroborated by at least one of the four Gospels. I re-read the last days of Jesus in each of the four Gospels after seeing the movie and did find a couple of minor discrepancies with the film. However, to nitpick over such things is so corrosive to the message of the film and to Christianity itself. In the words of Rodney King, "Can't we all get along?" I myself am a Protestant and I am ashamed at such derisiveness and fission. Of course a movie is going to have to add things to the Gospels because the Gospels provide such a skeletal story. Who are we to say that Jesus' mother, Mary, didn't meet him on the road to Calvary? Who are we to say that a woman named Veronica didn't show compassion and wipe blood and sweat from His face, and what do we care whether or not her name was Veronica? To be fair, however, these intra-Christian disagreements do not represent the entire Christian community. I have found that overwhelmingly churches and Christians of all denominations are supporting this movie and using it to minister to others.

picture from The Passion of the Christ

Finally, there is the violence. This forms perhaps the largest group of accusers. I do not disagree that this is an extremely violent movie. However, I personally wouldn't remove a second of it. It is necessary and appropriate even though it is difficult and exhausting to endure. Would I take my daughter to see it? Certainly not. In fact, I myself was quite hesitant to see it. It is not something to be taken lightly. While I encourage you to muster up the strength to watch it, that decision is ultimately up to you. What I can say, however, is that having seen the movie and witnessed the violence, I feel that it was worth it, that is was bearable, and that I would like to see it again, despite its graphic content. Furthermore, I feel that the barbarism depicted in the movie is one of the real treasures of the film. That may sound odd, but there is real value in being able to see the consequence and meaning behind short, matter of fact statements found in the Gospels. For instance, we can read any of the following Bible verses in less than a couple of seconds...

"Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified." -- Matthew 27:26

"Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified." -- Mark 15:15

"Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged." -- John 19:1

My point is that when you see it, when you sit through it for what seems like eternity, when your stomach turns at the amount of blood that is spilled on screen, only then does the meaning of these words truly sink in.

The Movie

I am pleased to report that this film is up to the challenge of the controversy. It is a remarkable achievement which director, co-producer, and financier Mel Gibson is to be commended. Gibson also co-wrote the script, along with Benedict Fitzgerald, Matthew (tax collector and disciple of Jesus), John Mark (friend of Peter), Luke (historian and friend of Paul), and John (disciple of Jesus). The violence is disturbing, as it should be. The film is touching, as it had to be. And the film is powerful.

I was extremely impressed with the cinematography, by Caleb Deschanel. It just has that look. It is beautiful, sad, and mysterious. Several scenes come to mind. Jesus draws a line in the sand to prevent a stoning, His finger leaving a cloud of dust and stone in its wake. A drop falls from the sky...it is the tear of God, and when it hits the Earth the ground begins to shake. Light streams into a dark tomb as a stone is slowly turned. I was equally impressed with the music. John Debney's score is haunting and reverent. I also enjoyed the fact that this movie was filmed entirely in Aramaic (Jesus' native tongue) and Latin (the language of the Romans). Since I am able to read, the subtitles were not a distraction at all. The net effect was an aura of authenticity. You feel like you are in Palestine in 33 A.D. rather than Hollywood in 2004.

The performances were great as well. As Mary, Maia Morgenstern showed us the agony of a mother whose son is in pain. Rosalinda Celentano was an eerie, androgynous, and unfeeling Satan. Very creepy. But the movie is centered around Jesus, and as such, Jim Caviezel takes on perhaps the biggest and toughest role ever played. He was great. An interesting side-note is that Caviezel has blue eyes which were covered with brown contact lenses for the movie, perhaps in an effort to give a more authentic look to Jesus who lived in the Middle East but which contrasts with blue-eyed Jesus movies and artwork of recent memory. Another interesting side-note is that he was struck by lightening while upon the cross during filming. Talk about putting everything into a performance! Anyway, he was able to show peace, love, and zest for life in all-but-too-brief flashbacks which contrasted with the suffering, the agonizing, and the bloody torture and death of His scourging and crucifiction. Caviezel spoke in Aramaic for the entire film, and his face was hidden behind swelling and blood for most of the movie, however, it seems that with just one eye shining through that he was able to convey every ounce of emotion and conviction that was needed. A remarkable accomplishment.

picture from The Passion of the Christ

I've heard it said that this movie would be unbearable without the flashbacks into different pieces of Jesus' life. I've also heard complaints that it didn't share enough of these and that the focus was too narrow and morbid. While these complaints may be valid, they aren't what Gibson wanted to do with the film. This is, after all, the Passion of the Christ. One could argue that flashbacks aren't needed at all. I find the film fascinating in how the flashbacks are introduced. First of all, while they do give us some relief, they also drive home certain points quite effectively. What I'm trying to say is that they aren't missed. When we do get the opportunity to focus on something other than pain and torture we soak it in, and a little bit is all that is needed. And what they do is to spark interest and make us want to learn more about this man who suffers so much before our eyes.

One such flashback was so touching. I found it impossible not to cry when Mary sees Jesus fall under the weight of the cross and then thinks back to a time when He fell as a small child. In fact, I felt that the relationship between Jesus and His mother was enormously well done and carried such a significant emotional impact. I was deeply moved seeing Mary sense her son in chains below the stone floor, and Jesus below looking up knowing that His mother was there. These scenes were two of my favorite scenes.

Other favorite scene of mine involved each time that Jesus would fall and then rise again. It showed us His determination, His strength, and His love.

picture from The Passion of the Christ

However, my favorite part of the movie, by far, is the ending. It is the ending which makes me want to see it again. It is the ending that makes it all worth it...the torture of the cross and the draining experience of witnessing it. It is the ending that gives us all hope. It is the Resurrection, and the way in which it is done is fantastic.

The Message

And that brings us to the Message. What is the message of the film? And what is the message of Christ? And why do I think that I will be able to answer these questions in a couple of paragraphs when more books have been written on this subject than on any other?

Anyone who is not familiar will have one question on their minds as they watch this film. Why? Why did Jesus have to die? Why like this? And why did He choose to do it? The answer, I believe, is simple: love.

The Message of the Passion is that of love.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." -- John 3:16

Of course, Jesus said it best when He said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." -- John 15:13

The next question, then, is since you have seen what Jesus went through, now that you have witnessed the sacrifice, what are you going to do about it? If nothing else, I hope and pray that you will, after having seen the movie, read the Book. Because the book is always better than the movie, and this is no exception.

picture from The Passion of the Christ

thumbs up!Powerful. Very powerful. However, I agree with the "R" rating. Do not take your children to see this movie. They can wait until they are old and mature enough to view its graphical content. However, I would recommend this movie to any Christian, and to any non-Christian in hopes that it might spark and interest or plant a seed of faith.

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So far, the average rating for The Passion of the Christ is: 9.566 (272 votes)

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