The Passion Of The Christ
Here's what you need to know about The Passion Of The Christ:
Forget the hype and forget the presumed intentions of Mel Gibson; this is a good film. There was an honest intensity surging through each scene that kept me interested, fascinated even. It's as violent and bloody as you heard, but it's no gratuitous gore-fest. You feel each blow and each lash because, unlike a horror flic, The Passion Of The Christ is about one man's suffering, not his killing. It's a subtle but important distinction. The slow withering of the life force is portrayed with great compassion, as much of an emotional pain as physical. You're watching a man die and, apart from whatever he-- or you--may have believed, it's a harrowing thing to witness.
The pacing of the film is very good and, in fact, the threat of iminent violence takes more screen time than the actual violence. Contrary to what others have said it's not non-stop bloodletting. Even while Christ remains wounded there is a build up that effectively shows us the conflicting interests within the Roman empire that led to his death sentence. The story is mostly told without metaphors, and when it plays straight with the audience and treats the subject matter like an historical event it's pretty powerful. This is, after all, an important moment in our culture, and it fires the imagination to think we're witnessing a reflection of it.
The performances are effective but not great, understandable given the archaic language used and the film's apparent fear of overly humanizing its characters. Director Mel Gibson attains an amazing degree of understated realism but then stumbles over the weight of the source material. The acting is handicapped by Gibson's need to show religious rapture. Still, it mostly works well.
The duo of Marys-- Mom and Magdelaine-- have the emotional center all to themselves here; most of what we feel is filtered through their eyes. Pontius Pilate is also well acted, with as close to a modern style performance of conflicted morality as the film allows. Beyond that the characters are there to further a message. Jim Caviezel's Jesus jumps between mortal pain and otherworldly vision, making for an occasionally sincere, occasionally stilted take. The Roman soldiers are there to inflict pain, coming off like rehashes of the Orcs from the Lord Of The Rings. The Jewish chiefs are there to ensure the deed is done. We don't know their reasoning and it's clearly not their story. More on that point.
The biggest flaws in The Passion of the Christ occur when Caviezel opens his mouth and quotes scripture. I know, how could he not. But forgetting the likelihood that most of these well-known lines ("Forgive them Father..."; "He who lives by the sword...") were re-interpreted transcriptions written generations later, the slavish parroting took me out of the film and into a sunday school lecture. This might not throw you off if you're a believer in the literal Gospel, but for me, watching a scene where Christ pre-ordains his fate and the fate of others was a flight into the supernatural, and a stark reminder of vested religious interests coming from 21st century purists. Oddly, I found Christ's resurrection and the multiple scenes with Satan-- certainly much more supernatural events-- less jarring because they were presented visually in a way that left room for some hallucinogenic explanation.
Which brings us to the story behind the film. Is it anti-semitic? Not overtly, no. But, make no mistake, the message is insidiously creepy. The Jews want Christ dead, Pilate says no, the Jews want Christ dead, King Herod says no, the Jews still want Christ dead, Pontius says no again, but those Jews persist and cleverly manipulate until they get their way. Yes, the Romans do the deed, but the soldiers who inflict the punishment are shown to be mindless minions. It's those Jewish chiefs behind it all, with the Jewish mob shouting for blood right behind them. As Jesus says to Pilate: "It's not your sin but the sin of those who brought me here", or something close to that. His meaning, and accusation, are clear. The only people shown to have compassion are Roman authorities and those Jews that followed Jesus. The rest of the Jews-- especially those that are wearing traditional Jewish clothing-- are portrayed as hell bent (literally) on crucifying the blasphemer. The film drives the point home at the moment when Jesus dies. Suddenly the ground begins to rumble, as if by divine intervention, and the Jewish temple is rocked and damaged. "See?", God seems to say to the Jews, "See what you did?! Go to your room!"
Is Mel Gibson himself anti-semitic? Probably not. He takes pains to show Christ's compassion throughout the film, and clearly believes the central philosophy of love and forgiveness. I don't doubt he prays for the Jews and forgives them. What I find monumentally offensive is the idea he makes quite plainly in this film that forgiveness is required.