The story of Jesus Christ has been told many, many times on film. From the old stoic versions of the tale to Martin Scorsese's rendition, the saga never seems to grow old. But Mel Gibson, just at the beginning of his controversy, decided to take it upon himself to retell the story of Christ, focusing more on the final hours of life...the result was gruesome, equally loved and hated, and a huge box office success. Yet more than just being a commercial hit, "The Passion of the Christ" is exquisitely well-made and powerfully emotional.
Instead of starting with the nativity like so many movies about Christ do, "The Passion of the Christ" begins in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus has gone to pray. Knowing that these are the last hours of his life, the unescapable fact of his death moves him to a place that no one else could really know. So intense is his prayer and meditation that he sweats blood.
Jesus asks God to take the burden away from him.
Right from the start "The Passion of the Christ" proves that it does not stick rigorously to the Bible. In the garden, Satan appears to Jesus and an obscure dialogue takes place. You have to assume that the film makers would take a little leeway, and I'm fine with that.
You can see, even in that incredible first scene, how the film is trying to portray Jesus. Instead of half-man/half-God or fully-man/fully-God, the film focuses much more on the humanity of Jesus Christ. He is seen as a man. I think the film is trying to convey how contemporaries of Jesus would have viewed him.
Satan, on the other hand, is a much more demonic, ethereal, and spiritual being. Instead of the comical bad-guy with horns and a tail, we get Satan played by an androgynous person whose beauty is undeniable. Satan is a seductive figure in this movie.
Then we get to the meat of the film, the actual story...the passion, if you will. Most of the film concerns the various ways that Jesus was tortured and beaten before he was killed by crucifixion. If you were expecting anything other than this, you were deceiving yourself.
I thought I could handle it...I presumed that I had seen worse. Whether or not "The Passion of the Christ" is the most violent and gory thing I have ever seen is a moot point. What you need to know is that the film is graphic, relentless, and brutal.
But there is so much beauty to the film...so much indescribable emotion that Gibson and his team managed to convey.
The film is almost flawless.
That being said there are some moments that just don't work altogether. I'll give you an example: though the film is primarily focused on the dying hours of Christ, some of the film is told in flashback form. One such scene has Jesus making a table...but not just any table—a tall table. He calls Mary out to see it and she chides him for making it so tall. He tells her that he'll make tall chairs. She just clucks her tongue and says that it'll never catch on.
It's this kind of scene where the film looses momentum. It's patronizing, unintelligent, and even insulting.
What does the scene accomplish? Am I to thank Jesus for how my dining room table looks?
But that being said, that's the only scene I had a problem with...the rest of the movie is quite amazing.
Yes, it's brutal and yes, it's horrifying to watch. Because of this Gibson evokes the strongest form of each emotion that's possible.
You don't have to agree with the film, you don't even have to believe in Jesus—"The Passion of the Christ" works on so many more levels than "just being" a religious movie. It's a work totally in of itself, a masterpiece of film.
Jim Caviezel plays Jesus and it's a role that took a lot of guts. What more iconic figure is there? Caviezel claims that this film ruined his career...he became a shut-out of Hollywood because of it. But what a great role to leave in the minds of the public! Caviezel's career is making a comeback, so I guess he should be happier now.
Maia Morgenstern is heartbreaking as Mary; but the most curious casting is Rosalinda Celentano as Satan.
The movie is so true to language, though some historians may squabble about it. There is not a single scene that is in English, a fact I'm very thankful for.
In the end, the life of Jesus will probably never be done like this again. The controversy surrounding the film may have darkened impressions of the film; but that's a shame. What these people are missing is a stunning achievement of film.
Score: 4 out of 4 stars