James Caviezel as Jesus
Maia Morgenstern as Mary
Monica Bellucci as Magdalen
Hristo Shopov as Pontius Pilate
Hristo Jivkov as John
Jarreth J. Merz as Simon
Francesco De Vito as Peter
Claudia Gerini as Claudia Procles
Sergio Rubini as Dismas
Toni Bertorelli as Annas
Roberto Bestazzoni as Malchus
Francesco Cabras as Gesmas
Rosalinda Celentano as Satan
Luca Lionello as Judas
Matt Patresi as Janus
Fabio Sartor as Abenader
Mattia Sbragia as Caiphas
Strong acting and impressive visuals make The Passion of The Christ one of the best depictions of Jesus ever made. It will inspire Christians and definitely be the source of interesting discussion for everyone else.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know what The Passion of The Christ is about. This film, written and directed by Mel Gibson, is intended to be a faithful depiction of the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus Christ as told in the Gospels. The film starts with Jesus praying in the garden and ends with his body being lowered from the cross (with a brief scene of him being resurrected as a follow up). There are also flashbacks to his life as a child, his life as a young man, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Last Supper. The film brutally depicts Jesus being beaten, flogged, and ultimately crucified for the sins of mankind.
The Passion of The Christ is rated R for sequences of graphic violence.
This film is a complicated one to review because I can look at it with two different hats that of a Christian or that of a moviegoer.
As a Christian, I was eager to see The Passion of The Christ. When you hear the story of the crucifixion of Jesus every Sunday for your entire life, it’s easy to become numbed to it and forget what Jesus went through. I more often find myself trying to keep a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old quiet and entertained in church than reflecting on Jesus’ sacrifice. So for me, as a visual learner, this movie was a great tool for getting me refocused. It was quite interesting to see the story of the crucifixion played out on the screen with such realism.
As a moviegoer, I was also interested in seeing what Mel Gibson would come up with. I’ve always enjoyed his work and with all the hype surrounding this movie, I definitely wanted to check it out. The final result of Mel’s work is a film that is visually impressive and emotionally powerful.
This film is also incredibly violent. Jesus is shown being flogged for what seems like 1 1/2 hours straight. His skin and flesh is graphically shown being stripped away as he is whipped. People with weak stomachs will have a hard time watching it. It amazed me that Jesus would have survived long enough to even make it to the cross. Normally this level of violence would turn me off, but I felt it was necessary to show in order to accurately depict what Jesus went through. Without showing this level of pain and torture, you’re doing a disservice to the story.
The film seems to be very faithful to the scripture. I re-read the Gospels before I saw the movie so that the details would be fresh in my mind, and Mel Gibson seems to have stuck to it closely. He combines the information contained within all of the books and maintains a continuous narrative that makes sense. The movie also flashes back to when Jesus was a young man, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Last Supper. This helps to give more relevance to the crucifixion scene as you see how Jesus predicted his own death and he tells his followers to love their enemies and forgive them (which is reiterated up to his last breath). Mel Gibson also managed to catch little details like Jesus briefly being taken to Herod, Pilot’s wife having dreams, etc. So from a scriptural point of view, Gibson did a good job.
That being said, though, there is some departure from scripture. The main departures seem to be where Gibson had to fill in the blanks. Some characters are shown doing or saying things that aren’t in the text, but they make sense and move the story along. The only real departure I think I noticed was where they implied Mary Magdelene was the woman caught in adultery in John 8. They imply that Jesus stepping in on her behalf is what makes her his follower. (I believe some Christian denominations believe this based on writings outside the Gospels.)
Another departure of sorts is that Satan is shown lurking in the background of a few scenes. He is portrayed as an androgynous, invisible character that tempts and mocks Jesus. It is bizarre, but believe it or not it all fits together well. For example, early in the movie when Jesus is praying in the garden, a snake leaves Satan’s robes, goes up to Jesus, and he crushes it under his heel (a clear reference to Genesis). There is other symbolism throughout the movie that Christians will appreciate.
Jim Caviezel is perfect as Jesus. Even though he spends most of the movie being beaten and covered in blood, Caviezel manages maintain an aura of dignity. The flashbacks help to further develop his role as we see Jesus teaching his disciples, teasing his mother, and other things bonding him to the characters now following him to his death. Maia Morgenstern depicts Jesus’ mother Mary very well. She is shown perceiving Jesus as both her son and her Savior. Her scenes were very powerful as she reflects on raising him while at the same time watching him be murdered. Simon is also portrayed well by Jarreth J. Merz. We sympathize with him as he is randomly pulled from the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross. Those few moments for him obviously change his life and Merz shows that well.
As you may know, the film is entirely in Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew with English subtitles. That wasn’t a problem for me, though, because it gave a feeling of authenticity to the film.
Overall, it’s a very good film that is definitely worth checking out. I have no idea how non-Christian audiences will take this movie, but I believe it to be a haunting, thought provoking film that will stay with you long after the movie is over. I doubt people are going to find themselves converted to Christianity after viewing this movie, but it will definitely make you think.
What Didn’t Work:
You can’t talk about The Passion of The Christ without addressing the controversy surrounding the film. Some Jewish leaders have accused the movie and Mel Gibson of being anti-Semitic. My personal point of view is that they are not. The movie is no more anti-Semitic than the New Testament itself. Taking the story out of context, I can see how they believe this. After all, the leaders of the Sanhedrin are shown pushing the Romans to kill Jesus. They are portrayed as the ‘bad guys’. However, both the movie and the scripture say over and over again that Jesus died for the sins of everyone (not to mention that Jesus and all of his followers are Jewish, too). In reality, everyone that sins is responsible for the death of Jesus, not just the Jews. Even then, in the movie Jesus repeatedly says to love your enemies and to forgive them. Unless someone goes out to get popcorn during those lines, I can’t see how you could perceive the movie as encouraging people to hate Jews. Anyone who’s anti-Semitic was that way long before they went into this movie. Blaming The Passion of The Christ for anti-Semitism makes about as much sense as blaming the Matrix for teens taking guns to school. The fact is those kind of people were screwed up long before the movies came out. Anyway, I think a little controversy is a healthy thing as it generates discussion and it makes you re-examine what you believe and why you believe it. And ironically I think the protests about anti-Semitism have generated more interest in this movie than anything else possibly could. Some of these people attacking the movie have provided Mel Gibson with a more successful marketing hype than anything he could have come up with on his own.
Controversy aside, I did have a couple of problems with the movie. Though I liked the depiction of Satan, I thought it was really weird that he/she carried around a demon midget. That was a bit out of left field. Judas is also shown being attacked by imaginary children / demons of some sort. Again, it’s weird and unnecessary.
The movie also ends with Jesus’ body being taken off of the cross. After the screen goes to black, it then shows the tomb and Jesus walking out of it healed. I kind of wish less time had been spent on the beatings and more time had been spent on the resurrection because I feel that’s where the even greater story is. Maybe Mel is saving that for the sequel.
The Bottom Line:
The R rating should be heeded because of the tremendous amount of blood. People who can’t handle it should think long and hard before viewing this film.
I think you’ll get out of this movie what you go in looking for. If you’re a Christian looking for inspiration, you’ll find it. If you’re someone looking for anti-Semitic themes, you’re probably going to find it whether it’s there or not. If you only care about the acting, I think you’ll come away impressed with the performances. But whether you enjoy the film or not, it is undeniably something that will generate good discussion and that makes it worth checking out.