Sunday, March 1, 2015
PASSION OF THE CHRIST, THE
(February 2004, U.S.)
To discuss Mel Gibson's film of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST requires a good deal of research on my part because as an atheist, I know virtually nothing about the Biblical Testaments, both old and new. What little I do know as a person who was born Jewish came from watching Charlton Heston and Cecil B. Demille once a year on ABC-TV. What little I learned about Jesus Christ first came from watching a children's claymation program on Sunday mornings called DAVEY AND GOLIATH (anybody else remember that show?) and then subsequently through other Hollywood epic biblical films such as BEN-HUR (Charlton Heston again!). What I have managed to pick up along the way, at least in terms of Hollywood's version of the tale of Christ, is that most people of Christian faith go quite ape shit when the movies dare to suggest anything outside of the traditional realm of what's written in the Good Book. In 1988, Martin Scorsese shocked the world by daring to suggest that while dying on the cross, Jesus Christ may have experienced temptations of living an ordinary life as an ordinary man with a wife and child in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. As I came to understand it, religious sermons were echoed in every church warning and restricting people of true faith from going to see this movie. When Dan Brown wrote THE DA VINCI CODE, I'm sure he pissed off more than a good share of people is suggesting that the entire life and death of Christ was nothing but a big con job and cover-up by the Catholic church. Yes, it seems when you dare to suggest that the man with long hair in the long robe was anything but a symbol of great purity and divinity, people are ready to have you stoned to death! Thankfully, as an atheist, you can feel safe in the fact that this post shall only be based on my experience and interpretations as a film viewer and nothing else.
Despite criticisms that Mel Gibson deliberately departed from historical accounts of first century Judea and Biblical accounts of Jesus Christ's actual crucifixion, some religious scholars still defend the film as not meaning to be that historically accurate. I suppose it's all about faith. Therefore, as I've come to understand it (you're going to hear me say that a lot because when it comes to religious history and accuracy, I really don't pretend to know shit from shinola!), the last days of the life of Jesus Christ were those of betrayal, persecution, violent beatings and floggings, his inevitable crucifixion on Good Friday and subsequent resurrection two days later on Easter Sunday. According to director Gibson, the primary source material for this film is the four canonical Gospel narratives of Christ's passion and the Gospel of Luke. Those of true faith generally don't dispute the depictions of what took place that lead to Christ's eventual demise. The real controversy in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST lies in its incredible use of bloody violence in the torture and punishment of Christ before his trial and during the long trek he makes carrying the heavy wooden cross that he'll later be crucified on. But again, as I've come to understand it (there, I said it again!), this is the way it supposedly happened in the tales of history. Death is not a beautiful thing, even when it's happening to Jesus Christ! There will be blood! Even in the churches (as I've come to understand it), the general consensus among religious leaders was, "Hey, like it or not, this is the way it happened. So go see the film if you want to." There's a healthy attitude I agree with! Despite the violence, though, the film also managed to receive many positive public endorsements from evangelical leaders and is also the highest grossing R-rated movie in American movie history (go figure!).
And so, as a Jew and an atheist, I'm left with only my cinematic wits and intelligence (what there is of them!) when I sit down to watch a bloody horror show like THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. Mind you, though, Gibson is trying to make a point even with such a graphic depiction. Gibson, despite his loud mouth antics that made him so despicable in the press ten years ago, is a devout Christian who believes in the love and gentle kindness that Christ had stood for. Upon its release, he was quoted as saying, "This is a movie about love, hope, faith and forgiveness. He died for all mankind, suffered for all of us. It's time to get back to that basic message. The world has gone nuts. We could all use a little more love, faith, hope and forgiveness." How much of this you want to take to heart is completely up to you and your own religious faith, if any. For me, it's a matter of film making, performance and effective use of language (reconstructed Aramaic and Hebrew, in this case). Jim Caviezel's portrait of Jesus Christ works for me just as well as any other actor who has played that big role before. For any actor playing Jesus, we're likely searching for a gentleness and kindness not only in the face, but in the mannerism, as well. Jim possesses it and uses it well to convince us that Jesus was a loving and forgiving man, even in the face of his own bloody persecutions and death. Those of the faint-hearted cannot consider this an easy film to watch visually. But if you're of the faith, then you likely know that (like I said before), like it or not, this is how it supposedly happened, and stories of the Bible may not have always been historically pretty. Blood has always been shed by those who believe they're doing it in the name of whatever God they choose to believe in, and sadly, the world has not changed one bit even today! I used to tell people that if God does really exist, He or She should come back to Earth for a week with a very large bat and beat the ever-living shit out of certain people of the world! I still believe it today!
Hey, want to hear a strange piece of irony? When watching this film, sometimes the violence has gotten so out-of-control bloody, I've actually found myself sitting on the sofa in shock and uttering, "Jesus Christ!" to myself under my breath! Sorry. Can't help it.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Pontius Pilate: "Truth...do you want to know what my truth is, Claudia? I've been putting down rebellions in this rotten outpost for eleven years. If I don't condemn this man I know Caiphas will start a rebellion. If I do condemn him, then his followers may. Either way, there will be bloodshed. Caeser has warned me, Claudia. Warned me twice. He swore that the next time the blood would be mine. That is my truth!"