Nearly everyone, be they Christian, Jew, Muslim or agnostic knows the story – Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, taken before the Jewish priests, brought before Pontius Pilate, then flogged, brutally beaten, and crucified. Therefore, it is not the storyline of The Passion that will shock you – it is the extreme and brutal gore that takes Jesus' suffering to an almost unrealistic level.
Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is an unapologetically violent and intensely melodramatic account of Jesus Christ's (James Caviezel) final hours. Nonetheless, it is a powerful and moving interpretation of the Passion story, perhaps more so for Christians, who regard this epic tale as the basis for their faith.
Gibson did not aim for realism in this picture. Rather, he embraced the overly dramatic nature of his scenes, mixing them with fantasy; the devil himself looms in the background during Jesus' torture, his face complacent and his demeanor unsettlingly calm, holding a laughing child who wears a demonic and contorted expression.
The excessive gore, too, is like a character in itself, amplified to the point where it would have been impossible for any man – even Jesus – to survive it. Gibson's intent is probably to convey to the audience the incredible sacrifice that Jesus made for humankind, and to some extent he reaches his goal by submitting the audience to constant, graphic depictions of Jesus' beatings. Gibson holds nothing back – viewers witness the whips, laden with thorns, lacerating Jesus' skin, the crown of thorns burrowing into his skull, and the hammering of the nails into his hands.
Christian or not, the sight of an innocent man being beaten within an inch of his life is more than enough to move you. That said, The Passion is not without flaws. Gibson takes a few liberties with history. For instance, early in the movie Jesus' capturers suspend him over a bridge, relying only on the shackles around his body to keep him from falling – something not found in any of the Gospels. From time to time, Gibson will throw in something that probably never was – for example, Pilate's wife's crisis of conscience and the earnest effort of a fellow Jew to help Jesus carry his cross.
In addition, Gibson assumes that his audience already knows Jesus' story and will thus be able to jump into the movie, which begins with a scared Jesus praying in the middle of a garden while being tempted by the devil. Without knowing that Jesus was a simple carpenter for the majority of life, that he healed the sick and ministered to the poor, or that Jesus was a compassionate and kind man in general, it becomes that much harder to relate to Jesus' pain or comprehend the magnitude of his sacrifice. The few flashbacks to Jesus' life, some that show a playful carpenter happily conversing with his mother or a triumphant rescuer saving Mary Magdalene, only partly illustrate the man that Jesus was.
The controversy over the alleged anti-Semitism in the movie is unfounded. While the Jewish leaders do convict Jesus of blasphemy and lobby for his execution, Gibson does not exaggerate or take this out of context. Additionally, many other Jews are sympathetic and disturbed as they watch Jesus struggle under the weight of his heavy cross. Rather, the Romans are portrayed worse; they are made out to be extremely sadistic, jeering and taunting Jesus during his beatings. During an elongated scene of Jesus' torture, the Romans relentlessly strike Jesus on his back, legs, and arms, laughing as his blood splashes onto their faces. When there no patch of skin on Jesus' back is left unbeaten, they roll him over and proceeded to whip his stomach. Certainly, the Romans appear more barbaric than the Jews ever do, and hopefully the scenes showcasing the Jewish leaders' cruelty will not bring about any resentment against Jews today.
The Passion delivers what it promises – a bloody account of the last hours of Jesus Christ. Unless you are unaccustomed to graphic, gory scenes, this movie will be what you expect, but that won't detract from making it a powerful experience.
The Passion of the Christ is rated R for sequences of graphic violence.
Melanie Thompson. Melanie Thompson is currently a junior in CAP and a page editor on Silver Chips. She enjoys hot baths, appearing aside famous stars in movies, and watching Agent Vaughn on Alias. A little known fact about Melanie is that she is a huge fan of … More »