The Passion of the Christ begins with Jesus of Nazarath (James Caviezel) praying to his Father and being taunted by Satan (Rosalinda Celentano) in The Garden of Gethsemane on the night he knows he is to be betrayed by one of his disciples. The disciples can only look on as their Messiah prays for strength for the twelve hours of torture that he knows lies ahead of him. The Temple Guards arrive under the guide of Judas (Luca Lionello), and lead Jesus away. First to Caiphus (Mattia Sbragia) at the Temple, then Pontius Pilate (Hristo Shopov) who fobs him off to King Herod (Luca De Dominicis) to avoid having to lay any punishment himself. Finally Jesus is sent back to Pilate who despite his efforts to severely torture, but not kill the man, ultimately washes his hands of the Son of God and lets the people (encouraged by Caiphus) get their way. Jesus begins the long walk to Golgotha for his crucifixion.
This journey from the Garden up to the crucifixion and ultimate death of Jesus is portrayed in an unadulterated and shocking, but never truly gruesome style. It's audiovisual art that doesn't take its subject matter for granted. The public flogging in Pilate's grounds is as wince-worthy as a piece of footage can be, but Gibson knows when to draw back from the real gore leaving the imagination to complete the picture (he also knows exactly when to cut right back to a tool of torture even more horrifying than the one before!). The fact of the matter is that despite the film requiring much (publicised) graphic violence, the Why is more significant than the How. As important as the steel-whipped torture scenes are the bonds between the key characters Jesus, The Mother Mary (Mai Morgenstern), Mary of Magdalene (Monica Bellucci), and The Disciples. The mother and son relationship between Mary and Jesus being explored brilliantly throughout, giving a deep emotional angle as the movie crescendos toward its final climax. Mary coming face-to-face with her son Jesus as he bleeds to death on the cross for the sake of the sins of others “My son... when, where, how... will you choose to be delivered of this?”.
Being spoken in Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin has not disadvantaged The Passion at all. Performances from all cast members carry admirable weight and meaning, so much so that it is quite possible to watch without subtitles at all if you are familiar enough with the subject material. All respect is due to Morgernstern's excellent portrayal of Mary, a woman about to lose her son, but also Mary “Mother” to all who have followed her son. James Caviezel's Jesus is perfect, and importantly so as he must be all things; a kind and caring man, a wise preacher, a son in absolute fear who puts all trust to his Father, and finally a man horribly crucified, all in a language the audience isn't expected to understand. His line delivery throughout is passionate, controlled and exceptionally well timed.
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