The Passion of the Christ Review
Like it or loathe it you cannot avoid the fact that Christianity is the corner stone of religious belief in this country. You might not agree with these people's beliefs, or any religious beliefs for that matter, but you cannot simply ignore the fact that so many people welcome these thoughts and feelings into their mind, heart and soul; these people gaining comfort from them for their own personal reasons.
Mel Gibson is one such person, a man of devout faith whose religious instruction comes from an earlier age, a more conservative view on the events as laid down in the Old and New Testament. He's starting his own church, his beliefs can be said to be evangelical and in 2004 he spent a large part of his personal wealth, preaching to the rest of the world about the final few hours of Christ's suffering, pain, death and eventual resurrection.
I am sure you know the story, everyone does to some degree or other, Christ, having travelled the lands preaching for peace and love, was eventually arrested for being a blasphemer, tortured then crucified. After three days he rose and ascended to heaven to be at the right hand side of his father. You either believe this final part or you don't; it's that simple. If you do then you are likely to receive The Passion of the Christ into your homes and give it a watch every now and again. If, on the other hand though you don't agree with the final resurrection then whilst you can watch this film from an historical interest point of view, and you can possibly give credit to the cinematography, strong acting or even the brutal realisation of the deaths which were perpetrated at that period in history, you perhaps will not identify with the film to any degree whatsoever.
So, let's get the basics out of the way first. When Gibson first took this project to the powers that be in the film industry he was turned away from every major motion picture studio. They just couldn't understand, rightfully so I hasten to add, why they should pump money into a film which was to be filmed in Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin and which provided no subtitles for the audience to follow the simple plot elements. Gibson finally relented, funding the film himself and even then he was forced to acknowledge that his initial vision had to be watered down somewhat, eventually allowing subtitles to be placed over most, but notably not all, scenes in the film. Controversy surrounded this project from day 1, with the normally restrained and conservative Catholic church even decrying some of the elements indicating that it might yet again provoke some levels of anti-Semitism which churches of most faiths have been trying to eradicate for some time. Gibson was not to be moved though and still retained one of the lines in the film where the Jewish people seem to have accepted their culpability in Christ's death. This line was one of many which were ultimately not subtitled on screen.
The narrative is a simple enough affair and flows well from beating and humiliation to beating and further humiliation, and the actors taking on these historical roles play their parts extremely well with credit going to James Caviezel (Christ) and especially Maia Morgenstern (Mary) as the mother who bears testament to the brutal torture and slaying of her beloved son. I have seen mothers watch this film, those who have faith and those who do not, and have always seen them brought to tears. When asked why, the reply is they identified to some degree the pain and suffering that Mary herself must have been going through when watching a family member suffer as Christ did.
Technically though the film is top notch; it was nominated for cinematography, make-up and score in the 2005 Oscars and whilst it came away with none, these are still stunning achievements in the cinematic world. Caleb Deschanel, director of photography, produces probably the work of his career to date. Some lush golden hues in the temple of the Pharisees eclipsed only by the steely midnight gradients in the Garden of Gethsemane at the start of the feature. There are some beautiful lighting shots and these scenes add some weight to the proceedings. John Debney, original music, has had some resounding scores in the past and many here will know his work from Spider-Man 3 to Sin City. Here he produces a haunting, melodramatic piece which does pull at those heart strings and makes you empathise with the emotions that our players are performing on the big screen. It is though both Keith Vanderlaan and Christien Tinsley who should get a special mention because their attention to detail in make-up is a stunning piece of work which really does pull no punches. The Passion of the Christ is an inherently violent movie, one of the most viscerally violent I have seen in some years. Had the subject matter been different then this would have found its way into the 'torture-porn' category or in the early Eighties would probably have been banned as a video nasty, but here it is needed and somewhat welcomed. No one is under the impression that crucifixion and the beatings which usually preceeded it were picnics by any stretch of the imagination but these two artists almost get under your skin as they show the open wounds, the flesh ripped to the bone and the incision of thorn on forehead. The subject matter, the idea that Gibson is trying to put across, is realised by these two craftsmen.
So from that point of view whilst I might have found The Passion of the Christ to be a voyeuristic almost legalised snuff movie of a film I would still have appreciated it on these merits and from that point of view still have recommended it.
For me though this film, and for so many more around our planet, means so much more. Throughout history there have been dramatisations on Christ's life and the people who he perhaps influenced. Hollywood gave us the Technicolor merits of The Robe and even Ben Hur where Christ had a passing, but important, interest. More accurate recounting of The Gospels brought us From the Manger to the Cross (Sidney Olcott, 1912) to the pure white, blue eyed boy of Robert Powell in Zeffirelli's 1977 mini-series Jesus of Nazareth. At the start these films were reluctant to show the face of Christ perhaps feeling it a little disrespectful to try and put a face to the son of God himself. Although Powell's was shown and although this film predominantly showed Christ, his ministry on Earth and his subsequent death it doesn't linger to any degree on those fateful few hours. Christ's teachings are obviously important to the Christian world; his death and resurrection though has much greater meaning. His suffering, his Passion, before his death, his death and resurrection are the defining moments of his stay on Earth.
So for Christians this is the film they had hoped they would never see, yet in some way always needed to. Gibson has provided that for them and with box office receipts being some 10 times the initial investment it seems that he was right to submit this to celluloid. I perhaps do not agree with his fundamental attitude towards religious history but I can respect the piece of work that he has produced here for the countless millions of Christians worldwide. As a recounting of the New Testament Gospels it does take some artistic licence, but then he has with his other historical works as well, but in the main he keeps as much to the recorded text as possible. The betraying by Judas, the slicing of the ear, the denouncement by the Pharisees, subsequent 'trial', the bearing of the cross, the ultimate execution. Gibson retells this as passionately as he can and perhaps in acknowledging his non anti-Semitic beliefs in thinking that the Jews were responsible for his death, it is Gibson's own hand driving those nails into the crucifix; reaffirming the Christian belief that it was no one people who were responsible for this but us all.
I for one am happy to have this in my collection; regardless of my own religious beliefs I still think this is a good enough piece of work to recommend. That recommendation though is only enhanced by its subject matter and my own personal thoughts on it. It will be your choice alone to decide whether to add this to your collection or not, I hope you do. If I was to mark this objectively then perhaps a 7 because it does have a few flaws. This film though cannot be watched objectively, the content being all too subjective of ones own beliefs and experiences. If then I was to mark this subjectively then I would perhaps give a 9. In the end I shall settle for something between the two.