The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Directed by Mel Gibson
Written by Benedict Fitzgerald & Mel Gibson

I saw this in theaters with my Mom and my brothers, much like many of my fellow classmates at St. Matthew’s Catholic grade school back in 2004. I knew going in kind of what to expect, but I also fully expected never to see it again. It was one of those “important to see it, but only once” kind of movies. Having seen it again, however, I get the inkling that for some reason in my future I will see it again somehow. Certainly not in the near future, but I sense it is there somewhere and for some reason. The film was interesting to me on three different levels. One is the obvious connection to my paper and my ability to formulate an articulate analysis and get a good grade and graduate. The second is the idea of faith. The film deals with both Jews and Christians and with the recent discovery, possibly, of Noah’s Ark in Turkey, religion plays a large part in my interest in the film. The third reason is that of the film itself. What are its merits and strengths and what are its demerits and weaknesses? How is it played historically?

The first part is dealt with directly in the section following the review, so I will skip it here and move onto my second point of interest: religion. I was born and raised Roman Catholic (but we accepted Vatican II unlike Gibson’s style of Catholicism) yet today I do not consider myself any particular religion or faith; I try to live my life more on a moral basis and do not worry about religious aspects as much, but religion does and always has fascinated me. So here we have the filmmaker Gibson seemingly condemning Jews for having condemned Jesus. The evidence provided by Gibson is convincing in the film, but is it accurate? Well I would say that with the power and money Gibson had behind this project it is hard to say and from an historical perspective I can say that it falls somewhere probably in the middle. Why? Why? Why? Every question is a why. Why did Jesus act as he did? Why was his death more important for humanity than his survival? Why were the Jews so afraid of this man? Why did they not believe he was their prophesy fulfilled? Why did the Romans act as they did?

The third part of interest is in that of a movie lover. This film was nominated for three Academy Awards and deserved every one of them. The cinematography is first and foremost the most worthy. The film is strikingly beautiful. And the music score compliments the images and haunting story perfectly. And needless to say their was adequate opportunities to show off the make up department. Apart from that the performances were all quite good and the tone of the film was pretty good too. There were moments that were off, but for the most part it was surprisingly poignant. And to my surprise there was significantly less amount of “torture porn” than I was expecting. Yes, some is shown and it is graphic and nasty, but for the most part it is not shown and is not what I felt Gibson was going for. What I felt he was going for was the general violent and hating society that the world harbored and still harbors today. Some of the reactions by the participants and onlookers tell the entire story. Some are heartbroken, even after egging the events on to happen; and some are giddy with excitement and pleasure, which is equal parts disturbing and disheartening.

It may not be a film for everyone, it may not be a politically correct or historically accurate film, but it is still an important one for the story it tells, the way it tells it and how it got made. If my memory serves me correctly, Gibson was forced to make this film predominately on his own dime. I’m not even sure if he has made that money back from this, but what is important to note now is the fact that the film got made. It proves Hollywood can get any movie made for better or for worse and in my eyes that is significant. This may not be the first of its kind for this to happen, but it is the one that sticks in my mind as the film that allows for artistic expression and the filmmakers vision the most. Gibson had a vision and a mission and I think he accomplished it with this film. Now it may not be perfect, it may not be enjoyable or certainly rewatchable, but I would say it was a good film and one that is important to note.

Commentary on Anti-Semitism

When I announced my plan to include this film as part of my paper/marathon, some raised the question as to whether this was anti-Semitic or not. Well after watching it, and knowing what I know about the background of the film, I think it merits inclusion. Unlike Gentleman’s Agreement or Crossfire, it does not deal with anti-Semitism directly, not does it condemn it. Both those films showed it to you and told you it was wrong. Here, Gibson decides instead to use his money and his beliefs to show his audience that it was the Jews that potentially killed Jesus. That is it, that is what is said here, whether it is in your face or not, it comes across that the Romans were reluctant and only crucified Jesus at the insistence of the Jews and the political pressure from above to not have an uprising over the matter. As such, there is no room to really comment on whether they were right, whether they were wrong, or if the film is in fact condemning Jews by its depiction. But that is the beauty of this film being a part of my paper. It raised that question. Is it, or is it not? The discussion and the background of the production (i.e. Gibson) is what makes it intriguing and worthwhile to talk about. Also the fact that it does not send the message that anti-Semitism is wrong adds an interesting dynamic to my paper that I did not have before.

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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