The Passion of the Christ

Da-na-na-na-nah, Crack that whip!

Released in 2004, certified UK-18. Reviewed on 04 Apr 2004 by Scott Morris
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Narrowly beating the gangster rap themed version The Pizzizi of the Crizzizi (starring Ice Cube as Jesus of Compton persecuted by the L.A.P.D.) to cinema screens is Mel Gibson's much talked about bible interpretation. I'm sure there's not much point in me going over the actual events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, it's perhaps the most told tale after his birth. Let's skip straight to the gory details.

The gory details in no small part being the reason The Passion of the Christ has provoked such a reaction, perhaps more so in the US than Blighty's rocky shores. Flogged to within an inch of his life by some brutal, thuggish Roman legionnaires, blood washes the flagstones and chunks of flesh are ripped away in an unflinching scene. To establish my geek credentials I'll say that the flogging of G'kar in Bablyon 5 probably disturbed me more, but that's more due to a structural flaw that's not really a structural flaw.

See, the thing about The Passion, and indeed the point of The Passion is that it spends next to no time at all showing the teachings of Christ, and focuses purely on his betrayal, suffering and death. If you view this as a film existing in a vacuum then there's no reason to care that Jesus is being so tormented, having no backstory presented at all. Of course, this view presupposes a complete and completely unrealistic lack of knowledge about Jesus that makes The Passion such a complete nightmare to write about without getting into all kinds of personal views of religion that aren't really relevant to anyone other than me.

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Gentle reader, you may appreciate and perhaps even respect my opinion on movies but I'm not going to expect you to even entertain my notions on such a sweeping discussion as 'all of religion'. Indeed in this format discussion is impossible and it would end up seeming like a torrential rant near guaranteed to upset someone, and I'm not prepared to risk that for something of so little import to this site as a whole. Perhaps a few words on the supposedly controversial points in the movie would be in order, however.

It's been loudly harangued by a vocal minority for being anti-semetic. This is a complete nonsense in my view, the temple priests rather loudly call for Christ's crucifixion as a threat to their power base in the self serving fashion of humans everywhere. The fact that the only people showing any compassion and love at all in the movies agony filled running time are Jewish rather negates the initial arguments more compellingly than any words I can string together.

Another charge is that Pilate and the Roman Empire generally gets off lightly, another extremely baffling comment given that the Roman soldiers are purely merciless barbarians (bar one or two who have some semblance of humanity absent in the others) who have extract tremendous joy from doling out suffering and lashing a man when he's down. Not a particularly positive picture, I'd have thought. Pilate himself seems reluctant have Jesus killed but as a politician he's duty bound to weigh up the consequences of such an action in a potential powder keg of a province.

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In the absence of any surviving, reliable, impartial historical evidence it's difficult to say much one way or t'other as to whether it's a flattering account of him or not. Certainly the Empire had no qualms about crushing potential rebellion with extreme prejudice, but at the end of the day The Passion of the Christ doesn't hide the fact that it's Pilate that sends Jesus to his death.

Miscellany: I'd never known that Tolkien's Elvish was based on Aramaic, but that's what it sounds like. I'd never known that Satan's armies of darkness look like some whacky cross between Orcs and zombies from Dawn of the Dead, but I do now. I can't wait for the DVD bonus documentary on the costume design, The Fashion of the Christ.

Ahem. Anyway, if you look at the film sans religious significance it's apparent that it ninety minutes of beatings, suffering and agony coupled with a few shocked, teary reaction shots and as a plain vanilla movie The Passion isn't that good. But this isn't a movie. It's a cultural talking point more than anything else and while in this Godless heathen can't attach a great deal of personal significance to it for devout Christians it's going to challenge their understanding of the physical nature of Christ's sacrifice for your sins. It's a deeply personal film, or perhaps experience would be a better word for many. As such everyone's view is likely to be so hugely disparate that attaching a numerical value to it seems more pointless than ever. Not that that's going to stop me.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

Mel Gibson
Cast list:
James Caviezel (Jesus)
Monica Bellucci (Magdalene)
Claudia Gerini (Claudia Procles)
Maia Morgenstern (Mary)
Sergio Rubini (Dismas)
Toni Bertorelli (Annas)
Roberto Bestazzoni (Malchus)
Francesco Cabras (Gesmas)
Giovanni Capalbo (Cassius)
Rosalinda Celentano (Satan)
Francesco De Vito (Peter)
Hristo Jivkov (John)
Luca Lionello (Judas)
Hristo Shopov (Pontius Pilate)
Luca De Dominicis (Herod)