I finally got the chance to see The Passion of the Christ this afternoon.
In a word: intense.
It’s also quite likely the most brutal movie ever made. The violence, the savagery…it’s unrelenting. Mel Gibson batters you about the head with it, until, amazingly, you’re just, somehow, benumbed by it. Just when you think that it can’t get any more horrific, it does.
Jim Caviezel wouldn’t have been my first choice to play Jesus, but after having seen him, I think it was an inspired choice. He seems to embody the personage of Jesus, and the movie is better for it.
But I can’t get past the violence of the film. I really do think that Gibson got carried away with it–to the point where it’s almost pornographic, and the brutality, the sheer ferocity of it overwhelms the Message: that Christ died for all our sins, so that we may have life eternal.
Since the movie covers the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life, this message is lost in the carnage of the Crucifixion. It’s too bad, because I think that message of love and forgiveness is what is truly important.
All that aside…if you have a chance to see it–and you should, given all its publicity–you should go see it. Don’t take your children, though; if ever a movie deserved a rating of NC-17, it’s this one. The gore is that extreme.
UPDATE: Having seen the movie, and having read a lot of the criticism that Gibson received, saying that the movie was inaccurate and anti-Semitic, I decided to compare The Passion to the Gospels’ account of the night in question.
Turns out that the movie is a mash of the four Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion. It’s as if Gibson decided to basically combine Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John together in order to tell the story of Jesus’ last 12 hours on Earth. But in doing so, he leaves out some choice bits (for example, John spends several verses detailing just what it was that Jesus was praying about in Gethsemane), and adding some others that are either nonexistent or mentioned in passing (such as tossing Jesus off the bridge and the all-too-gory for my taste emphasis on the flogging).
As for the anti-Semitism, Gibson does leave out the single clearest bit–the part where the crowd, in John, I believe, says “His blood be on us, and on all our children“. Instead, he spends much time at the beginning of the film emphasizing that Jesus, according to the Jews, was a “blasphemer”, and the like.
And you know? According to the Jews of the time, he was. Saying things like, “I’m the Son of God”, was–and to this day, is–something that is profoundly shocking, and to the Jews of the time, they would have considered it grounds for death.
Having said that, and having listened to more than one person who wondered out loud why it had to go down that way–why Jesus had to die in such a horrific way–the only response that I can make, the only right response is that that’s the way it had to be. In order for us to be cleansed from sin, in order for that victory to be gained (that’s why Satan is gnashing her teeth in fury at the movie’s end), Jesus had to die, and in that manner. Jesus said so himself, in John, talking to Peter after the guards had seized him: “Don’t you think I can’t call on more than 12 legions of angels to come and defend me? Trust me, this is how it has to be.”
And so it was.
Later Update: Here’s a chart noting the four Gospel Passion Narratives.
And for those of you who think otherwise…I happen to think that The Passion of the Christ is simply one vision of what Jesus’ last 12 hours on Earth were like; I don’t think it’s the literal truth, because there’s too much that doesn’t jibe with what is in the Gospels. And that vision is a very orthodox–ultra-montane, even–Catholic vision of the Passion. Which is why I find it odd that many Protestants have embraced the movie. But, to each their own.