Passion of the Christ, The (USA)

directed by: Mel Gibson
starring: James Caviezel; Monica Bellucci; Claudia Gerini
The Passion of the Christ
Bob says: "Long story short: I didn’t like or appreciate anything about this movie.

"Long story relatively long: I’m leaving out the anti-Semitism question (I don’t take that stuff personally, and besides, it’s all true. My uncle Moshe did it) and I can’t deal with whether this is at all faithful (no pun intended) to the Gospels, since I’ve never read the book, but there will be a question in here for those in the know. I want to try to deal with just the film as a film.

"Ok… This is not a well-made film. Most of the acting is totally overblown, there’s far too much slow motion and extreme close-up shots, and the editing is painfully obvious: something happens, we get a close-up of Jesus’ face, and we go into a flashback of some relevant moment from the past. It’s Mel screaming 'Hey kids! When they perform that ritual in church, this is what it’s about!' Ok, Mel. So who’s he addressing this to? This isn’t proselytizing; it’s too ugly to accomplish that. And it’s not a Sunday School lesson, that’s for sure. Sorry. I really am trying to deal with it as just a film…

"What I found strange about the film is that it’s so fetishistic. More than anything else, it’s about blood and torn flesh, and the camera goes absolutely crazy for it. It’s not about reverence, or martyrdom, or sacrifice, or symbolism. It’s slo-mo splattering and tearing for about 75% of the running time, complete with mushy-gushy squirty-teary sound effects. And here’s my question for those of you who are up on this stuff: while Jesus is being flogged by the Roman soldiers, Pilate’s wife brings a stack of clean white towels to the two Mary’s. It’s a pretty well-done (albeit brief) moment, without dialogue, communicating respect, reverence, and the idea that people from different backgrounds and cultures can relate to each other. My assumption was that these towels were given to Mary so that she can clean her son’s wounds and comfort him after the flogging is over. That’s not what they’re used for, though. Jesus is dragged away, and Mary and Mary Magdalene use the towels to sop up all the blood left behind. And there’s a lot of blood. Why are they doing this? Is this mentioned in the Gospels? If it is, my apologies. If not, this is just weird."

"My only experience with this story is the other derived/filtered versions: THE PASSION OF ST. MATTHEW, GODSPELL, THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. This is nothing like any of those. I’m afraid this film has far more in common with movies like IN MY SKIN or THE INCREDIBLE TORTURE SHOW (aka BLOOD-SUCKING FREAKS). After Jesus has died on the cross and the earth has shaken a bit, the Roman soldiers are more than ready to get out of there. The commanding officer tosses a spear to one of the soldiers, telling him to make sure the man is really dead. He stabs him in the chest, and we get a slow motion rain of blood coming down on the people standing nearby. I was young once. I’ve seen porno movies. The blood coming down and the reaction of the people as it hits them said one thing to me as I watched: 'Money Shot.'

"Here’s my little prediction: a few years down the road, a booker at a revival house is going to have to come up with something to run in a double feature with SALO when they find out that no other Pasolini prints are available. Guess what they’re going to end up putting on the bill. Apart from the fact that SALO is a far better film, it’s actually a pretty good match."

Kate says: "It should be advertised: "Based on an historical event!"

"I went to see this film with some trepidation. First, I am not a Christian, so I don't have any predisposition to believe or be moved by this particular story, but I was prepared to be challenged by a conservative viewpoint. Second, the pre-release press made me anxious about the possibility of blatant or insidious anti-semitism. Third, I have never enjoyed excessive gore in films. I went to the film with a friend who was raised a Black Muslim, and spent about an hour with her after the film trying to verbalize our reactions.

"This film was so flat and devoid of feeling as to leave me utterly unmoved. Gibson lurches into the final 12 hours of Christ's life, with only the fleetest of glimpses via flashback of who Christ was before he came to this end. In his smug assumption that everyone already knows the story of Christ's life, Gibson makes no effort to place any of the characters in the context of their times or the roles they played in Christ's death.

"Gibson gives us a pretty Jesus in James Caviezel - oh, that beautiful mane of curly brown hair, those golden eyes, such a nice straight nose. No questionable ethnicity, this is a 'white man's' vision of the child of God. Mary, Mary Magdalene, Judas - all look remarkably European.

"The beatings, the scourging, the agony of the Via Dolorosa, and the moment when the nails were driven into his hands - all of these scenes were so insistently graphic, it becomes untenable that anyone could have survived such brutality. After 'Jesus fell' for the tenth time, it even began to seem ludicrous. In making it uber-realistic, ostensibly to provoke the audience into greater empathy for what Jesus suffered and to force us to acknowledge our collective sins, Gibson has instead made a caricature of pain that allows us to keep our distance from the truth. The film aroused no passion in me, just revived my doubts about what Christ could have found redeemable in any of us, and reinforced my refusal to believe in a God that could see and allow such attrocities to be committed.

"I cannot comment on the historical accuracy, nor can I pretend that I am a student of the Bible, but I resented Gibson's stance that the Jews forced Pilate into handing down his judgment on Christ - he absolves the Romans of their complicity in the crime, by placing all the blame on the Temple Elders, without bothering to divulge the motivations of any of the principal characters. In interviews, Gibson insists that he is not trying to point fingers of blame, 'No one group was responsible. We ALL killed Christ,' but the script repeatedly places the choices of punishment, and the decision to crucify in the hands of the Jews.

"He's determined to pretend that he is delivering the Gospel truth, unembellished and unbiased. The script is delivered in unconvincing epigrams, stolid sound bites from the Bible. By relying heavily on cliched quotes, Gibson robs the actors of the chance to act, and deprives the audience of an opportunity to hear the story told in a fresh voice. Instead, we can anticipate all of the important exchanges, especially since Gibson telegraphs familiar phrases to the audience with visual cues.

"There are a few moments of cinematic beauty, but they aren't worth the price of the ticket. I wouldn't recommend this film to anyone, it doesn't deserve the attention it has garnered."

Rob says: "God may, in fact, be Love, but it is a message that barely makes it beyond the pretentious spectacle that is tunnel visionary Mel Gibson's THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.

"While the looming anti-Semitic question is entirely subjective, what *is* clear is that the film *is* lazy and anti-climactic, and therein lies its sin. Reducing Christ's teachings to fortune cookie sound bites, Gibson tells what is supposed to be the Greatest Story Ever Told in a most utterly unimaginative, by-the-Book way. Heck, more of The Gospel can be found in 'Davey and Goliath,' and without brutal disembowelings.

"Like the LORD OF THE RINGS films, themselves based heavily on scripture and Catholic doctrine, swaying the unconverted is a feat akin to turning tap water into Dom Perignon. It is a job for only One Man, and unfortunately for film fans, his name is not Mel Gibson. Still, he and indie studio Newmarket (the majors treated the film like a bastard at a family reunion) are asking church groups and families to come out in force to support the film. This is a curious request, indeed, as the film is not only gorier than any chainsaw massacre, but also violent far beyond the mandate of its R rating. One scene in which Roman soldiers flog and flay Jesus is more like a gang rape than a punishment, and borders on pornographic.

"The fact that the dialogue is performed entirely in Aramaic and Latin is problematic, too. This strains the emotional connection that Gibson is after, as audiences will spend the Christians-to-the-lions' share of the film looking at the subtitles, instead of the actors' faces.

"Finding a new take on the life, death and Ascension of Jesus Christ (earnest trouper James Caviezel) in Gibson's game of career suicide chicken is a lot like a child trying to find joy in a coloring book in which all the pictures are already colored in. Gibson connects all the dots for us, and sadly, the result is little more than a black-and-white picture of God's big hand pointing judgmentally at all of us dirty, dirty sinners." 2 cats