The Passion Of The Christ

Easter is upon us and what a perfect time to showcase a controversial review of a controversial movie.  It’s been 2 years since the highly profitable release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ.  Very rarely does a movie cause such extreme reactions in people as this one did.  You either loved it (like Roger Ebert who gave it a 4-star review) or you loathed it (like The Toronto Sun’s Liz Braun who gave it 1 out of 5).  When I screened the film on DVD on November 19, 2004, I found myself very much in between those extraordinarily emotional views, as you’ll read in my previously unseen assessment.
Since I started this site back in February I have received exactly one comment.  Perhaps that will change with this review.  I don’t know what it is about religion and Jesus Christ but when you say certain things about both it sets people off in the most surprising ways.  People have way too much passion for this stuff, if you ask me.  But I welcome any feedback on any of the writing I submit on my site here.
As an atheist, I’m often very tough on movies like this because I expect them to maintain a reasonable level of logic.  That being said, the mysteries of this subject have made for some interesting movies over the years like Priest and The Last Temptation Of Christ to name but two.  I highly recommend both.
Without further delay, here’s what I thought about The Passion Of The Christ.

By Dennis Earl


Jim Caviezel may be the bravest man to play Jesus of Nazareth in the movies. That being said, he is the least interesting of all cinematic messiahs. In Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ, the last hours of Jesus are given the fundamentalist treatment and the movie suffers tremendously for it. Taking pretty much everything literally, the film follows the supernatural elements of the gospels far too closely to ever come close to telling a cohesive story of an actual, real life hero.
The movie doesn’t spend much time introducing characters or allowing the audience to get to know them and care about them. Director/co-writer Gibson expects you to reach deep into your childhood memories and pull out those automatic responses to all the familiar elements of this story from your tedious days in Sunday School. Problem is, I didn’t care. The movie isn’t terribly moving and is way too slow, even at just over 2 hours.

Beginning with a babbling, shivering Jesus in the forest with a few of his closest disciples, Judas Iscariot (Luca Lionello) makes a deal he will regret. He accepts a bribe from some unsavory characters and leads Roman soldiers to Jesus’ outdoor hangout. Despite a scuffle between the warriors and the disciples – really, did we need that whole real-time-slowed-down-then-sped-up-again-so-Peckinpah-could-be-proud routine? – Jesus doesn’t resist but gets a swollen eye anyway and is taken to a local Jewish temple where his long abuse continues.

The movie never really makes Jesus much of a threat to the High Priests’ way of life and so, it baffled me why they wanted to kill this guy so badly. (Caiaphas, the Head Jewish Priest, twice mentions something about Jesus vowing to destroy their temple and rebuilding a new one in 3 days, but shouldn’t there have been a series of scenes, or perhaps just one, that showed Jesus backing up his threats?)

After "eyewitnesses" come forward to talk about the Galiean’s "magic" and how he uses devils "to cast out other devils", the unconvincingly angry mob start beating on the guy and take him to the governor Pontius Pilate (Hristo Shopov) who has no interest in satiating their bloodthirsty demands.

He briefly speaks with Jesus and you start to wonder if his enemies are right after all. The dude really is arrogant with his I’m-the-only-way nonsense. No wonder people got bent.

Still not convinced he should be killed, he tells the mob to take Jesus to see Herod (Luca De Dominicis), a wig-wearing, fruity wingnut who also doesn’t see the need for an immediate death sentence. He orders them to return to Pilate who, begrudgingly, (and much to the annoyance of his wife) agrees to have Jesus beat up a little bit. 70 lashings later, Pilate gives the crowd a choice. He remembers that a prisoner is given amnesty every year and asks the crowd should they spare Jesus or a murderer named Barabbas. You guessed it, Jesus is screwed. They’d let a convicted killer roam the streets before freeing the King of the Jews.

What follows is not as brutal as everyone has made it out to be.

Nothing but a bloody, lacerated mess, Jesus is forced to wear a crown of thorns by a laughing Roman soldier and his buddies continue to have their way with him. It is decided by the High Priest, after they choose to kill Jesus over the freed murderer, that crucifixion is the way to go. So, onward the mob and the Roman soldiers go as they continue to make Jesus regret being a sacrificial lamb. It takes us forever to get to the expected finish and I just wished they got on with it already. The violence isn’t the problem (that’s actually quite tame, to my surprise). It’s the pacing.

Despite beautiful scenery, convincing sets, and those effective Roman soldiers who come off as tamer Nazis, the film lacks a point. We’ve been here before, we know the start, we know the important moments, and we know the finish. Instead of being faithful to the published Gospels, wouldn’t it be great to get a Jesus movie that reflected reality and didn’t pander to the most self-righteous of so-called Christians?

The best movie I’ve seen about Jesus is Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation Of Christ, a great film that truly explored the character of Jesus, his relationships and what he felt God’s expectations of him were. Although it has familiar elements, it felt fresh, convincing and the ending was a nice surprise. By contrast, Passion goes through the motions. It has no interest in the characters or in reaching the audience’s deepest thoughts and emotions. It has no interest in altering any element of the story or challenging our perceptions of "the Messiah". Its only interest is to show Jesus’ sacrifice for man in foreign languages that sometimes sound like Klingon.

As for the violence, it doesn’t even come close to the horrors of say Apocalypse Now, The Last Of The Mohicans or even Schindler’s List, all superior films that knew how to evoke that horrible feeling in your stomach when you see violence at its most intense. (Only twice did I have those feelings in this movie: first, when the Roman soldiers, all having the time of their lives, start whipping Jesus with something far worse than wooden canes, and second, when nails are hammered into his hands. Awfully hard to screw up the recreation of the latter.)

Despite being a box-office phenomenon and receiving some glowing reviews, The Passion Of The Christ is nothing more than a pandering bore.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
9:37 p.m.
Published in: on April 12, 2006 at 9:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

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