Review 40: The Passion of the Christ (5/5)

The Passion of the Christ

Directed by Mel Gibson

Starring Jim Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci, Hristo Zhvikov

Released on February 25, 2004

Running time 2h 6m

Rated R

Genre: Religious, Historical

As The Passion of the Christ  ended, I sat in my computer chair and stared at the computer screen. I was exhausted. I was emotionally and physically drained. The tears were busy drying. But, most importantly, I felt happy. I felt that I was a better man. I thought, This. This is…wow. Wow. I…this is easily, easily one of those movies that I will measure all other movies against. This is beauty. This is exaltation. This … is … joy embodied. I have never seen and probably will never see another movie quite like The Passion of the Christ. This is not a movie. It’s an experience.

As a Mormon/LDS (member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a mouthful), I believe that Jesus’s Atonement and Crucifixion are the greatest miracle ever performed by the grace of God. I’m pretty sure that I don’t have to go into great detail why. And, strangely, it took an R-rated movie to actually show me and pound into my thick skull and closed mind what Jesus actually went through to save us not just from death, but from sin itself.

Fellow Mormons, I know that is has been said by our former Prophet that we are discouraged from watching R-rated movies. I encourage you to make an exception for The Passion of the Christ. Whether you decide to or not is fine with me.

We all know the events that transpired in the last twelve hours of Jesus’s life. After the Last Supper, Jesus and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him further into the garden as He told them to wait by a tree and watch Him. The three fell asleep as Jesus prayed, and atoned for all our sins, suffering all the pains of everyone, blood seeping from every pore. Even Jesus was scared for this to happen, as He begged God to “let this cup pass from me”, but accepted His fate: “Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done.”

For all atheists and agnostics who are reading this, yes, you have to deal with me quoting the Bible. Of course, if you’ve gotten this far into this review, you obviously don’t mind. Good for you! 🙂

Anyway, while the events in Gethsemane are transpiring, we see Judas, one of Jesus’s disciples, before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish judicial body. A small strike force has been assembled, and Judas is given thirty pieces of silver to lead them to Jesus.

They arrive at Gethsemane, and Judas identifies Jesus with a kiss. As the group moves in to arrest Jesus, Peter fights back and with his sword cuts off the ear of the man named Malchus. Jesus rebukes Peter, “He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword”, and heals Malchus’s ear. During this scene, we also see the young man, mentioned only once in the four Gospels, appear, dressed in a single cloth, have the strike force see him, seize him by his garment, see him slip out of it and run away in his undergarments. Biblical Easter egg…I just realized that Biblical and Easter egg are contradictory. Oops.

Jesus is taken before the Sanhedrin and relentlessly bashed, including bringing in two false witnesses that accuse Him of blasphemy. Back then, blasphemy was worse than murder. Through all of this, Jesus remains silent, until Caiaphas asks Him if He is the Son of God, to which Jesus replies, “I AM,” and declares that they will see him sitting at the right hand of the Father. Caiaphas tears his robe open in fury, and Jesus is removed from the courtroom and taken to Pontius Pilate to be tried.

As Jesus is removed from the courtroom, Peter is confronted three times by people who accuse him of being with Jesus, and he, as Jesus predicted, denies Him three times. The cock crows, and Peter realizes what he’s done. Peter runs away, and out of the movie.

Judas reappears and comes before the Sanhedrin, saying that he has sinned, and betrayed innocent blood. The Sanhedrin are indifferent to Judas, telling Judas that it’s his problem now, and Judas throws the silver pieces at them in anger and anguish. He runs from the courtroom and hangs himself. I frankly feel sorry for him when I see his punishment in Dante’s Inferno. I mean, ouch. If you’re wondering what that punishment was, READ THE BOOK. It’s not a hard read.

Jesus is brought before Pontius Pilate, who, after questioning Him, finds no fault in him, much to the anger of the Sanhedrin and the crowd. Pilate sends Him to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, who also finds no fault with Him, and sends Him back to Pilate. Pilate presents Jesus to the Sanhedrin and crowd again; Caiaphas demands that He be crucified. Pilate instead orders Jesus to be flogged, hoping that this will make the Sanhedrin reconsider their desire for the death penalty.

Two Roman soldiers execute the flagellation. Jesus is brutally scourged. A red soldier’s cloak is placed on His bloody, mangled, mutilated back, and a crown of thorns (each thorn was roughly an inch long) is roughly shoved onto His head. He is beaten, mocked, and spit upon by the guards.

“He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed.” By the way, that’s the quote that opens the movie.

Pilate brings Jesus before the crowd and Sanhedrin again, where Caiaphas continues to demand that He be crucified. Pilate enacts an action performed at the beginning of each Passover, which is to release a prisoner out of “forgiveness”.  Pilate presents Barabbas, a treasonous murderer, and asks the crowd to choose between Jesus and Barabbas. But the crowd immediately demands, “Give us Barabbas! Barabbas!” Pilate washes his hands of this decision, and makes the decision to crucify Jesus.

Jesus, along with two thieves, carry their crosses along the Via Dolorosa to the hill known as Golgotha, the place of the skull. Jesus, already exhausted and in tremendous physical pain, collapses under the weight of His cross. Simon of Cyrene is brought out of the crowd to carry Jesus’s cross for Him. Saint Veronica comes out of the crowd and wipes Jesus’s bloody face with a cloth. Afterward, it is shown that the cloth has been imprinted with His face. That is what is known as the Veil of Veronica.

Jesus arrives at Golgotha. He is nailed to his cross and raised. A sign is hung from the cross, reading, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews”. The soldiers below the cross cast lots for His garments. Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for the know not what they do.” The thief on the left (my left, if I was viewing the crucifixion), named Gesmas, mocks Jesus, saying, “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.” The thief on the right, named Dismas, who has been sanctified in some Catholic traditions, responds, “Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.” He then says to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” Jesus replies, “Verily I say unto you, to day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”

Jesus hangs on the cross for over nine hours. The Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John, Mary (as in sisters Mary and Martha), and Mary Magdalene stand below the cross. Jesus addresses the Blessed Virgin and Saint John, saying first to the Blessed Virgin, “Woman, behold thy son!”, and then to Saint John, “Behold thy mother!” John takes the Blessed Virgin to his home. Jesus says, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”, and “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit. It is finished.”, and dies. The Roman centurion, who will later be known as Saint Ctesiphon, realizes that he has truly killed the Son of God. The curtain in the temple is rent  in twain.

Bodies were not allowed to remain on the cross on the Sabbath, so Dismas’s and Gesmas’s legs were broken, but Jesus’s legs were not, as He was already dead. One Roman soldier, who will later be known as Saint Longinus, is ordered to make sure. He stabs Jesus’s side with a spear, and blood and water flow out.

Jesus’s body is taken down from the cross and buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea.

“…and on the third day He shall rise again.”

Mel Gibson, when he wrote, produced, and directed The Passion of the Christ, decided to take a few creative liberties. I can say with total and complete honesty that these creative liberties were incredibly effective and only ever added to the overall experience.

  • All dialogue in this film is entirely reconstructed in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Latin. No English version of the film has ever been released.
  • There are a series of fifteen flashbacks in this film, such as: Mary comforting Jesus as a small child when he fell over. Jesus making a table for a rich man, and joking about it with Mary. John 8:3-11. The Sermon on the Mount; Matthew 5:43-44. John 10:17-18. John 15:12-13. John 14:6. Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. The Last Supper. (To understand these references, I implore you to read the Bible.)
  • For some reason, Jesus’s irises appear to be gold. I suppose this was done to make him look godly.
  • Satan shows up several times throughout the movie. First, he shows up in Gethsemane in an attempt to dissuade Jesus from going through with the Atonement. When it is clear that Jesus has every intention of going through with this, Satan sends a snake toward Jesus. Jesus is not fazed, and Genesis 3:15 happens when the snake attempts to bite Jesus’s heel, and Jesus crushes its head. Second, Satan shows up to torture Judas. I will explain later. Third, he shows up at Jesus’s flagellation carrying a really creepy hairy-backed demonic baby in a deliberate perversion of Madonna and Child. Fourth, just as Jesus has died, Satan is shown in the middle of a desert-like Hell, screaming in anguished defeat and impotent rage, as his power has been broken forever. Oh, and Satan is portrayed by a woman in this. Interesting. I suppose this was intended to show Satan as unnaturally skinny.
  • Malchus, after getting his ear healed by Jesus, is actually touched by what has happened.
  • Jesus, on his way to his Sanhedrin trial, is beaten multiple times en route. His right eye is swollen shut for most of the rest of the film.
  • Judas is tortured by children who appear as demons to him. It is implied that this was the reason he betrayed Jesus. The demonic children and ultimately Satan himself torture him after the betrayal, regret, and confession to the Sanhedrin, and being part of the reason he commits suicide.
  • The character of Pilate is expanded upon. He is portrayed in a sympathetic manner, and muses over the question of “What is truth?”
  • Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, is an effeminate bisexual. He is legitimately impressed by Jesus’s miracles. He asks Jesus to perform a miracle for him, but Jesus remains silent. Herod does not find fault with Jesus, saying that He is just crazy.
  • And now we get to the infamous flagellation scene. It begins with two Roman soldiers taking thin wooden rods and brutally beating Jesus with them. After the beating, Jesus, to the astonishment of onlookers, wills Himself back to his feet. In response, the soldiers pick up cat-o-nine-tails, with sharp bits of stone, bone, and metal on the ends, and savagely and sadistically scourge Jesus. This is easily the most brutal scene in the entire movie. There are no close-ups, but whenever Jesus is onscreen, we are easily able to see the whips slice up Jesus’s skin. You will wince with every lash. I will not mince words when I tell you that the scene is very hard to watch. One particular shot shows the rock, metal, and bone bits on the ends of the whip getting caught on the skin covering Jesus’s left ribs. The soldier yanks the whip away, and the bits tear off chunks of flesh. This out of the entire scene made me cringe. If you know me, I’ve seen some pretty nasty stuff. But this made me cringe. And that’s not all. When the soldiers finish whipping His back, they turn Jesus over and start whipping His front. By the time Future Saint Ctesiphon comes out and demands that they stop, parts of Jesus’s ribcage are visible. Wow.  Oh, and when He is given the crown of thorns, the soldiers say “Hail, King of the Worms” rather than “Hail, King of the Jews”. Pilate is disgusted at how brutally Jesus has been punished.
  • While the thieves are given just the horizontal part of their cross, Jesus is given his own huge entire cross. As he trudges along the Via Dolorosa towards Golgotha, he falls over many times.
  • Simon of Cyrene is a Jew instead of a pagan, and he is visibly touched by his experience helping Jesus carry His cross.
  • When Jesus is stretched onto the cross, the soldiers yank his right arm out of its socket to reach the pre-drilled hole for the nail. The process of the nail entering Jesus’s palm rather than both palm and wrist is shown on camera. Ouch. I was intrigued to know that the hands nailing Jesus’s hands to the cross were actually Mel Gibson’s. When Caiaphas, the rest of the Sanhedrin, and Gesmas mock Jesus, and He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, Dismas shouts to Caiaphas that “He prays for you”, before he says, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom”, and Jesus responding “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Gesmas laughs, but a crow shows up and pecks his left eye out.
  • The final, and most important creative liberty is this: the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John, and Mary Magdalene are present from the Sanhedrin trial to the end of the movie. It begins with the Blessed Virgin waking up from a nightmare, asking Magdalene, “Why is this night different from other nights?” Magdalene replies, “Because once we were slaves and we are slaves no longer.” Saint John bursts in and says that Jesus has been arrested. Jesus sees them at the trial, and recalls a memory of His earlier years, when He built a table for a rich man and joked about it with his mother. As Peter flees after denying Christ three times, he encounters Mary, Magdalene, and John before declaring to them that he is unworthy and fleeing once more. Mary, Magdalene, and John are present at Jesus’s flagellation and are all totally shattered, the Blessed Virgin in particular. Pilate’s wife, Claudia Procles, just as shattered as they are, presents Mary, Magdalene, and John with linen towels. After Jesus is removed from the flagellation pillar, the three mop up Jesus’s blood. Mary Magdalene reveals to us in flashback that she was the woman taken in adultery at Jesus’s “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone” lesson in John 8:2-11. As Jesus is carrying His cross along the Via Dolorosa, Mary, Magdalene, and John follow Him. When He falls for the first time, the cross falls on top of Him. Mary flashes back to a time when Jesus fell as a small child as she rushes forward toward Him. When she reaches Him, she attempts to comfort Him, saying “I’m here,” and Jesus responds by quoting Revelation 21:5, saying, “See, Mother? I make all things new.” While Mary, Magdalene, and John are present at the crucifixion, as detailed in scripture, Mel Gibson takes a few more amazingly effective creative liberties. After Jesus says “I thirst,” and Saint Longinus spears a sponge, dips it in vinegar, and attempts to have Jesus drink it, the Blessed Virgin pleads with Jesus to let her die with Him. In response, Jesus says to Mary, “Woman, behold thy son!” and to John, “Behold thy mother!” Mary then kisses Jesus’s feet. Mary, Magdalene, and John remain at Golgotha for the entire crucifixion. Finally, when Jesus’s corpse is taken down from the cross, a visibly older Mary embraces the bloody body of her son in a manner intentionally reminiscent of Michaelangelo’s Pieta.

Most critics claim that the graphic violence that plays a major part throughout this film obscures its message. I say different. If anything, it shows what Jesus had to go through in order to atone for our sins. Obviously, Mel Gibson could not show us the spiritual torture in Gethsemane.  That’s impossible to visualize. Because of that, showing Jesus in immeasurable pain from the flagellation onward is not only justified, but incredibly effective, especially for its Christian audience. To truly drive the point home, we must be there for every moment. Anything less would take away from the message. In fact, the actual Crucifixion was significantly more violent.

Many critics also denounce this film for its anti-Semitic overtones. I say different. In fact, the only anti-Semitism I could detect in this film was directed toward Caiaphas and the rest of the Sanhedrin, rather than the lowly citizenry.

I must speak out against the blackballing of Mel Gibson and Jim Caviezel as a result of this film. Mel Gibson is seen as officially crazy in the eyes of Hollywood and the liberal media. For Jim Caviezel, his acting career is in shambles, as it has been hard for him to find anything other than minor film roles. Mel Gibson did not make The Passion of the Christ out of getting off to violence, as the media would have you believe. In fact, Gibson made this film because he believed that God wished him to make it as repayment and homage to God and Christ for the Atonement and therefore forgiveness. Tell me that that’s not a worthy cause.  I feel terrible for criticizing this film in earlier months as Mel Gibson’s personal porno. Sorry, Mel. As for Jim Caviezel, his performance as Jesus Christ is purely incredible, possibly divinely inspired. He doesn’t just play the role of Jesus. He literally becomes Jesus. In fact, when he was cast as Jesus, Mel Gibson personally informed him that this role would almost certainly destroy his career. Caviezel, a devout Catholic, understood Gibson but still took on the role. It has been the most demanding role in his career. Caviezel suffered a dislocated shoulder (the shoulder-dislocating scene actually legitimately dislocated Jim’s shoulder), hypothermia, a lung infection, pneumonia, endured eight-hour makeup sessions that gave him severe headaches,…and he was struck by lightning. The physical demands of the role also took a toll on him as well. First, he had only one eye functioning, thanks to the scene in which Jesus’s right eye is swollen shut for most of the film. Next, the crown of thorns was tied on his head very tightly. The cross that Caviezel had to carry was upwards of one hundred and fifty pounds. Caviezel, while hanging on the cross, dealt with twenty-five-degree temperatures and thirty-five-mile-an-hour winds. And through all of that, he actually did suffer some injuries as a result of the torture scenes. It’s almost as if the Devil didn’t want this movie to be made. But through all that, Caviezel considers it an honor to have played Jesus, and has absolutely no regrets about taking on the role. God bless him.

It wasn’t just Jesus’s suffering that makes this movie, and actual events, powerful. Another main factor is the overwhelming love that the Blessed Virgin Mary has for her son, and that love being reciprocated an hundredfold. Seriously, look at how much emotional torture Mary’s going through! When Mary ran up to Jesus as He fell under the weight of His cross and tried to comfort Him, and Jesus responded with “See, Mother? I make all things new,”…good heavens, the tears came fast and hard for me. I was already tearing up a little bit earlier, but from this sequence onward, the tears flowed freely. I didn’t just cry hard. I fell to pieces. I set my laptop on the ground and I fell to my knees. I watched the rest of the movie through a teary blur, though the tears didn’t obscure my vision as far as not being able to see the screen. And when the film ended, I gave a small prayer of thanks to God. Frankly, I was one of those people that were taking Jesus’s sacrifice and the overall impact it has had for granted. But seeing Jesus go through such horrible things, knowing that he did it all for us in order for us to conquer sin and death was staggering. This transitions into the other main factor: Jesus didn’t just do this because God told Him to. He did this out of love. And it is a staggering message: Jesus did this for me, you, and all of humanity. As I stated earlier, I felt like a better man for seeing this film. Very few films manage to do this. But The Passion of the Christ did it and did it well.

What else can I say about this wonderful film? The cinematography is beautiful. The acting is amazing. The story is one of the strongest I’ve come across. The soundtrack was gorgeous. But the fact that it was about what Jesus did for us, that it was done right, and that it made me cry my eyes out makes it gold to me.

Thanks, Jesus. I think I appreciate Your sacrifice at the very least a little more.

I’m still crying as I wrap this up.

Final verdict: 5 out of 5 stars.

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