The Passion of the Christ
Benedict Fitzgerald, Mel Gibson (Novel: The Bible by Various Authors)
Jim Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Claudia Gerini, Maia Morgenstern, Giovanni Capalbo, Rosalinda Celentano, Francesco De Vito, Hristo Jivkov, Luca Lionello, Jarreth Merz, Mattia Sbragia, Giacinto Ferro, Hristo Naumov Shopov, Luca De Dominicis
R (For sequences of graphic violence)
The passion play has long been a staple of the Easter holiday. The celebration of the death of Jesus Christ to save the world from sin is the most important of Christian precepts. The story’s been told many times and in very many ways. The Passion of the Christ is one such rendition.
The story is age old, having been told for centuries. Jesus (played here by Jim Caviezel) is a poor carpenter’s son born of the Virgin Mary (Maia Morgenstern). He is God’s son sent to redeem the world. Through works and faith, Jesus gathers disciples to carry out the word of God. All of this leads up to a decision by Christ to die at the hands of men to save them from their own sin.
Writer-director Mel Gibson made this film as a testament to his faith. The problem is, he left out all of the good works and deeds Jesus and his disciples did in favor of a gratuitously violent look at the last 24 hours of Christ’s life. We see him tortured and beaten by Roman soldiers. We see him ridiculed by his own people, the Jews, who ask for him to be crucified for blaspheming their beliefs. A reluctant Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov), governor of the city, acquiesces to the demands of Caiphus (Mattia Sbragia), leader of the Pharisees, and the whole of the people who would rather have a murderer run free among them than let the radical Christ live.
The film marks Gibson’s return to the lens, his first since 1995’s Braveheart and only his third attempt overall. He won an Oscar for his previous work despite that film’s weaknesses. Luckily, the Academy has already rewarded him and won’t see fit to honor him again this year.
The Passion is as much a vanity piece as it is propaganda. It has been called a testament to the sacrifice of Jesus but we don’t know for what he’s sacrificing himself. The story may be well known but to an audience who is unfamiliar with the story, be they of a different religion or background, the film does nothing to help that understanding.
The key to great storytelling is creating a plot that is universal with themes that anyone can understand. In addition, one must know where the characters come from. We have only brief glimpses of the Last Supper, Mary Magdalene’s (Monica Belucci) relinquishment of her prostitute ways, or any of the great miracles Jesus performed. All we see is a simple man who allows himself to be sacrificed because the Jews believe that he thinks himself the son of God and their promised Messiah. We only see Jesus claim the title of king under duress.
The Passion has many grand elements. The film is filled with beautiful works of sets and costumes, and Caleb Deschanel’s terrific cinematography. All of the actors work hard to convey their emotions even though many are one-dimensional stereotypes and only Caviezel gives an amazingly gifted performance. The film also has some terrific moments, including a scene after Jesus’ death on the hill where a single drop of rain falls to the ground causing an earthquake to rock the countryside. It’s one of very few inspired segments.
What The Passion does is polarize its audience. The devout will see a chance to deepen their faith and share their thoughts with the non-believers. The disbelievers will find nothing to encourage them towards the Christian faith and will be criticized for their inability to understand why they aren’t.
As a work of devotion and faith, The Passion is a success. As a piece of filmmaking, it is a failure. A movie cannot exist without character development or a suitably developed plot. The Passion has neither. Even with good acting and technical work, a film without a high-quality screenplay is worth very little and The Passion of the Christ fits that bill.
April 1, 2004