First off, let me say that this poem and review are written solely from my position as a Christian, more so than my other posts. I personally believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins and those of the world, but like so many Christians, my convictions sometimes tend toward complacency. It’s easy to skim the Gospels and read that Jesus was flogged, mocked, and nailed to a cross, but after years of such tame review, His death often fails to achieve the level of meaning it once had. It takes a brutally honest portrayal like The Passion of the Christ to help viewers to fully appreciate the severity of his suffering, to recognize just how much He endured for me and for you.
Embroiled in controversy, Mel Gibson’s foreign-language, cinematic passion play, the highest-grossing R-rated film in the US, is exceedingly violent, an almost continuous cavalcade of tortures and ugliness, yet Jim Caviezel is a subtle and credible Jesus, bestowing a patient solemnity on all he suffers. Gibson himself has stated that the film falls short of depicting the crucifixion in its full horror (which is true to some extent since Jesus was likely crucified naked rather than with the traditional loincloth), while others have called the film’s agonies overwhelmingly excessive and more than enough to kill a man. To address the latter grievance, I must point out that Jesus did not merely suffer physically but spiritually as well. In addition to all the blood and humiliation, the weight of mankind’s sin throughout the ages was piled on Him so unbearably that God the Father turned His back on His Son. As opposed as I am to violence, I see The Passion of the Christ as an unflinching reminder of the Lord’s atonement to snap unexcitable believers like myself to a fuller appreciation of it.
The film also possesses notable artistic merit that cements its status as one of the quintessential Jesus movies. The literal interpretation of Genesis 3:15 (about crushing a snake’s head) is a brilliant symbol of Jesus’ final determination to go through with the dreaded task ahead of Him, and well-placed flashbacks offer meaningful respites from the carnage. The depiction of the Last Supper is saved for the arrival at Calvary as a fitting remembrance of Christ offering His Body and Blood. Other smaller details also hold significance, such as Mary’s wiping up her Son’s blood after the scourging: in the Catholic Church, any spilling of the Eucharistic wine/Blood is an occasion for swift and solemn purification. The most moving scene is Jesus’ rendezvous with His mother on the Via Dolorosa; after a previous good-humored scene together, this heart-breaking reunion portrays one of Jesus’ falls, interspersed with snippets of a childhood accident, and speaks to anyone who has given or received maternal love.
While I now watch The Passion of the Christ around Good Friday every year, it took me a while to muster the courage to view it, and my VC still cannot bring herself to watch such a disturbingly brutal film. I agree it is gruesome (particularly the wince-inducing scourging scene) and certainly not appropriate for children, but light is only fully appreciated and comprehended amid darkness. That light is even portrayed in the brief final scene, a refreshingly explicit reference to the Resurrection compared with artistically oblique endings in Ben-Hur and Jesus Christ Superstar. It’s not for everyone, but The Passion of the Christ is the most spiritually stirring film I’ve seen in some time, one that everyone who can handle it ought to see.
Best line (again given added depth after witnessing the horrors He endured): (Jesus, from the cross) “Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do.”Rank: Still List-Worthy (#101)
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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