[MOVIE REVIEW]The bloody gospel according to MelThe story is an old one, taught in Sunday schools around the world: Jesus died for you. Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” is supposed to be a wake-up call for those who missed, or slept through, Sunday school. Be prepared for skin-tearing flayings, bone-crunching beatings and relentless, horrifying violence.
Despite being a brutal film, “The Passion of the Christ” is lovingly crafted. It is Gibson’s attempt to share his faith and to create a Christian movie unlike any other. It could be said that Gibson, a devout Catholic, has succeeded on both counts. The movie has thundered across the continents, reaching huge audiences. And it is a parting of ways from previous, rather soothing movies about Jesus.
“The Passion of the Christ” starts with Jesus (Jim Caviezel) in the Garden of Olives, pleading with God while his disciples sleep. Satan (Rosalinda Celentano) slinks nearby. Meanwhile, Judas (Luca Lionello) has betrayed Jesus, and the Jewish high priest Caiaphas (Mattia Sbragia) sends troops to take him in.
The opening scenes are whisper-soft, like a watercolor painting. These tones quickly give way to violence, as Jesus is beaten and flogged, and tried in front of Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov), King Herod (Luca De Dominicis) and Pilate once again. Mary (Maia Morgenstern) and Mary Magdalene (Monica Bellucci) watch, mostly from a distance.
Gibson has said that he tried to make the film as realistic as possible. To be historically accurate, and to bring the audience into Jesus’s time and place, the dialague is in Aramaic and Latin.
Gibson has a strong vision, and each scene is deliberate. With Caleb Deschanel as cinematographer, the scenes are vivid, even sensual. Flashbacks, and shifts in focus from one person to another, are seamless. A drop of water in one scene leads to handwashing in another. From a closeup of Jesus in pain, and a flicker of recognition in his eyes, the film cuts to the eyes of his mother in the distance. These scenes work like exits from a world of pain into touchingly human moments.
It’s an emotionally wrenching combination that also feels like manipulation. The violence is exhausting. It’s as if Gibson can’t get enough of commanding the audience to look ― again and again, and closer still. But at what? Blood and gore.
It would take a very unemotional audience not to feel anything. At the end of the screening I attended, the lights went on, but the audience still sat in shock, some people discreetly drying wet cheeks. But whether it was a Christian message or simply violence that moved them is debatable.
Gibson also chooses some very strange, very A.D. camera techniques that are more familiar from music videos than from historical drama. We have fast-motion scenes; an aerial view of Satan howling in hell that quickly pans further out; a teardrop followed by the camera as it falls from heaven to earth.
But despite the flaws in this movie, “The Passion of the Christ” is the greatest gift that Gibson could have ever left the world. It’s a noble use of his skills, and his position as a famous and wealthy star, to share a gospel that is very important to him. This is Gibson standing up for his convictions, which is in itself admirable.
The Passion of the Christ
Drama / Aramaic and Latin
by Joe Yong-hee