By Vic Holtreman
Short version: A brutal, moving, and eye opening depiction of what Jesus endured to pay for our sins, which could have used some time depicting WHY he was persecuted.
Let me start by saying that I don't think this is going to be an objective review. If this were a trial instead of a movie, I would not be selected as a member of the jury because I took in all the pre-release news and hysteria full-force, thus influencing my viewing of the film.
Secondly, if you have children under 10 years old, DO NOT BRING THEM TO THIS MOVIE. Is that clear enough for you? And if you have young teens, screen it first by yourself.
I went in braced for excruciating violence and gore (to which I am no stranger, from my younger days as a slasher movie fan), as well as prepared to render my opinion on whether this was an anti-Semitic film (which I thought it wouldn't be).
The last bit of subjectivity comes from the fact that yes, I am a Christian, so it's hard for me to imagine watching this movie as an atheist/agnostic/pet-rock-worshipper or whatever (so, are you offended yet?).
Before this starts reading like a Harry Knowles review, let me get to it...
Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is an amazing film. It sucked me in completely, especially after the first half hour or so, much of which I spent dreading the upcoming violence I had heard so much about. The Aramaic threw me off for a total of 2 seconds, after which it added so much authenticity to the film that it's incredible. (Side note, I just watched a few minutes of ABC's "Judas" spoken in modern American-accented English. What tripe.)
You can almost watch this film without subtitles, but then you would miss some of the subtlety of the dialogue, which was at certain instances different from what you would expect. The languages were so rich and added so much to the film... well I'll stop repeating myself.
The cinematography, especially in the garden at the start of the film, made it look almost dreamlike... and the idea to bring in a subtlely creepy androgynous Satan, although not present in the biblical accounts, was very effective at providing an antagonist we could connect with.
Judas' betrayal, again, very well done. The transition from greed to angst over what he did was believable. What I really didn't like (and I'd read about this beforehand) was the use of children to represent demons in the film. I think Mel Gibson went off the track with that idea completely. It just felt wrong, and he could have easily changed something minor in the script and made it adults who were tormenting Judas instead. Children were sacred and innocent to Jesus, and it would be more likely that adults (sinners) would be vessels for demons in the film.
The portrayal of Pontius Pilate also hurt the credibility of the film via the image of his being a thoughtful, hesitant to punish Jesus, kind of guy, when history shows that he was in fact quite brutal as a matter of course.
As far as anti-Semitism? Give me a break. If anyone should be complaining about this movie it should be Italians, with the portrayal of the Roman soldiers. Anyone who would come away from this film hating Jews is an idiot. It was clear in the film that not ALL Jews wanted Jesus killed. Actually it seemed like it was mainly those who lived within the city, who were probably more likely to benefit from the status quo.
And of course we have the torture of Christ. Yes, it was brutal and difficult to watch. There was one moment in particular where I physically cringed in my seat. Was it effective? Yes. Was it necessary? As a (recently minted) Christian, I say... definitely.
For me (and I assume, a great many others) the story of the crucifixion is well known, but despite the intellectual awareness of what it was, the reality of it, and what led up to it is hard to comprehend. The story has ascended into almost a parable, where one tells the story without sensing the humanity of it.
This is what, for me, Mel Gibson accomplished with The Passion of the Christ. His film made me understand on a gut-wrenching, emotional level, what an enourmous sacrifice Jesus made for mankind. Yes, it's only a film and Mel's interpretation, but it evoked a vision of the level of suffering that Christ endured. Willingly, I might add, and with remorse for those inflicting the pain upon him.
How much greater and beyond us Jesus is, was made evident when he was on the cross. I've heard "Forgive them, for they know not what they do." lots of times... but in the context of the film I felt positively puny as I sat there and tried to will Jesus to shoot laserbeams out of his eyes to fry his Roman tormentors.
I wish there had been more time devoted to how and why Jesus ended up in that situation... something more to show within the context of the film why he was willing to go through all that pain for mankind. Sure, there were a few flashbacks, but they shrank to insignificance within the overall film.
I don't know how non-believers will react to this, but for me it was an affirmation and strengthening of my faith.
I won't give it stars due to my feelings about the use of children in the film and the lack of backstory for those not that familiar with why Jesus was willing to die on the cross.