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The Passion the Point of the Film is the Fact of the Act

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OK, I went to see THE movie. Having heard, like everyone else, the hype, the protests, the reviews given by people who had thoroughly researched a film they had never seen, and the objections raised by those who hate everything Christian, I thought I was ready for whatever came on the screen; I was wrong. The Passion of the Christ is a masterful film, and it is a deeply affecting event. No movie has ever had the effect on me that this one had, and is still having. Since I saw the movie this afternoon, I’ve had trouble thinking about anything else. I plan on seeing it several times, and will be in line to buy the DVD when it comes out.

First, let’s deal with some controversial issues. The film is not anti-semitic, period. Some of the Jewish leaders and some of the rabble they rouse are shown to be what they were historically; hard-hearted haters of Jesus, and scheming fanatics. However, other members of the Council attempted to object to the proceedings, and many of the common people obviously sympathized with Jesus. If anything, the movie is anti-Italian; the Roman soldiers who beat and torture Jesus come off as vicious and sadistic proto-mafiosi thugs—which, historically, they probably were. Other Roman soldiers seem troubled by the whole mess, and toward the end, one or two appear to be genuinely sympathetic to the Lord. Some reviewers find the depiction of Pilate as sympathetic, making him appear “almost saintly.” I did not see that at all. To me, he comes off as the “Uber-wimp” politician, an existentialist who has no moral strength, and who is afraid to take a stand, letting events take their course. His one goal is to keep himself out of harm’s way. When his scheming doesn’t work, he tries to pass the buck. That is a biblically-accurate depiction, and it is certainly not sympathetic. Some reviewers thought that the movie did not spend enough time dealing with the teachings of Jesus; this is a specious charge. First of all, the flashback sequences do deal with many of the essential teachings of the Lord, but that is not really the point anyway. For “true believers,” whether they be evangelical or non-evangelical, the whole point of His life was his sacrificial substitutionary atonement and subsequent resurrection. He saw that as His mission, and this film centers on that historical set of events. That is another bone of contention for some reviewers—Gibson treats the events of the passion of Christ as historical. Well, they are historical; get over it. I mean, how dare we treat history as historical—who ever heard of such a thing?

Now, the film. The movie starts with a quote from Isaiah 53:5 “...He was wounded for our transgressions...”, and that sets the tone—this is a film about the sacrifice of Christ. For reviewers who are not people of faith and who are not well read in the faith, this is a key point which can’t be missed if they are to understand the film. Of course this is a two-hour slugfest: it’s about the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Messiah! Previous “Jesus” movies which depict the Lord as some kind of waif-like creature or plastic saint, and who short-change the violence of His last 12 hours miss the whole point of His life—He came to earth to die for our sins. Every Old Testament sacrifice prefigured His sacrifice, and his sacrifice was prophesied in some detail over 1,000 years before it happened. Being then a movie about a sacrifice, the violence is overwhelmingly graphic, and it is convincing. From Jesus sweating blood and agonizing in prayer until they take Him down from the Cross, the violence is unremitting, except for the flashbacks to His earlier years. Jim Caviezel, the actor who portrays Christ, does a strikingly effective job, expressing a full range of emotions through an increasingly unrecognizable face. The cinematography is stunning, the pulsating score is perfectly tuned without overwhelming the film, and the costumes and location have the ring of authenticity. The story closely follows the biblical accounts, with some details coming from tradition and legend; I found some of the legendary elements to be intriguing. The female actresses who depict Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Claudia, the wife of Pilate all turn in Oscar-quality work. There are simply too many stellar performances to mention them all. The detail work is so fine, that one could see it several times and notice something new each time.

My final evaluation is this: it is a genuine work of art as a film, and a riveting experience for the viewer. However, the overall effect of the movie will also depend on the faith of the viewer. Because the pace of the story and the detail of the movie is so overwhelming for a Biblically-illiterate person, the film will probably not be an effective evangelistic tool, and the legendary elements make it problematic as a teaching tool. However, as an experience to help believers understand what the Lord endured for our salvation, and to help unbelievers understand why we are the way we are, it is unsurpassed. As an event which obviously desires to revive the conversation about the birth, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, it is certainly accomplishing that mission. See it.

Related Topics: Christology, Cultural Issues