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Passionate Review

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The Passion of the Christ

The movie titled The Passion of the Christ is a depiction of the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus Christ. It includes scenes of his arrest, trial, torture, crucifixion, death and resurrection. The movie itself is a beautiful movie. The cinematography is excellent and the point of view frequently shifts from Jesus to Mary to the disciples and a third person objective point of view. These shifts allow us to see the perspective of each on the last hours of Jesus' life.

I expected to see a factual portrayal of the events, but got even more. The movie doesn't leave out the emotional and spiritual impact that the person, presence and words of Jesus had upon those around him. Using the point-of-view shifts as opportunities to this end, several characters (including Jesus) have flashbacks to images of him as a teacher (Sermon on the Mount), protector (of Mary Magdalene from stoning), child, and carpenter.

The Controversy

Although there has been much controversy surrounding the movie, and the critics' claims that it reflects anti-Semitic Christian prejudices, I believe those claims are mostly false. The anti-Christian sentiment in this country is strong and I believe reflects Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 2:14:

The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

Simply put, the Passion of Jesus Christ is foolishness to those who do not have the Spirit of God to explain the full meaning. The full meaning of the Passion of the Christ-why Christ had to die for the sins of man, why no one else would do as a sacrifice, why the suffering needed to be so intense-all of this is foolishness to those who do not have "the mind of Christ" (v.16).

That being said, there are certain elements inserted into the film that seem not to be generated by Scripture, but by the director and screenwriters. Satan makes an appearance several times during the movie in at least four key elements. Obviously the gospels do not account for his presence, and so the screenwriters felt the need to.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Satan is seen tempting Jesus that his suffering is useless and ineffective. During the torture by the Romans, Satan is seen standing with the crowd and looking on approvingly. On the road to Golgotha, while carrying the cross through the streets, Satan is seen following along with the crowd. And finally, Satan is seen on Golgotha, with the crowd, and again when Jesus dies, shouting, perhaps in exultation. All four of these events are not described in Scripture. It is the last three, however that seem to generate the most controversy. Because in each of them Satan appears behind Chiapas, the Jewish high priest. Never once does Satan appear near a Roman official, and regardless of what the screenwriters intended to portray by this insertion, it is clear that misunderstandings could result.

Historical Accuracy

The rest of the movie (spiritual forces aside) mostly portrays the scenery, people and events that are recorded in scripture in an accurate manner. The first glaring exception, that Jesus carried his full cross (not just a cross-beam), might be left to historical interpretation. However it seems a symbolic interpretation, since the other two thieves dying on the mount with him carry only their cross-beams, and have the "t-crosses". The exaggerated upper part of Jesus' cross might be historically defended on the grounds that there needed to be room for the placard that called him the King of the Jews.

The other glaring discrepancy with history is the nails in the hands of Jesus. The Romans would hardly have taken the time for each prisoner to tie his wrist to the beam and then nail his palm. The historically accurate portrayal is that his wrists were pierced, because they could support the weight of the crucified's body.

Quote of the Movie

My favorite quote of the movie is from Simon of Cyrene, who is forced to carry Jesus' cross when he can no longer do it himself (Mark 15:21, Matt. 27:32). He at first refuses, and then when he is forced and has no other option, he says,

"Remember that I am an innocent man forced to carry the cross of a condemned man."


Because the most important part of what it means to be a Christian is what Christ did on the cross, why he suffered and died, this movie is a edifying reflection of Scripture. First of all, it should not replace scripture like many movies-made-from-books tend to do. We need to remember that it is Scripture that is inspired and presents the passion in the way that God would have us view it. Secondly, the violence present in this movie, especially the second half, which include the beatings, torture and crucifixion death, will convince some to keep younger children from this movie. It is a criticism that the "real time" beatings of Jesus portrayed in the movie represent an exaggerated presentation that is "over the top".

However I think that these portrayals serve a purpose. As sensitive human creatures, we have the propensity to turn away from extreme punishment or violence. Perhaps its because, as believers, we believe that we shouldn't relish or enjoy it. Even the Jewish leaders turn away at one point due to the extreme graphic nature of the beatings and floggings. But I think that the director and screenwriters wrote the script in this way in order to force the viewer to truly think about what Jesus went through as a human being. It is essential to remember the sacrifice, not just the time spent on the cross, but the entire life of Jesus as a sacrifice. In light of that conclusion, I think that as a depiction of 12 hours in his life, The Passion of the Christ does a good job.

Related Topics: Christology, Cultural Issues

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