Review by: Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Removable subtitles; Audio description
for the sight impaired.
MEL Gibsons The Passion of the Christ has been labelled
everything from a vile, hateful piece of cinema, capable of inspiring
anti-Semitism, to a pertinent, and profoundly moving experience,
which demonstrates the full extent of Christs suffering
in excruciating detail.
And while it is difficult not to become influenced, in some way,
by the opinions surrounding it, the most important thing is not
to get carried away by them, and to enter with an open mind.
Religion, by its very nature, provokes controversy. It has been
used as the basis for wars, and for some of the most appalling
acts in history, so it was always going to follow that one mans
interpretation of one of the most important half-days in history
was always going to be sensitive.
And yet I would be willing to wager that most of the people pictured
campaigning outside US cinemas have yet to see it, incited to
protest, no doubt, by those Jewish leaders who have done more
for Gibsons PR campaign than the distributors themselves.
The level of hype surrounding the project is now bordering on
hysteria, with The Passion now being referred to, in certain circles,
as a phenomenon.
Yet, at its heart, lies the intention, by Gibson, to create
a lasting piece of art and to stimulate serious thought and reflection
among diverse audiences of all backgrounds.
With this in mind, it has surpassed its objective, and, for all
of its many flaws, remains a timely and hugely important piece
of work, worthy of the more reasoned debate surrounding it.
The Passion, first and foremost, is as good as it is bad. Powerful,
emotional and horrific, it is also guilty of violent excesses
and of artistic licence.
Gibson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Benedict Fitzgerald,
claims to have drawn faithfully from the Gospel accounts of Matthew,
Mark, Luke and John, for main sources, in order to express
the hugeness of the sacrifice, as well as the horror of
And yet his film is embellished with creative flourishes, and
scenes which are not contained within any of the Gospels. It is
during these moments that the director leaves himself open to
the biggest criticism, and when the film, itself, loses its impact.
A scene in which Judas is chased through the streets by demon-like
children feels hopelessly manipulated, as are many of the scenes
involving Satan, and by employing such modern cinematic techniques,
Gibson cheapens proceedings.
Likewise, his decision to employ an overly manipulative score
is something which fails to work in its favour. When announcing
the project, Gibson stated that he intended to film it in the
dead languages of Aramaic and Latin, insisting that
there would be no subtitles, as the images on show needed no explanation.
And while subtitles have subsequently been added (due to pressure),
there is no need for the score, or, by extension, the over-use
of MTV-style trickery, such as slow-motion.
Had the director stood back and let events unfold, much as they
did on the day, their impact would be just as powerful, if not
more so, whereas, instead, he has been left vulnerable to accusations
that he has taken a perverse delight in the masochism on show.
A film about the final hours of Christs life is always
going to be violent, and necessarily so, yet Gibsons camera
lingers, at times, where it really ought not to, feeling like
When Jesus is flogged, for instance, the audience must watch
as drunken Roman thugs attack Jesus with sticks, and then with
a cat o nine tails, which tears his flesh repeatedly, reducing
him to a piece of meat. Jesus is then crowned with
thorns, which are pressed into his head.
His path to Golgotha, too, is riddled with beatings, before the
inevitable crucifixion, during which nails are banged into his
hands and feet, and viewers are given a step-by-step guide on
how to do it properly.
Such extremes tip-toe the line between necessity and gratuity.
So while the extent of his sacrifice is beyond question, there
is the feeling that Gibson has got a little carried away.
The violence, in fact, is a bigger issue than the anti-Semitism,
an accusation which, in my opinion, is unfair and doesnt
stand up to scrutiny. The Jews are not tarred with any one brush,
yet their depiction is in line with what I remember being taught
as a Catholic.
Jesus was handed over by the High Priest, Caiphas, and while
his motivations arent explored by Gibson, there is no question,
within the gospels themselves, that he didnt strive to have
And while Pontius Pilate is portrayed as a sympathetic leader,
who must balance the need for reason with his charge of preventing
an uprising, it isnt enough that he merely washes his hands
of complicity. His Roman solders are barbaric in the extreme,
while any discerning viewer may perceive his handling of the issue
Conversely, there are Jews who are portrayed as sympathetic,
not least in the form of the holy man who is asked to help carry
Christs cross, or those of his followers who attempt to
show some compassion during his path to Golgotha.
The film is also broken up with flashbacks of Jesus life
as a carpenter, his Sermon on the Mount, and the Last Supper,
but while they hint at the charisma of the man, and his compassion,
they provide only brief respites from the suffering.
This is, in the main, a harrowing experience, which occasionally
seems to delight in its suffering and torment. It is in no way
enjoyable, and yet it succeeds beyond the directors wildest
aspirations, and in spite of its flaws, because it has helped
to bring religion back into the world.
Mans inhumanity to man is effortlessly conveyed and feels
especially relevant, when set against the context of the world
as it stands today, while the movie/Christs message of forgiveness,
and loving ones enemy, seems particularly pertinent.
At a time when most churches will confess to dwindling congregations,
the film succeeds where the clergy has, perhaps, failed, in securing
serious debate about the issues raised within the New Testament.
There isnt a viewer among you who probably wont question
Gods role in the crucifixion, and why he was willing to
allow his son to endure such suffering.
And as brutal as things become, there are pockets of emotion,
which serve to underline the importance of love and forgiveness,
not least of which is a sequence in which Christs mother
goes to him, after he has fallen during his walk. The performances,
without exception, are exemplary.
The Passion of the Christ is by no means the great film it is
clearly striving to be, falling some way short of that status.
But in terms of importance, and relevance, it is an almighty creation
which, for all of its sins, may remind people of the importance
of tolerance, love and forgiveness.
Gibson, it seems, has had his prayers answered, in terms of producing
something that is capable of stimulating serious thought and reflection
- a feat all too rare in modern entertainment.
Editor's note: We have declined to give this film a rating
for the simple reason that we feel people should see it, if only
to be part of the debate.