The Passion of the Christ Review
The Bible can lay claim to being the most read book of all time, passed down through generations, creating followers and disbelievers in equal measure. Perhaps the most infamous event in the Bible is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ - said to be the Son of Man, our saviour, who was executed on the cross for the crime of blasphemy...yet through some miracle he was later raised from the dead and then he ascended to Heaven.
I learnt of this story when I was very young, no doubt taught it in school, and it is one of the aspects of the Bible that I cannot grasp entirely; one of those things that requires blind faith more than anything. How could someone predict his own death? How could someone then rise from the dead? How could someone then sit on "the right-hand side of God"?
Mel Gibson, Hollywood A-lister and occasional director, announced that he was planning on making a film on the last 12 hours of Jesus' life, as portrayed in the Gospels. Gibson planned on financing the project himself, reportedly coughing up around $25 million to make a film that he didn't even have a distributor for. It was then announced that the film would be shot in the ancient languages of Aramaic and Latin, with no subtitles...and although the decision was made fairly soon after to provide English subtitles, the audacity of the project could not be doubted for a second. The film could have been an expensive way of flushing a copious amount of money down the proverbial lavatory, but Newmarket soon picked up the film and prepared it for release.
During this time, the film (then known as just The Passion) had created a snowball of controversy, with religous groups crying out that it was anti-Semetic and Gibson was being controversial for the sake of it. The actor playing Jesus, James Caviezel, was even said to have been struck by lightning on set.
Soon Gibson got the film ready for an Ash Wednesday release in the US, complete with the new title The Passion of the Christ, and interest reached fever pitch. Was it really an excessively violent and controversial depiction of the crucifixion? Or was it a work of art? The incredible interest and word of mouth that was generated soon translated into a massive box office slaying, when compared to the film's meagre budget, and the majority of the reviews were positive.
Arriving in the UK a few days ago, I finally got the chance to see what all the fuss was about - and to put it bluntly, it was a cinematic experience that lasted for 127 minutes and was like nothing I had ever seen before. Yes, it is flawed, but it also is one of the most ambitious and striking films that I can remember.
First things first, those who claim that the subtitles go against the flow and act as a disruption need to be corrected: the (little) dialogue in the film can be easily digested through the subtitles, and some people may actually choose not to read them at all; for the film is visually powerful enough to warrant no understanding of the words, and instead let the film tell the story through its visuals. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
On the subject of the visuals, director Gibson and his cinematographer Caleb Deschanel deserve kudos for the superb look of the film - from the opening in the murky garden, with danger running as an undercurrent through the scene, to the climax atop the hill where Jesus is brutally put to death. Mixing warm flashbacks with cold scenes of torture, many have complained about the brutal nature of the film: note the 18 certificate, although in my opinion this is a product of too much hype and too little knowledge of the film itself. James Caviezel as Jesus may show every whiplash on his face, and groan at every laceration, but the violence is never revelled in; instead Gibson tries to emphasise that an innocent man is put through the worst pain imaginable for our sins.
The Gospel that Gibson and co-screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald decided to adapt is one where Pontius Pilate (portrayed superbly by Hristo Shopov) is depicted as a good man way over his head, dictated to by the people and faced with no other choice. The Jews, and this is where claims of anti-Semitism come from, are instead portrayed as those who lust for Jesus' blood - and although this may or may not be the truth, I for one did not feel compelled to hate them. After all, during the crucifixion Jesus himself called to God for them to be forgiven, as they did not know what they were doing.
The acting is superb throughout, with Caviezel making the audience feel every ounce of pain, as well as being drawn to his warm alter-ego found in the flashbacks. Monica Bellucci and Maia Morgenstern give two excellent performances as the distraught Marys, and Jesus' disciples also add to the atmosphere of the film - especially the infamous Judas, played by Luca Lionello. Special mention must also go to the genuinely unnerving Rosalinda Celentano, who plays a menacing female Satan.
John Debney's music and the production design add even more to the film, with the only flaws being the slightly over-cooked ending and the lack of real explanation as to who the individual disciples are. Perhaps Gibson wants the audience to fully know the story of the crucifixion before seeing the film, but in my opinion more efforts could have been made to develop Jesus' ensemble.
I don't think anyone can see this without being affected in some way - people were crying around me and were truly moved by the film. The filmmakers, and Gibson in particular, deserve a lot of credit, and people should give this film a chance, no matter what their religous beliefs. The Passion of the Christ is one of those films that will be remembered for years and years to come, if not for being an intense viewing experience, but also for the fact that it was an audacious cinematic gamble that more than certainly paid off.