Reviewer: Charity Bishop
+ Understand the symbolism. Click here.
New: Mel Gibson has released a new cut of the film that has removed the more brutal scenes of violence, to make it more suitable for wide audiences. Shots of the whip and barbs tearing into flesh have been removed. Five minutes of the scourging have been taken out. Blood no longer spurts when the nails are driven into Jesus' hands, nor is the scene of Jesus' shoulder being dislocated involved. I highly recommend this re-cut version.
"He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, and by his wounds we are healed..." The words from Isaiah, written 700 years before the crucifixion, are the only introduction to this remarkable film. On a moonlit night the clouds part and bathe a figure crying out in a garden, his soul wracked with torment, in white light. The man is the Messiah, Jesus, who only days before was welcomed into Jerusalem as a holy man and king. His disciples are asleep nearby, despite his pleadings for them to stay awake and pray with him. From the shadows a figure observes, mesmerizing but evil to the very marrow of his soul. The shadow is Satan and deception and selfishness are his tools as he urges the Christ to give up this road, to let mankind atone for their own sins. But Jesus refuses to submit to the seductive lies of the deceiver and symbolically crushes Satan's pet serpent under his heel.
In the Jewish Temple Judas stands before the High Priests. He has been promised thirty pieces of silver for betraying the Christ. The coins scatter around him on the floor and he hastily bends to pick them up. Torches illuminate the night as he leads them to the Gardens to arrest the Messiah. The disciples resist but Jesus comes willingly into the Temple Court. At the moment of his arrest Mary, his mother, awakens in torment, certain something terrible is happening. John has managed to escape and comes to fetch her and Mary Magdalene. They are not allowed inside the counsel but there Jesus is questioned, slandered, spit on, and sent to the Romans in order to plead for his execution. Pontius Pilate's wife Claudia has awoken from a nightmare and begs him not to sentence the "king of the Jews" to death. But Jesus has been sent to earth to bear the burden of sin for mankind. The penalty is persecution, merciless beating, and eventual crucifixion.
One of the most emotionally disturbing but profoundly touching films to come out in a long time, The Passion of the Christ has arisen great controversy. As a Christian I look at it and see only what Jesus suffered for me. He died for my sins. He went through this abominable torment so Satan could no longer claim me because of my inability to be perfect -- the only way God could accept any of us. I believe every Christian needs to see this at some point in their lives. Yes, it's emotionally draining. It's disturbing seeing Jesus mercilessly whipped by laughing Roman soldiers. It's disturbing seeing Judas driven mad by demons and hang himself with the rope off a rotting donkey carcass. But it's something as Christians we NEED to see. The cleaned up, non-bloody Easter version is not enough. It's not realistic. It's not what happened.
From a purely film critic's perspective this film is visually stunning to the point of being overwhelming. Much of its subject matter is extremely dark but mesmerizing. The slow arch of the bag of coins as it flies through the air into Judas' outstretched hand... a close up of Mary Magdalene as Jesus cries "It is finished"... the tears on her face, the wind slowly caressing her hair... the captivating but disturbing image of Satan watching Jesus flogged nearly to death with great pleasure, holding a child-like demon in his arms. These characters are real. You empathize with the good and hate the bad. For an instant when he first appears you're mesmerized by Satan, wondering if the apparition (made to appear transsexual or without specific gender) is an angel... but then you realize the truth. The malice in its eyes, the cold deception of its words. Jesus is someone you instinctively love. You pity Him, feel each of the blows... flashbacks illuminate moments of His extraordinary life. The acting is so good you don't even think about the actors... it's too real. I loved the enhancement on James Caviezel's eyes... they are absolutely spellbinding, full of love throughout torment.
I need not say this is a heart-breaking experience, an exceptionally difficult thing to watch, but it also contains delicate glimpses into history, culture, and scripture. It shows how powerfully Jesus impacted those around him, even those who didn't know Him. Pilate's wife Claudia and her nightmares, pleading with her husband to let Jesus go. Peter's grief at denying Him three times before the morning. The strange, mingled reactions of the Jewish High Priests at the crucifixion. Two Roman soldiers forced to proceed with the execution. One falls to his knees when it is over, having been sympathetic toward Christ throughout. A woman who sees Jesus fall in his long walk through the streets and wipes the blood from his face. Simon, who was forced to carry his cross. All are touched... all are aware this is no ordinary man. There are mild deviations from scripture (namely the Roman centurion fails to say "He was the Son of God!") and a few of the writers' additions are unexplained, but the film is one we should all see at least once. If you're a Christian, you need to understand The Sacrifice, and if you're not... you need to understand why we believe.
Jesus is beaten and flogged flogged; his body is mutilated almost beyond recognition by a whip with glass in it. You actually see the tears as they're created and once raw flesh ripping. He's dragged out of the courtyard in a pool of blood. They continue beating, hitting, mocking, and spitting on Him while he drags the cross through the streets of Jerusalem. We endure seeing a nail go through his hand with gruesome effects, then hear his other hand and feet nailed into the wood. (After his shoulder is dislocated.) Soldiers dump the cross over and fix down the bloody ends before hoisting it into the ground with a painful thump. The thieves legs are broken in order to hasten death. The Romans piece Jesus' side to make certain he's dead. A crow lands on the thief's cross and tries to peck out his eye, bloodying the side of his face. Judas shows signs of self-scarring and internal bleeding.