The Reel Thing/Amazing Grace:Powerful and Empowering, This Passion of the Christ
by Nathan Oravec
It saves. It humbles. It grieves. It perseveres. It lifts you up when you fall. It gives you strength. It triumphs over adversity.
“Love never fails.”
Neither does faith.
This is the message of Mel Gibson’s breathtaking accomplishment, The Passion of the Christ. A film both heartening and heart wrenching in any given frame, it is simply one of the most important motion pictures ever crafted.
Big words, obviously - and yet grossly insufficient to describe its magnitude.
Gibson himself has repeatedly touted his film’s message as one of “tolerance, love and forgiveness.” It is a mission-statement that his critics have repeatedly thrown back in his face, citing a failure to find any notion of such sentiments within the graphic depiction of Christ’s ruthless scourging and Crucifixion. Many have focused entirely on the gore quotient; the pervasive violence; the unwavering, unflinching, and what some have called “unforgiving” vision of the director, claiming that it persecutes the audience far more than it enlightens.
It’s a shame that in their furor, they - whether believers or not - have missed the point entirely.
By now, everyone has been so inundated with second-hand accounts of The Passion’s cinematic brutality, that some will undoubtedly sit this one out as a result. Not too many, it seems - over the course of its six-day opening the controversial film has garnered approximately $125 million, a spectacular, record-making achievement in and of itself, and continues to fill theater houses - but some will; forgoing an experience that has long been absent from the silver screen.
I consider myself a Christian - although in some eyes, probably not a very good one; and in others’ - not one at all. I’m loved anyway. So much so, in fact, that some 1,970 years ago, Someone suffered - really suffered - excruciating, inhuman tortures that we cannot even begin to comprehend today - so that I would never, ever have to. A human man - sharing the same fears and emotions harbored by any one of us - predestined to give His life for the sins of the world; coming to terms with this great sacrifice He was born for, not without struggle, not without tears, not without prayer - but without ceasing.
This is the film’s primary purpose - to show that this happened. To take the words of scripture - “suffered, died and was buried” - which many have read, but how many have considered? - and grant them form, depth and flesh.
Now ask me if I understand all of this - the great mystery that is God’s plan - beyond the shadow of a doubt. I don’t and, probably, I never will. Not here, at least. Then again, if I did, it wouldn’t be called faith.
This is the film’s second purpose. Rarely, if ever, in Hollywood has a filmmaker of Gibson’s pedigree placed so much at stake to share his beliefs. He does so brilliantly.
The film chronicles the last hours of Christ’s life on earth prior to his Crucifixion: His betrayal by the disciple Judas (Luca Lionello), His subsequent arrest by High Priest Caiphas (Mattia Sbragia), His delivery into the hands of Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov).
As Jesus, Jim Caviezel (Frequency, The Count of Monte Cristo) commits to a performance that I cannot see soon being surpassed. His Savior is one of quiet determination and reserve. Speaking in both Hebrew and Aramaic, as do all of the film’s key players, Caviezel’s Christ has a considerably brief amount of dialogue. Being dragged to his fate, he instead uses body language to convey the very extremes of emotion. At one point, beaten mercilessly, his right eye has swollen shut, matted with blood and hair and dirt - all that is required though, is the subtle nuances of the left. Words, when uttered, are done so with solemn conviction; prayers are whispered in wanting solitude or fiercely bellowed to His Father above. When considering the emotional and physical, as well as spiritual, requirements placed upon the actor, I hope that, come Oscar time 2005, the Academy will look at the performance based solely on its merit, and not on the controversy that has surrounded it.
Yes, the movie is unrelenting in its images of Christ’s suffering. Their execution is flawless evoking a visceral reaction that is, in a word, “honest.” If anything, Gibson used restraint while reinventing tortures spawned from the primitive barbarism of mankind.
Other moments, however, touched me in a far greater sense.
Jesus’ relationship with his mother, Mary (Maia Morgenstern) more than once caused tears to well up in my eyes. We think of His heavenly quest, often forgetting that He was also a boy who loved His mom. And vice versa. Helpless, watching Him stumble and fall while carrying His cross en route to Golgotha, Mary runs to His side - wanting so badly to help her son, as she surely had so many times in the course of His life. The exchange is heartbreaking.
Gibson’s vision of Satan (Rosalinda Celantano), too, is eerily effective. An androgynous, seductive wraith, his devil slithers in the recesses of almost every scene, following Christ all the way to the cross, mocking and taunting Him, until God’s victory leaves the beast in wailing angst at the pit of a barren hell.
I would be hard-pressed to put into words just how much I appreciated this movie and how long it will stay with me having now seen it. Beautifully photographed by Caleb Deschanel and handled with such reverence by Gibson, I was honestly left speechless after viewing it, but now encourage everyone who hasn’t to go.
I must make note of the hold the film has already established on the general public. For a project so heaped in controversy, to have so quickly risen to blockbuster status is awe-inspiring. It makes me very happy for those who clearly worked so hard.
At our theater, large, plastic bins were placed outside of all theater doors showing The Passion. They were filled with packages of tissues, donated by a local church.
If your theater has these bins, I suggest you make use of them.
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is rated R for graphic violence.