Alright, I know I’m venturing into some murky and dangerous waters doing a review of a film like the Passion of Christ. Religion is obviously something that a lot of people feel strongly about for good and bad reasons, so no matter what I write, I risk offending people.
I’m not a religious person myself and never have been. Neither, on the other hand, am I anti-religion. Obviously an objective mind would be a little bit sceptical of the whole Jesus thing considering there are accurate historical records of lots of other things that went on at the time and in times before it, yet there’s nothing concrete about him. But hey, live-and-let-live I say. If people want to be religious and don’t use it as justification for doing bad things, who am I to argue with that.
So please, when reading this review, read it on the level that I’m reviewing a film just like I would review any other film; it’s just that the main character is Jesus. And I write it from the point of view of someone who isn’t religious, and therefore my views and opinions should be interpreted on that basis.
Or in other words, don’t crucify me if you don’t like it (sorry…I had to).
The Passion of Christ takes place in the last 12 hours of Jesus’s life, beginning with – according to Wikipedia – The Agony in the Garden. If this was a William Hartnell Doctor Who story, Agony in the Garden would definitely be the title of
I’m sure you all know the story, but to summarise…
Jesus gets betrayed by Judas and is arrested to face trial by the local Jewish Rabbis, who have taken offence to his claims to be the Son of Man.
He faces a mockery of a trial in a not-exactly-friendly environment (during which one of his followers – Peter I think – abandons him to save himself. Jesus doesn’t look too surprised) and is sent up to the Roman governor – Pontius Pilate – to be sentenced.
Pilate can’t quite believe the amount of hatred being given towards Jesus and – not wanting to go down in history as the man who condemned Jesus if really is what he claims to be – passes the buck onto Herod Antipas. As Antipas is the ruler of Jesus’s home town of Nazareth, Pilate reckons he’s the one who should sentence him.
Herod wants nothing to do with it and so the buck is passed back to Pilate. At this point, Pilate offers up every chance for this whole affair to be sorted amicably. He believes that if he offers them a choice between sparing the life of Jesus or that of the notorious criminal Barabbas the mob will let Jesus live. But, much to his shock, they choose to spare the latter. Knowing there is little he can do, he appeals to Jesus to say something – anything – to save himself, but Jesus isn’t interested either.
So grudgingly, Pilate surrenders Jesus to a good old fashioned whipping from his soldiers. And boy, does he take a beating. But Jesus won’t go down, and so the angry guards keep on whipping him until he is a bloody – and likely mortally wounded – mess. They even place a crown of thorns round his head to mock him. But despite all of this, Jesus is still able to get up.
When he’s presented to the baying mob in this condition, it shocks them a bit, but they are unrepentant; to them, Jesus must die. So they bully Pilate into ordering a crucifixion (bet you didn’t see that one coming).
And so – as is the custom – Jesus is made to carry the cross on his back all the way from the town up to the mountain where he will be crucified. Along the way he finally starts to sell his injuries a bit and struggles to keep himself upright – not least because the Roman guards keep knocking him down, beating him up and then shouting at him for being unable to carry on – so an innocent bystander is made to help him the rest of the way.
And once he’s up there, it’ll come as no surprise to you that he is crucified and ultimately died. His death is signified by a terrible thunderstorm.
Throughout the film a freaky looking creature – who I assume we are to believe to be the devil – watches on in delight.
Also there are Lost-style flashbacks that deal with issues such as the Sermon on the Mount, the Last Supper and – and this is something I didn’t know – Jesus inventing modern tables.
Oh, and Judas gets bullied by children into hanging himself. Kids, eh!
To end the film, we see Jesus coming back to life. Yay, the opportunity for a sequel!
Any film that involves a man getting as heavy a beating as Jesus gets in this film would be powerful to watch. But – beating aside – I’m not entirely sure about we are supposed to feel towards Jesus.
On the one hand, we obviously feel bad for him as you would anyone in the same situation, but on the other hand I saw his behaviour as a little bit aloof. I’m probably missing the point. At no point did he seem particularly fussed about what was happening to him, both from a positive or negative direction. Romans are beating him to a pulp and he just kept getting up. Then Pilate offered him a few chances to save himself and not only did he spurn those opportunities, he didn’t even do so in a particularly gracious way. Furthermore, the people who help him throughout are just met with a sort of indifference.
Now, as I say, I’m not a religious person. The extent of my religious knowledge really just comes from R.E. at school, but that just isn’t how I thought Jesus was supposed to have been. As you can see in the picture of the painting by El Greco, Jesus is usually portrayed as a sort of upstanding and – if not friendly – certainly not unfriendly guy. But I just didn’t get that from the film.
Instead, I thought to myself “Jesus, Jesus! You could have made that a little bit easier on yourself, and at least thanked the guy who helped you carry the cross.”
Is that what I’m supposed to think? Probably not.
But if Jesus’s portrayal is bad, it’s still a lot better than the majority of others in the film. The Jews are written as if it were a Nazi Propaganda film, Herod and his harem are shown to be weirdos, perverts and deviants, while his disciples are
cowards and the Romans are a combination of cowardly administrators and bloodthirsty thugs. I would say it was a very black and white view of the world but apart from it being too easy a gag at Mel Gibson’s expense, it would require there to be someone who come across ‘white’.
If I was reaching, I’d say the guy who comes across the best is Simon of Cyrene – he who helped Jesus carry the cross. But even then, he helped him under duress.
So I don’t think anyone really comes across all that well. And it begs the question of who the film is supposed to appeal to?
I don’t know that, but I do know who it will appeal to…
Fans of gory films and/or professional wrestling (sorry Vince; Sports Entertainment).
The film is two hours long and more than half of it is spent watching a variety of people physically abuse Jesus. When you come away from it, that is what you will remember. Obviously the whole film is fresh in my memory having only just seen it, but that was the second time viewing it for me. The first time was when it was on the cinema, and in the 7 years between viewings, the brutality was all I really remembered – specifically the scene where he is whipped by the Romans. And it’s not just me – the other people I was watching it with said the same thing “Oh, is this the one where Jesus severely whipped”.
Then of course there is the gratuitous close-ups of the nails being hammered into his hands and feet when he is getting mounted upon the cross, as well as the crow gouging out the eye of the other guy getting crucified. These things seem to exist just to make you wince. So it begs the question – is that the point of the film? To make you wince? Like a horror movie?
Someone recently described the Saw films as ‘torture porn’ and it could easily be argued that that is exactly what The Passion of Christ is.
If – like me – you’re a wrestling fan, some of the stuff that goes on transcends the gore and the religious ‘message’ (if there is one) and just becomes quite humorous. The scene where Jesus – who is supposed to be the good guy – is roundly booed by those attending his trial, while Barabbas gets his own chant and a massive cheer from the crowd when he is freed is reminiscent of John Cena at New Years Revolution 2006 or in the ECW Arena at One Night Stand the same year. Watch it and compare it.
Similarly, when he gets whipped so badly by the Romans you expect the baying crowd to chant “Holy Shit”, “E-C-DUB” or “This is Awesome”. And when he gets back up again for the final time when they think they’ve whipped him into submission, you can imagine a Japanese audience going “Wooooooooooooooah”.
The only thing missing to complete the wrestling analogy is that Simon of Cyrene should have said “I’m Sorry. I Love You”, before nailing him with a superkick.
Unsurprisingly, a quick check on Google shows that there are plenty of Passion of Christ drinking games. Who’d have thought it!
So yeah, the amount of brutality coming Jesus’s way just becomes over the top and I think it devalues what the film is supposed to achieve – but it does it so much that I have absolutely no idea what that was.
To finish off with some praise for the film though, I liked the way it was done in what we can assume to be the correct language. And it worked well, because in the seven years between viewings, the people I watched it with had completely forgotten that it was done in a ‘foreign language’, meaning it didn’t detract from the viewing experience.
Should You Watch The Passion of Christ?
What better way to celebrate Easter Sunday with the family than watch a man getting brutalised for two hours.
If you are a religious person then you will probably have a completely different experience watching the film, although I really can’t see the Songs of Praise demographic enjoying this. Certainly the only person of faith I know – that being my own mother – would never watch it. Knowing what it is, she knows she wouldn’t gain any enjoyment from it and it would have no bearing on her beliefs.
So as I’ve asked a few times, what’s the point? Whose it for? Where’s the enjoyment away from irony and comical similarities to wrestling? I just don’t know. I can’t see it.
If you want to watch a good film with a religious element to it, I’d recommend The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston.
At least I knew what the point of the film was.
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