The Passion of the Christ

After all the shouting, racial and theological arguments, Mel Gibson finally put out a movie.  I've written HERE and HERE about the Jewish issues involved.  Let's try as much as possible to put away all the side issues though, whatever theological stance one might like for him to have taken, and consider the actual movie he did make as a work of art.

Mel Gibson has created a truly powerful piece of visual poetry meditating on the brutality of the crucifixion of Jesus.  I've long since given up the Christian beliefs of my Protestant upbringing, but this was very moving even to me.  It brought home the anguish of the story, and made it real like nothing else I've ever seen.  I completely don't believe in the resurrection, yet still I left the theater with about half an urge to sign up at my old boyhood church again.  That's pretty effective movie making.

There's no question that the film is brilliantly made, however much you do or don't like what he's saying.  The lighting, the sets and cinematography create a tangible world glowing with the presence of the supernatural.  The hazy blue opening scene in the Garden of Gethsemane alone was nearly worth the price of admission.

A lot has been made of the graphic brutality of the film.  It certainly is brutal as all hell.  The sounds of ripping flesh as he's being scourged particularly cut into my psyche.  Some of this was tough to watch.  Just watching the film could count as doing penance.  

Yet theoretically this is way not the most graphically violent movie going.  Kill Bill had a thousand times the body count.  Tarantino had blood arching from severed limbs, and decapitated heads flying through the air.  That stuff was really a cartoon, though.  You wouldn't really feel the pain of one of these characters like you would Jesus here.  Saving Private Ryan, however, had much more graphic violence, which I for one found much harder to watch.  There was some rough stuff in The Passion, but I don't recall entrails hanging out of still living bodies.  I found Spielberg's movie much tougher to watch.

Partly that's because you come into this movie knowing more or less what to expect.  This is Jesus, and this was what he came for. After all, he's God made flesh- he can take it.

What was harder to watch for me was the anguish of the people around him, particularly his mother.  The images of helpless mother Mary at the foot of the cross with her son's blood on her face made the roughest, most anguished viewing of the whole show.

The sincerity of the film maker's belief radiates from the screen in a palpable manner.  The film glows from the sincerity.  Whatever your own religious beliefs, you can feel the intensity of a nearly crazed prophetic vision that this was how it was.  

The Passion of the Christ comes out like a druggie vision, without the compromising self-consciousness.  At the risk of appearing flippant or disrespectful- which is absolutely not my intent- there is a fascinatingly hallucinatory effect about the whole thing. People sometimes take hallucinatory drugs, and come up with images and connections and visionary dreams.  They are usually limited, however, but their self-consciousness- they KNOW they're high and making stuff up.  

Gibson et al, on the other hand, have imagined this fantasia into existence without the compromising doubts of self-consciousness.  He didn't know he was high, so to speak.  He has said things in interviews like that he didn't feel like he was doing things, but the spirit moving through him.  This kind of talk is common among deeply religious people, but Mel Gibson has a much greater creative skill than average in concretizing the vision in a physical medium that we can all experience.

Critic types often speak of wanting non-commercial films that reflect a personal vision.  Gibson has certainly given us that here.  There's not a note of anything "crowd pleasing" about this.  That it has found a huge audience in this case stands as a testament to the depth of Gibson's personal vision, and his great skill in getting it on the screen.

Jesus of Nazareth Images 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24

Annunciation of Jesus Christ Images 1  2  3  4

Birth of Jesus Images 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12

Jesus and Children Images 1  2  3  4

Jesus the Healer Images 1  2  3  4  5  6

Crucifixion of Jesus Christ Images 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24

Resurrection of Jesus Christ Images 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12

 angels collecting the precious blood of Jesus as he hangs on the cross  Jesus emerges from his grave   Jesus bearing the cross the ascension of Jesus reborn unto heaven





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