You’ve heard of it, of course. The Passion of the Christ. Mel
Gibson’s highly controversial film about the death of Jesus. It is
a film both advocated by many Christians and feared and detested by
many Jews. But beyond the controversy is a film that needs to be
addressed on its own; both as a work of art and as a piece of mass
media trying to speak to the largest audience in the world. The
question is, what is it trying to say?
The title of this film could not have been chosen better, for
this film is a translation of the events of the passion. It is a
chronological journey through the capture, torture, death, and
(briefly) resurrection of Christ. To understand these events you
must be familiar with the main characters of the New Testament
since they are not entirely explained within the film itself.
Two are not even mentioned by name, though their relationships
to Jesus are revealed through a limited number of contextual
It is important to also understand what you will be viewing when
you walk into the theatre. This is not like the Christ movies that
have come before. Mel Gibson has made sure of that, and people
involved in the entertainment industry should thank him for his
efforts and successes.
This film is more gruesome, disturbing, melodramatic, emotional,
biased and personal than anything that has come before it in its
genre. This is an amazing feat considering the spoken language of
every character is either Aramaic or Latin, and we get every word
through subtitles. (Note: for you history lovers out there, it is
quite fascinating to hear dead languages spoken once again).
Yet in the end, what exactly is Mel Gibson’s film trying to say
to his audience, if anything? I’m not sure if The Passion needs a
moral or meaningful conclusion at all. The Bible fills in those
gaps, and Gibson depends on that.
So what he is doing with this film, is not arguing a specific
thesis about The Passion, but rather opening a window-his window,
and a very fundamentalist Catholic one at that-into the event, to
show it to his audience in a medium that is more effective than the
distancing language of the King James Bible.
His rich visual world, his intriguing, though often
melodramatic, use of slow motion action, the language and the
costuming were captivating. Yet I walked away feeling like the only
thing I had seen was a very bloody, but convincing look at what
Jesus’s death might have looked like.
With only two scenes of Jesus in his early life with his mother
-one of which was used to manipulate the emotional intensity of
Mary’s agony over her cross-carrying son-I, as a non-religious
person, did not feel what Christians feel. I wanted to understand
where their love for Christ came from and why his death meant
“sacrifice” and why it formed the crux of so many sects.
In other ways, Gibson’s film was incredibly successful. For in
The Passion, Christ was very humanized. He became simply a man who
believed intensely in God and love. The Virgin Mary became just a
mother who absolutely loved her son and trusted her God.
Gibson brought these characters to a human level and made me
sympathize with their very real emotions. Ultimately, Mel Gibson
carried on a tradition in The Passion of the Christ, and to great
success. Whether he has succeeded at anything more, is up to
viewers to decide.