The Passion of the Christ

ThePassionoftheChrist“See, mother, I make all things new.”

Film combines several verbal and/or written expressions (a.k.a. discourses) used in our everyday lives, such as speech, music, drawing, television, video, writing and art. Film represents a unique visual communication – a complex version of how we attempt to know and understand something communicated to us.  It’s hard to put the powerful visual experience of The Passion of the Christ into words because this film presents its own language of images, nuances, etc. in an edited montage while providing a way to understand the context.  This film tells the story of the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus on the day of his crucifixion in Jerusalem.

The Passion of the Christ has produced several discourses and interpretations, including some filmmakers did not intentionally mean to convey to audiences, such as Anti-Semitic messages.  Discussions with other people who have seen the film can provide very honest and valuable input.  The astounding scope the film has now achieved has sparked unique film experiences all across the country.  Everyone has perceived ideas about Jesus’ life before seeing this film, but now people are paying special attention to the money the film is making and what Gibson’s production company, Icon Productions, will do with it. These distractions, the film’s box office statistics and other factors, attempt to deflect the meaning of the film – Jesus died for everyone, the sins of the whole world, not for one particular generation or people.

Director Mel Gibson (Man Without a Face, Braveheart) produced the film and also wrote the screenplay, with co-writer Benedict Fitzgerald – an experienced TV writer, which incorporated the four Bible Gospels of John, Luke, Mark and Matthew) and the venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich’s book, “The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ”, which can be found on the Web at

Gibson recruits a top-notch crew including music composer John Debney and respected production designer Francesco Fregeri who has won three David (di Donatello) awards, the highest award in Italian filmmaking.  Most of the film was shot in Matera, a region in southern Italy, then completed on the Cinecitta film studio lots in Rome, Italy.

The cast utilizes a talented group that doesn’t overshadow their respective characters. James Caviezel (Frequency, The Count of Monte Cristo) plays Jesus and Romanian theater actress Maia Morgenstern plays Mary.  Important secondary characters include Mary Magdalene, played by Monica Bellucci (Malena, Matrix Reloaded) and Pontius Pilate played by Hristo Shopov.

Claudia Gerini plays Pilate’s wife, who has an expanded role atypical from the majority of most previous works. Rosalinda Celentano, a Bulgarian actress, also plays the creatively written role of Satan (her dialogue consists of a male voiceover).  Mattia Sbragia plays Caiphas, a high priest who sees Jesus as a threat and the apostle roles include Francesco De Vito as Peter, Luca Lionello as Judas and Hristo Jivkov as John. Jarreth J. Merz has a memorable role as Simon of Cyrene.

The Stations of the Cross, images of Jesus’ suffering and dialogue vignettes on Good Friday provided important background for me as a child.  I also remember seeing almost pristine images where only a bit of blood would hang from the nail points on the crucifix, these memories are a stark contrast to the portrayal of Jesus’ suffering in The Passion of Christ.  The agony in the garden, the scourging at the pillar and ultimately, the crucifixion has never been so vividly portrayed on film.

Anyone who takes children to this film should consider how violence and visuals can affect a younger audience.  In The Passion of the Christ, the vivid level of violence may cause strong reactions, but does not include schlock or flashy style that glorifies the violence or the characters who commit the violence.  Most importantly, this violence, though hard to watch, ultimately yields grace, love and salvation for all.  The short flashbacks in the narrative gives audiences a break from the violence, but more importantly present more background about Jesus’ life, His important messages and His humanity.

The film itself uses no dates or timelines except for the beginning notation of the bible verse Isaiah 53 – 700 B.C., but the environment, complimented by Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew speech with English subtitles, add a high level of authenticity usually reserved for historical films.  Filmmakers use a minimal amount of special effects including Jesus’ eyes (Caviezel really has blue eyes).  Gibson captures the essence of what a person would see as a spectator at these events by enhancing the simplest actions with enhanced sound, close-ups and slow motion, especially in the beginning scene in the garden.  Gibson also utilizes point-of-view shots including a very emotional shot of Jesus being drug away after a brutal scourging by the Roman guards.  My most emotional point of the film comes when Mary has a vivid flashback as Jesus falls – a touching sequence that captures the simple love between a mother and son.

Words failed me, which is exactly the point of the film.  The subtitles are not such an issue because this film is a moving painting.  Gibson didn’t even want to use English subtitles and I can now understand his point.  The film is so visual that many scenes wouldn’t even need subtitles, except maybe for Pontius Pilate’s discussion about “truth” with his wife and the Roman soldiers’ actions to the other two men crucified after Jesus dies.  This highly recommended film is rated R for graphic violence and has a run time of 2 hours and 7 minutes.

Copyright © Michael Siebenaler

This entry was posted in 2000s Film Reviews, Film Reviews and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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