The Passion Of The Christ (2004), or I Dip My Pen In The Blood Of Jesus

9 12 2009

I know you don’t want to hear a religious diatribe from me today, or probably any day for that matter, but The Passion of the Christ compels me to write about everyone’s favorite guy, Jesus! I don’t know if you were aware of this or not, but do you know how many credible sources besides the Bible cite a man named Jesus who performed miracles? That’s right, none! Other than 3 heavily contested “contemporary accounts” that were dated past his lifetime and deemed as hearsay or forgeries by any respectable historian, there is nobody in his generation that breathes a word about him. Isn’t that strange? Matthew and Luke especially claim in the Bible that everybody knew him, both far and wide, and so why is it that nobody in his time had anything to say about a man who was performing the impossible? Any other historical figure, even minor players, had some sort of corroborating evidence from contemporaries that suggests they actually existed. But the man that so many pin their entire lives to is more of a ghost to history than Keyser Söze!!!

But the enduring myth of a man named Jesus tied to a bunch of ancient mumbo-jumbo is really not the reason I find The Passion of the Christ repulsive. And I say that not as an atheist, or a secular man about town, but as a filmgoer who has no desire to see a movie involving a senseless and drawn-out beating of a man exist without purpose. It is an appalling look into Mel Gibson’s deranged, possibly sexual obsession with Christ’s final alleged pain and suffering at the hands of the Romans. Many of you have probably already seen it, and if you have, I’d like to ask you a question, because I’m a man in desperate need of an answer: what was the point to all that? This was a movie wherein a man suffers horribly before he dies, and we are left no richer for the experience. Where are we to find any sense of hope or solace as viewers in the idea that a man is terribly brutalized? Because he says that he is taking all the sins of man onto himself? Okay, so what? He still DIES!

And it is awful. One of the most caustic movies I’ve ever laid my eyes on, this is a triumph in the art of the torture porn film. Most of this 120 minute epic focuses on the painful details of Jesus’s last days, so it feels more like an Eli Roth production than anything Mel Gibson could come up with. You want obsessive floggings? BAM! 10 minutes of flogging! How about people throwing stuff at him? Painful stuff! YOU GOT IT! This is not an examination of the cruel psyche of man and the power of the mob. This is not an insightful exploration into the minds of his oppressors or his captors or his torturers. This is a close-up view of the art of violence against the innocent. It is visceral, shocking, and gratuitous, and if you ever needed a bigger slap in the face, stick around for the ending, when all 120 minutes of gore and horror is invalidated by his resurrection! Are you serious? Why not just pull back the camera and show Jerusalem inside a snow globe being shaken by an autistic kid?

As for the technical aspects, I must say that Gibson pulled out all the stops here. The films looks great, and I especially love the Aramaic language; hearing it spoken is rather hypnotic. The setting is romantic enough, but the wonderful definition and scope he gets from modern camera technology just blows most other films away. He’s not exactly the best judge of shots, though; do you like that nice sandal POV shot he employs as he walks into Jerusalem? I’m so glad I get to see every inch of Jim Caviezel’s feet as he saunters in like The Man With No Name. Speaking of Caviezel, he must be commended for his work. I call it “acting”, but it seems to be more of a ritualistic sex game with Mel Gibson caught on film. He plays coy with the camera as he is assaulted, and Gibson closes in like a lion licking his delighted lips in anticipation for an opportunity to loom closer. Maia Morgenstern plays his mother, Mary, like a real trooper. Her matronly virtue compliments the sad meekness of women in that age. I really enjoyed her, especially towards the end. Monica Bellucci is Mary Magdalene, and I honestly did not enjoy her performance too much. She just does a lot of blank, cow-eyed staring at Jesus and his plight that became somewhat of a cliche that I anticipated during her every scene. She needed more animation, and while I know that’s difficult for this time and setting, it’s an alternative to looking like you’re high during the entire Passion.

Take all of this with the knowledge that I am a total stick in the mud when it comes to religion of ANY kind. If this is your bag, you might think this is the greatest movie ever made. You would be wrong, but you might think that. There is not a lot to be gained from watching this movie, as far as the average filmgoer goes, unless you want a step-by-step on how to torture someone. It’s unnecessarily brutal, laughably maudlin, and totally counter-productive to whatever inspiring message Gibson was trying to send. In the end, I could not help but have the unshakable feeling that I was witness to one of the most beautiful pieces of pap in the history of the world. I give The Passion of the Christ 3 1/2 historically dubious Messiahs out of 10!

Tomorrow I promise to watch Dead Ringers! I promise!

I leave you all with my favorite story from the Bible, which is also my favorite tales about the vulgar display of power:

The Fig Tree Withers

18Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

20When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.

21Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Complete. Utter. Waste. Of. Magic.