Skip to comments.Gibson favors gore over drama [Phila. Inquirer gives Passion 2-star review]
Posted on 02/25/2004 5:03:14 AM PST by foreverfree
Gibson favors gore over drama
Published: Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Even for the faithful, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is too much Good Friday and not enough Easter Sunday. Emphasizing Jesus' agony over His ecstasy, Gibson has delivered a blood-drenched epic more stunning for its brutal violence than for its depiction of the calvary. This work of obvious devotion may well be the first spiritual splatter film. It makes Gladiator and Braveheart - even Friday the 13th - seem mild by comparison.
Consumed by the unrelenting flaying and flogging suffered by Jesus in His final hours, Gibson invites us to empathize with the Nazarene's physical, if not His spiritual, anguish. For the filmmaker, whose Braveheart contains excruciating sequences of impalement and a heart ripped from a live man's chest, the physical is spiritual.
We see what we are. We bring our own experiences and values to the movies. I am a Jew. Going into The Passion, I worried that it might rekindle anti-Semitism by recycling discredited interpretations of the Hebrew high priests' roles in the crucifixion. While the film does trade in such imagery, for me, it makes a larger point about how those in charge of a faith can compromise or betray it, a charge that can be made not only of the Hebrew Pharisees but of those in the contemporary Catholic Church who protected priests accused of sexual abuse.
Far more offensive than the film's indictment of the Jews is the extreme sadism of the Roman centurions whose relish in Jesus' torture and humiliation is both nauseating and shockingly fetishistic.
But I come to judge The Passion not for historical accuracy or theological slant but as a film drama. It is powerfully visual - cinematographer Caleb Deschanel's imagery has Giotto's painterly austerity, Caravaggio's celestial light shooting through the darkness of the soul, and the tidal rhythms of ritual. Yet The Passion is oddly undramatic and singularly uninspiring beyond a call to mortification of the flesh. While it will undoubtedly speak to the devoted, it is hard to see the film as a missionary tool.
Jim Caviezel's Jesus is a gaunt reproach to the well-fed Romans. In the film's precious few flashbacks, we get glimmers of His charisma and His simple eloquence, but these moments are insufficient for Caviezel to create a character more substantial than the Roman whipping boy.
With the exceptions of Mary, played by the mournful Maia Morgenstern, and Pontius Pilate, played by the compelling Hristo Naumov Shopov in Hamlet fashion (to crucify, or not to crucify?), the film lacks the psychology and conflict that are basic to drama. Morgenstern and Shopov are given enough camera time to connect emotionally with their audience. Eyes brimming with empathy and horror, Morgenstern, like the greatest silent-movie actors, is wrenching in her urgency of emotion. If she is the heart of Gibson's film, Shopov is its tormented soul, measuring the human consequences of his political decision. Too little of the movie is about such emotion, too much is about degrading spectacle.
Gibson takes his audience on a forced march from Gethsemane to Golgotha in order for it to see and feel every lashing. Viewers also see the nails driven into Jesus' hands and hear His bones splinter. The puzzling choice of Gibson and co-screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald (who 25 years ago adapted the superlative Wise Blood) to emphasize physical rather than psychological torment would be as if Gibson's Braveheart focused on battlefield viscera rather than the spirit of the mission.
The subtitled Passion avoids the kitsch piety of Hollywood biblicals where the Romans speak with English accents and the Jews with American inflections, and the dwellings look like something one might encounter in Beverly Hills. In Gibson's film, the sets have the sandblasted authenticity of Jerusalem stone and the Romans speak in Latin, the Jews in Aramaic and Hebrew. Alas, Caviezel's phonetic pronunciation of Jesus' inspirational words undermines their lyricism. And for most of the film his face and body are so caked with blood and dirt that Caviezel cannot use his physical instrument to play the music of the soul.
At its worst, this story of the price of redemption places an inexplicably high value on pain.
Who would have guessed that Gibson would turn The Greatest Story Ever Told into the grisliest?
For more stories on "The Passion of the Christ" and its director, go to http://go.philly.com/passion.
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or email@example.com.
Someone needs to study up on the Romans a bit. For all their contributions to civilization, they were also a very brutal state. The word "decimation" comes from the punishment of a military unit that exhibited less than stalwart character in battle -- the soldiers were lined up and every tenth man was put to the sword. This was a people who found entertainment value in watching prisoners in chains mauled to death by wild animals. This was a culture that punished the revolt of Spartacus by crucifying 6000 men along the Via Appia as a warning to other slaves to keep in line.
I haven't seen the movie, but I very much doubt the filmed violence is worse than the reality of what the Romans were demonstrably capable of inflicting on fellow human beings.
This brings up the point of "why were the Italians not upset about movies like Galadiator, or Sparticus which portrayed Romans (now Italians) as bloodthirsty savages... It could have started race riots ya know?"
CNN Headline news actually had people interviewed on camera liking the film, but the reporter was positivly beaming when she told us (with no bias, of course) about those who disliked the film.
"They loved Jesus when he was a clown (Godspell). They went crazy over Him as rock star (Jesus Christ Superstar). When Jesus was portrayed as having an affair with Mary Magdelene (Last Temptation) or as a homosexual (Corpus Christie), the liberal theologians did not object, but took it as an opportunity to explore the misnamed 'historical Jesus.' They cannot stand Jesus as savior. The crucified person is too much for them. They would much prefer the affable teller of parables."
I stopped reading after that sentence.
Amazing, he can not tell the major difference between the two. Get a clue, one is evil the other is good.
The anti-semitism pitch did little to stop this film, so now they are switching to the violence pitch.
A classic case of "if you need to ask, no explanation is possible".
Just don't go see it. Stick to queer eye for the straight guy..."