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.
What was she expecting, Scripture Lite? I haven't seen the film but the reputable reviews I've read--even those critical of the movie--assert that the violence is historically accurate.
Amen, I have seen the movie and one very important scene is Jesus saying how He is laying down His life, no one is taking it.
He does it because of His Perfect Love for us and His perfect obedience to the Father
The violence is necessary to show the magnitude of both
No one seems to mention the Resurrection at the end.
It was shown in a way never seen on film, brief but amazing joyful
Also I am Italian and I am not offended by the depiction of the Roman guards.
Rome was very brutal in its treatment of prisoners.
Isn't this exactly the point Gibson may have been trying to make? Aren't we asked to simply watch what He endured for us???
And you REALLY expected anything else???
It's important to see.
They did it at the behest of the Jews. Jesus was charged with blasphemy, which was not a crime under Roman law. Blasphemy was punishable by death under Jewish law; the Jews asked the Romans to carry out the sentence for them.
Jesus was killed by the Romans,
at the request of the Jews,
on behalf all of mankind.
In addition, Christ's suffering joins Him to the suffering of all humanity...throughout the ages humans have died in degrading, humiliating ways from all causes, natural and murderous...the suffering of Christ means that He can say, to anyone, "I share your pain." We have a Savior, not only on a sunny day, but in the agony of our own end, whatever it may be.
One giant surprise-the local liberal rag, THE PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY, gave THE PASSION a rave review! The reviewer mentioned "his lapsed Irish Catholic Baggage", said how much he cried while watching the film, and said the message of the film is love. He also said that years from now, when the furor has died down, this film will be recognized for the masterpiece that it is.