Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

09 September 2004

Review: The Passion of the Christ

Last night I watched The Passion of the Christ.  I know everyone always says this, but the book was better.

I didn't care for the film for a lot of reasons.  I felt like the film didn't really go anywhere dramatically.  At all.  He sort of just kept falling you know.  I found myself yelling at the screen for him to "Stop falling!"  I mean, that's obviously Gibson's point with all of the falling and the torture, but it doesn't go anywhere.  The thing I yelled most frequently was "Jesus!" which I guess was inappropriate, but this movie is brutal.  It's one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen.  The final straw was a random crow pecking out a man's eye and then this shot of the crow's bloody beak and feathers: nasty.  I was so repulsed.

Aside from the sheer brutality and torturous qualities of the film, I guess what I come away with is that the Bible itself—especially the King James Version, which is what Gibson used for the English translations—is so much more magical and beautiful than this film.  There's this whole part in the scriptures when the sky goes completely black and the people can't see three feet in front of them.  The Jewish dead rise out of the ground and walk the earth under the darkness, and people think they have seen Isaiah and some of the other prophets.  The temple garment, a cloth that covers the outside of the temple and is about as thick as my car, is "rent in twain" in the King James Version: it was supposed to be impossible to have occurred and was supposed to symbolize Christ's triumph over Judaeism.

I loved the guy who played Pontius Pilate.  I thought he was wonderful.  I think the makeup might be some of the best makeup work I've ever seen on film: we'll see if the Academy can look past the film's controversial nature.  The cinematography and the costumes were boring, though.  Some color please!  I was dying for some color.  At least give the rich people some colorful clothes!  When I thought about color during the film, it occurred to me that here was a man of the lower classes being murdered by a lower-class mob.  None of them had any money.  Few had education, and what are they doing?  Killing someone.  It reminded me of gang warfare.

For me the film makes a lot of the same mistakes that Troy did.  Continually talking about gods—"Lord" in Passion seems used to excess—does not make us as an audience believe in gods.  I've read the Bible many times, and these crucifixion passages more times than I could probably count, but if you want me to believe something in a film, you have to show me.  And so, like King Priam in Troy, the Pharisees and the Jewish priests come off as religious weirdos... like the Southern Baptists of my childhood, but so do Mary and Peter and Judas and John.

I know this movie has meant a lot to people.  My brother, for one, seemed to think this movie was just the best thing since Old School, but I have to say I felt kind of tortured right along with Christ.  It was really difficult to watch, and without resolution or even emotion really.  I mean, the people were crying on screen, and I recognized the brutality of the Romans, but I didn't care.  I didn't love this man like I loved Lothaire Bluteau in Jésus de Montréal or Djimon Hounsou in Amistad or Denzel Washington in Glory.  And I wanted to care.  I felt like I probably should love him, but the filmmaker hadn't done anything so that I would.