Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” has
received an unprecedented combination of fervent praise and
unrelenting criticism. It fomented debate more than a year prior to
its release and will certainly continue to stoke the fires of
controversy well into the future. Irrespective of its contentious
elements, however, “The Passion” will stand as a
brilliant triumph of Biblically inspired filmmaking.

Mira Levitan
Thank you sir, may I have another! (Courtesy of Icon)

The sparing story commences in the Garden of Gethsemane, where a
tormented Jesus (Jim Caviezel, “The Count of Monte
Cristo”) prays for God’s help and resists the crafty
lures of a seductive, androgynous Satan. Soon after, Christ is
betrayed by Judas Iscariot and taken into captivity by the
Pharisees who are generally fearful of his Messianic prophecies and
ministry.

After accusing Jesus of blasphemy, among other capital crimes,
the Pharisees send him before Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator,
for official punishment. Initially uncertain of how to handle
Jesus’ sentence, Pilate orders his minions to scourge Jesus
and torture him severely. Upon reconsideration of the case, Pilate,
in deference to the will of the riotous mobs, condemns Jesus to
death by crucifixion. Following his death, as is expected, Jesus
rises gloriously and sublimely from his grave to conclude to
film.

Preliminary concerns surfaced quite early, and still persist,
about the Gospel that Gibson and company portray. Charges of
anti-Semitism are prevalent, and questions of the film’s
historical accuracy abound. Both ought to be dismissed; the film
tells a story that adheres remarkably to the Biblical Gospels. To
be sure, the film does depict the Jewish high priests as strongly
committed to undermining Christ’s ministry. This, however, is
in accordance with the Gospel telling of the matter; any criticisms
of Gibson’s movie should be similarly leveled against the
Bible itself.

In any event, the fact that the Jewish high priests indict Jesus
relentlessly should not be of great concern. The Roman soldiers,
after all, are portrayed as the veritable savages; they, if any
group, are characterized in a decidedly negative light. More
importantly, no Christian viewer should distinguish one group as
being more involved than others in the death of Jesus. All bear
equal responsibility, and to think otherwise would run contrary to
a foundational tenet of the faith.

Regarding the film itself, “The Passion” is, also to
the dislike of many, strikingly violent and conveys, as much as is
cinematically possible, every iota of pain and anguish felt by
Christ. From the moment he is arrested, Jesus is scourged and
flogged ruthlessly by sadistic Roman centurions. While he awaits
trial, he is lashed with some of the foulest imaginable instruments
— for example, whips with multiple tails tipped with glass
shards or rusty hooks.

His suffering culminates when he is nailed to the cross, as
metal stakes are bloodily driven through his hands and feet and his
bones are broken, audibly, to fit him to the boards on which he is
crucified.

Some have condemned this frank violence as a sadistic or
hyper-religious fetish of Gibson’s. They argue, in turn, that
it overshadows the love or other essential traits of Jesus. On the
contrary: It is exactly what so many films about Christ have, to a
flaw, lacked. Jesus, as Christians hold, sacrificed his life for
the collective sins of humanity; he bore upon his shoulders an
immeasurably burdensome yoke. This grand sacrifice deserves candid
and revealing consideration.

Whether or not your loyalties lie in Jesus’ camp, you
certainly can appreciate the technique and craftsmanship of
“The Passion.” Most notably, the deft work of
cinematographer Caleb Deschanel and composer John Debney blend
especially well. Debney’s droning, atmospheric score
complements Deschanel’s careful, meticulous camerawork to
make the picture artistically and technically appreciable to
anyone.

As a medium, film provides an unmatched creative mode for the
depiction of suffering and struggle. Watching both Christ’s
profound personal struggle to accept God’s plan and his
agonizing physical struggle to endure seemingly unbearable abuse
provides a window into his unfathomable sacrifice and struggle that
a written scripture sometimes cannot offer.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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