The Passion of the Christ

This is a movie review, not a screed on why Mel Gibson's film version of the last twelve hours of Christ is offensive to Jews, a sop to the Christian right and a selective reading of the Bible. We'll leave that to scholars and pundits on Access Hollywood. The Passion of the Christ is powerfully moving and fanatically obtuse in equal doses. The typical star rating doesn't apply, because scenes range from classic to poor and all stops in between. But name another Hollywood icon who would spend $30 million out of his own pocket to bring his personal obsession with Christ's agony to the screen and film it in Aramaic and Latin with English subtitles.

Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus, doesn't so much give a performance as offer himself up as raw meat. So graphic are the torture scenes — flayings, a crown of thorns, whips with barbed metal tips, nails driven into hands and feet — that the film seems like the greatest story ever told by the Marquis de Sade.

Gibson introduces horror elements, such as an androgynousatan with Gollum-like spawn. And tricked-up sequences — a tear from God the Father that falls from heaven like the bomb from Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor — cheapen the film's purpose: to show the enormity of Christ's suffering. More questionable is the caricature of the Jewish high priest Caiaphas (Mattia Sbragia) and the sympathetic take on the Roman governor Pilate (Hristo Shopov). But Gibson's immersion in the blood of Christ is an act of faith filmed with a zealot's rapture. It's a shame he has no faith in audiences to feel Jesus' pain without rubbing their noses in it. By filming New Testament Gospels with Old Testament fire and brimstone, his Passion emerges as something contrary to Jesus's spirit: unforgiving.

From The Archives Issue 232: February 10, 1977
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