Worth A Look: 13.93%
Just Average: 7.55%
Pretty Crappy: 10.57%
15 reviews, 506 user ratings
|Passion of the Christ, The
by Scott Weinberg
I simply cannot tell you how many people have asked me about my reaction to Mel Gibson's new movie about Jesus Christ. As an outspoken Jewish guy who devours movies like they're made of crack, my friends and readers were pretty interested to hear my opinion. Instead of your typical movie review, I'll address each of the "main issues" surrounding the film and offer my own two cents throughout. You all know where to send the hate mail.First off, as a Jew, I have little to no "emotional attachment" to the story of Jesus Christ. Frankly I think religious history is not much more than a well-admired collection of allegories, myths and folk tales. Disdain me if you must, but in my book, God, Jesus, Allah, Zeus and Ra are pretty much all the same guy. Societies create new "gods" as the collective needs them. The idea of all life on Earth springing from one lucky roll of the biological dice is simply too depressing a thought for most people to bear, which is why religion is so popular: it gives people a guide-book to read and a destination to shoot for, and if that's what it takes to get people through the day, then I'm all for it.
"FLASH: Cynical Jew Movie Critic Likes New Jesus Movie!"
But mostly I think of organized religion as something that's caused not much more than hatred, death and suffering throughout the entire history of mankind. Religion and I don't exactly see eye to eye. But if you think I was walking in to The Passion of the Christ with spite on my agenda, think again. If I have one true religion, you could probably call it Cinemaism. And I was itchin' to finally see this one already. Here's my take:
Assertion: That The Passion of the Christ is, either blatantly or subtly, an anti-semitic film, one that could lead to a resurgence of violence against Jews by those who desperately need someone to hate.
Truth as I see it: This movie is no more anti-semitic than Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is anti-vanilla. A filmmaker can promote one end of an 'argument' without slapping the faces of those on the 'opposition', and that's precisely what Mel Gibson has done here. This is a movie for Christians in the same way that The Lizzie McGuire Movie is for teenage girls, and there's not a damn thing wrong with that. I suspect that the "what will The Jews think?" mindset was borne mainly from a marketing standpoint, and also to give desperate columnists something juicy to latch on to. This movie offers Jews both horribly nefarious and sincerely kind-hearted, so let's just drop all the hysterics, people. Movies don't make people hate; ignorance does.
Plus, let's be fair: half the movies released nowadays showcase some form of sexism, racism, anti-semitism or other similarly offensive caricatures. Why then is Mel Gibson being singled out for this movie? Did nobody out there witness the face-slappingly vile examples of racism in last month's My Baby's Daddy? No, because that's some stupid-ass comedy, and those movies are apparently allowed to be mean-spirited and hateful. (Bet this is the first Passion review EVER that references Willy Wonka and My Baby's Daddy.)
Assertion: The movie is almost pornographic in its violent depiction of Jesus' last 12 hours on Earth, and that Gibson has gone way overboard with the gory details of the man's horrific suffering.
Truth as I see it: I wonder how well-received Schindler's List would have been had Steven Spielberg "soft-pedaled" the atrocities of the WWII concentration camps. Mel Gibson clearly wanted to make a movie about the suffering that this man withstood at the hands of his captors. To mute or lessen the overwhelmingly brutal punishment that's on display in The Passion would, to me, be a sure sign of hypocrisy; a case of a filmmaker hedging his bets and playing it safe. Clearly this is not the case here. You can't make a serious movie about omelettes without cracking open a lot of eggs.
Assertion: Gibson's insistence to release the movie in Latin and Aramaic (with English subtitles) was doomed to be a gimmick, at best, and anathema to moviegoers, at worst.
Truth as I see it: If there's one thing that Mel deserves credit for, it's his confidence with this issue. Having the actors speak in the appropriate languages elevates the movie in a massive way. Choosing to use the English language with stagy accents could have sunk this movie into King David territory. Yeah, that hilarious Richard Gere flick. And as far as moviegoers being turned off by having to "read" their movie, the early box office tallies clearly tell a different tale.
Assertion: That Mel Gibson's father is a certifiable nut-job.
Truth as I see it: Hmm. No argument here.
So after all is said and done, putting aside all the pre-release hoopla and opening-day to-do and all the ADL hand-wringing and the claims of irresponsible storytelling... Ignoring for a second the subject matter and its source material and all the 'baggage' that came attached to Gibson's project...
This is a damn fine movie. I chose to approach the movie as if I knew nothing about the New Testament (which was fairly easy, in that I truthfully know next to nothing about the New Testament aside from what movies and popular culture have instilled in me) and was watching a story of complete fiction.
The result was two straight hours in which I was virtually hypnotized by the events onscreen. Judged solely as a "MOVIE", I have no problem whatsoever in giving The Passion of the Christ my firm recommendation. Bible studies aren't my thing, but one thing I'm an expert on is the fine art of film. And Gibson's latest is a fine one indeed.
Unless you've been living under a mountain for the last six months, you already know that The Passion of the Christ is the story of Jesus' last half-day on Earth. It begins with his capture by Roman troops, follows through the rather circuitous path to his death sentence, and finishes with his crucifixion at the hands of Roman soldiers. (Sorry for giving away the ending.)
If there's one thing that trips the movie up, it's the simple fact that moviegoers relatively unfamiliar with the story of Jesus may find themselves a bit confused. Mel Gibson is essentially adapting a literary work for the screen, and it's not exactly fair to assume an audience knows the backstory before the movie even starts. This goes for any adaptation, be it William Shakespeare, Stephen King, or The Bible. The few flashback moments that give us a window into Jesus' more peaceful times, though excellent scenes all (save one*), serve to make the uninitiated wish there just a bit more of the Early Days. Perhaps this is an unfair criticism, since this is a movie about Jesus' final day, but a few more doses of the man's place in his community, his relationships, his sermons, etc., could have gone a long way. At least for this one Jewish guy, anyway.
*One sequence in which Jesus seemingly invents the world's first dining room table almost seems like something brought in from Saturday Night Live. It's one of the very few missteps that Gibson makes, but it's one that jarred me right out of the movie and even forced a little chuckle from my throat.
Since I was intent on being completely fair to the film going in (remember, I was informed numerous times that this movie "dislikes Jews"), one of my main goals was to focus on the 'tech aspects' of the thing. Judged solely on those merits, The Passion of the Christ earns high marks across the board. The cinematography (by the brilliant Caleb Deschanel) is nothing short of phenomenal, John Debney's musical score is hauntingly effective, and (forgive me if this sounds tacky) the makeup and effects work, used to display the depths of Jesus' physical suffering, are simply astonishing.
I can see why devout Christians would come away from this movie stunned and appreciative. Love the movie or hate it, you simply cannot dismiss Gibson's project as something done capriciously or with big, fat dollar signs in mind. This is a big and ballsy and daring experience, and Mel Gibson deserves all the praise in the world for taking a huge chance to make the movie he wanted to make. He may not have made it for me specifically, but I'm suitably impressed nonetheless. The film is very powerful, more than a little heart-wrenching, gorgeous to look at, and fascinating to contemplate. All issues of religion aside, those components generally result in a film worth seeing.One of the biggest compliments you can give a film is that it "starts people talking". If the best thing "The Passion of the Christ" yields is a new flurry of open-minded discussion between people of varying religions, I challenge you to tell me that's a bad thing.
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originally posted: 02/27/04 20:15:38