Making the Grades
If there was a vote for the most difficult historical figure to recreate in drama, Jesus Christ must be at the top of the list. After all, is there any other figure in history that so many people claim to have a personal relationship with? Or, is there any one person who is held in more contempt? His named is called out as the one who is responsible for everything from wars to the injury of one's thumb by a hammer. For many, Jesus Christ is nothing more than a blurted expletive. But for even more, He is their Savior.
Obviously, for Mel Gibson, Jesus is revered, although I must admit that previous to the tremendous buzz generated by this movie, I had no idea Gibson's religious values were this focused. Yet, from his back pocket, he has placed $25 million on the table to tell the world who Jesus is. Or at least, who Jesus is from Gibson's perspective.
James Caviezel is the man whom the director determined to have the ?penetrating eyes and transparent expressions [able] to convey the essence of love and compassion in utter silence? -- traits Gibson felt were essential in his representation of Deity.
In every moment on screen, this little-known actor lives up to this measure. It's only unfortunate the script, which is spoken in Amharic and Latin with English subtitles, doesn't allow more time for the audience to appreciate his portrayal of Christ in less intense circumstances. Gibson has chosen to open the film with the Savior's atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane. From there, we move through to the judgments of Caiphas (Mattia Sbragia), Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov), Herod, and back to Pilate who dismisses the matter into the hands of the Jewish leaders and, as portrayed in this film, the bloodthirsty Roman soldiers.
In fact, the Romans should temper the many accusations of anti-Semitism that have been targeted toward this film. While the Jewish leaders are certainly his accusers, Caesar's men are eager and revel in the process and fulfillment of Christ's scourging and execution. The myriad of scenes depicting bloody torture, tearing flesh, and punctured hands and feet, are some of the most brutal film moments I've seen. The intensity is increased when all of this torment is directed to one individual.
A tremendous artistic achievement, Gibson uses a variety of techniques to help us connect with his central character. The arduous journey from the garden to Golgotha is interrupted occasionally with flashbacks from Christ's three-year ministry. These moments provide a much-needed respite from the intense anguish that flows from the screen for the majority of this movie. The musical score and careful use of lighting further enhance the mood and tone, as does the inclusion of an androgynous Satan (a bald woman plays the role with a male voice).
But is this a film to for the entire family? As a believer, I felt a powerful personal connection with the on-screen images. However, I would not want my youngest pre-teen children to see the film. Just as I could understand the horrors of war prior to seeing Saving Private Ryan, it's not necessary to subject yourself to one man's visual interpretation of the Bible in order to fully appreciate or be worthy of Christ's sacrifice.
I make this comment because this column is for the purpose of helping parents know what films are appropriate for their children. Obviously, it is up to you to determine if this or any other film merits being embedded into the young minds you are responsible for. But make this decision carefully. Remember, this is just a movie. It's a finely produced movie, but it's no replacement for the book upon which it's based. Your children's personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not dependent on their viewing of this or any other film. And for all the positive potential this movie holds, it may have the opposite effect on a young mind not yet ready for its visual intensity.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Passion of the Christ.
How do artistic depictions of Christian or other religious figures differ from your own? Do you think artistic interpretation enhances or detracts from the spiritual nature of the depicted people or circumstances?