Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ is about the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ (Jim Caviezel). The film begins as Judas Iscariot (Luca Lionello), one of the Twelve Apostles betrays Jesus. Accused of heresy and crimes, Jesus is beaten and then taken to Pontius Pilate (Hristo Shopov). Pilate is presented no evidence of any crimes committed and says any decision has to be made by King Herod (Luca De Dominicis). When Herod sees no reason for punishment either, Jesus is taken back to Pilate.
The crowds grow angry and restless, so Pilate orders Jesus to be scourged. And scourged he is. He takes a vicious thrashing at the hands of Roman soldiers, a sequence that lasts quite a while and garners the film's R rating. At first, Jesus is beaten and bloodied with sticks. When he stands up defiantly, the soldiers get out the cat o' nine tails and whip him unmercifully, reveling in the punishment that they dish out. Through the make-up department's excellent work, the audience sees and believes the lacerations and huge pieces of flesh ripped from his body. The scourge went on for so long and was so graphic that I felt like I was watching Kill Jesus, Vol.1. Jesus is then brought out before the people and to Pilate's amazement they still want him crucified. Pilate offers his yearly amnesty to one prisoner of the people's choice, but the multitude chooses the convicted murderer Barabbas (Pedro Sarubbi). To satiate the crowd's blood lust, Pilate orders Jesus to be crucified.
As Jesus carries his cross to Golgotha, soldiers beat him along the way and the crowds throw things at him. He is very weak and stumbles repeatedly. Simon (Jarreth Merz) is pulled out of the crowd and assists Jesus in carrying the cross. Jesus falls down a number of times along the way and is then nailed to the cross. He asks why God has forsaken him then later asks God's forgiveness of the people because they don't know what they're doing. When Jesus dies, there is an earthquake. He is brought down off the cross and we cut to three days later as he walks out of his tomb.
The Passion of The Christ does an adequate job telling the story of Christ's crucifixion. It's not spectacular, but it's not awful either. It's a hard film to review because so many people will probably have some bias before they see it. If you want to see it, go ahead, but you need to know the story beforehand because there's not much in the way of exposition, and make sure you can stomach graphic violence. If you have no interest, you're not missing anything. It certainly isn't Must-See Good Friday.
The film is shot well; with the paintings of Caravaggio as a reference, cinematographer Caleb Deschanel's use of light and shadow create very good compositions. The structure of the script is interesting and unique; however, by just showing the last 12 hours there isn't much character development. I don't know why I'm supposed to care about Jesus. He unjustly takes a beating, but so did Reginald Denny. He too forgave his assailants, but I don't hear of people worshipping him.
It's not until late in the film that we start to hear Jesus' message. Throughout, we get flashbacks of Jesus, which give some background to the story, but certainly not enough to explain why Caiphas, the rest of the Pharisees, and the majority of Jewish people on screen have such a rabid desire for Jesus' death. The flashbacks also fail to show us who Jesus is. They don't last long enough to present us with any detail. We get a glimpse of Jesus telling Peter that he will deny Jesus three times, then a brief moment where Jesus tells people to love their enemy. Unfortunately, the sum total of information from the flashbacks isn't enough to establish Jesus' character. He is a whipping boy and not much else.
Pilate's characterization isn't believable. He comes off as very weak and easy to manipulate by the Pharisees, as if he was playing Colonel Klink in a biblical Hogan's Heroes. To work his way through the ranks of the Roman army to the point where he would be entrusted to rule over a city, he would need to be stronger and more decisive. He couldn't expect to stay in charge by allowing this mob rule to take place. Why would the people listen to him in the future?
When you go to religious movies, you have to understand that the plot is locked in and believers don't care if it doesn't make any sense. They have faith, but for the rest of us, movies require more than that. The burden is on the filmmakers to make the story work. As I watched the film, I sat wondering about things that made no sense to me. Is this the best plan God could come up with? If Judas has to betray Jesus in order for the events to proceed, then isn't he just as heroic since he too gives his life so the prophecy can come true?
I'm not sure why the focus of the film is on the violence with no reference to the spirituality of the story. I don't understand Mel's point in brushing over Jesus' message, choosing to illustrate the savagery. If you look at the majority of art throughout time, it's hard to find anything showing a similar amount of punishment. Yes, Jesus suffered, but am I supposed to feel guilty? He was supposed to die according to prophecy, was he not? If that was God's plan, shouldn't Christians be glad about what transpired? Are Christians supposed to feel they aren't living up to their commitment to Christ when they see what Jesus endured? You probably need to have a serious relationship with Christ to get any meaning out of this film, and since he and I are just passing acquaintances, I had no epiphanies. Like most things religious, I found the film presented more questions than answers.