Well, I finally saw Mel Gibson’s little movie, yesterday. Since everyone who’s been dying to see it surely has by now, I won’t bother with hiding my opinions behind the “spoiler” banner.
Bottom line: I must be the most jaded Christian in history, but I’m glad I saw it.
It wasn’t that the movie sucked, but I never got past the fact that it was a movie. The problem, I think, is that I was so hyped up about the stories of how violent it was that I didn’t get myself into the proper frame of mind before entering the theater. The Passion expects you to be wearing your empathy for Jesus (or at least for any human that would be so treated) on your sleeve. But I had myself into “it’s not real, it’s just a movie” mode and never got out of it.
The way the story was told didn’t help, either. You’re supposed to get all your backstory from the flashbacks that are interspersed throughout the film. But I wanted time to let Caviezel make me believe he was Jesus… to see how good he was and what a great message he had… to feel the love of his disciples, his mother, Mary Magdalene… to understand why the Pharisees hated him so… Yes, yes, yes, I know that stuff already, but like I said, I was in movie mode.
The one characterization that really worked well in this mode was between Jesus and his mother, Mary. Maia Morgenstern was excellent at displaying the suffering love of a mother, and there was one flashback in particular that choked me up. I also liked the transformation of Simon the Cyrene from an unwilling bearer of Christ’s cross to the heartfelt believer. That transformation is what I think the movie was trying to get at, and in later reflection it is probably the most enduring part of it for me.
Another thing I liked were the moments when a visual depiction hit home more effectively than the words in the Bible. Just reading “he died, and there was an earthquake” doesn’t have the same impact as seeing the skies darken and the ground shake. Made it more understandable why witnesses would have gone, “Whoa! What the hell did we do?”
I also appreciated the setting for the movie. Though not necessarily an historically accurate depiction of the events, at least there was an attempt at being a little less Eurocentric about it. The scenery had an authentic feel, and having it done in Aramaic and Latin was great. I’d love to see the entire life story of Jesus done this way. The subtitles did not distract me in the least.
Two things I did not like were the demon children chasing down Judas and the whole bit with Pilate’s wife, Claudia. The former seemed too “Twin Peaks” for my taste (even though I thought a similar treatment of Satan throughout the film was well done). The latter felt a bit like an Oxygen or Lifetime movie moment. And what was the bit about her handing the two Mary’s a white cloth to sop up the blood after the scourging? Did I miss something? Where did that come from?
Overall, I don’t see how the movie would win any converts to Christ. Without the rest of the story (and we see very little of the resurrection), a non-believer would be lost. Why are they doing this to him? What did he say that was so wrong? I know the story, but no thanks to Mel Gibson.