Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Normally, I’d put a spoiler warning here, but I doubt that there are many people that don’t know how the movie will end. Even those, like myself, that haven’t read the Bible know that Jesus was crucified. Everyone knows that this movie is about the last hours of the life of Jesus, so it should come as no surprise that he’s crucified at the end of the movie.

Before the movie came out, I had heard a lot about this movie. Mel Gibson really wanted to make a movie about the Jesus’ final hours. Gibson really wanted to make something that was inspirational and accurate. When it opened in theaters, those that had seen it fell into two groups. One group felt that the movie was inspirational and accurate and were moved by the movie. The second group felt that it was anti-Semitic and unfairly portrayed the Jews. This is why I decided to wait until the movie came out on DVD to see it. I couldn’t see myself sitting in a theater full of people that were driven either to tears or rage. I didn’t want to put myself in the middle of that.

Now that I’ve seen it, I can’t say that I really see what the big deal is. I’m not religious. I’d classify myself somewhere between atheist and agnostic. You might be asking why I saw the movie if I feel this way. Feeling as I do is no excuse not to see the movie. I figured that since I have Netflix, which is a video rental service paid for by the month, I might as well watch it and see for myself what the big deal was. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I can’t say that I fit into either of the two groups that I mentioned before.

The people most likely to be moved by the movie are those that identify with Christianity. This isn’t to say that a non-Christian can’t take something away from it. However, I don’t really understand much of the mythology. I did find certain aspects of the movie to be confusing. There were a lot of unnamed characters that would be recognizable to someone who’s read the bible. (The Devil is one example.)

However, there are many things that someone could take from this movie. There are several flashbacks in the movie, one of which involves Jesus telling his followers to love your enemies. I also feel that many of the scenes could deliver the same emotional impact regardless of religious beliefs or lack thereof. For instance, seeing Jesus accused, brought to Pilate and eventually tortured and crucified still had an impact on me, even if I didn’t interpret it the same way that a Christian might. Just because you’re not religious doesn’t mean that this movie holds no value for you.

I can understand not being interested in the movie, as well. This movie isn’t for everyone. There is a lot of violence and gore, which are both too much for children. The scenes where Jesus is being whipped leave nothing to the imagination. I also don’t think that children will be able to understand the movie, even if they are raised as Christians. This is a very complex and intense subject.

As for the anti-Semitic aspect, I didn’t get the impression that the claims had any merit. The major claim was that the Jews were shown as the ones wanting to crucify Jesus. Showing that in a major motion picture might incite or perpetuate hatred of Jews. I don’t think so. Instead of making Jews out to be villains, I felt that the villains happened to be Jewish.

Yes, I’m dealing with semantics, but bear with me. In the movie, the Jews want to crucify Jesus (who was a rabbi, mind you) for insisting that he’s the Son of God. According to Roman law, the Jews weren’t allowed to execute anyone, so they had to go to the local Roman official, Pontius Pilate, for permission. The official wanted no part of it and sent it to King Herod since it was really his jurisdiction. Herod wanted no part of it, either, so Jesus was set free. Jesus is sent back to Pilate, who is in a real bind. If he condemns Jesus to death, one part of the population will revolt. If he doesn’t, he’ll have another part of the population revolting and Caesar has made it clear that there are to be no uprisings. Pilate does the best thing he can, which is to punish Jesus, but not kill him.

It’s kind of like saying that when the guards beat Jesus, it’s an anti-police message because the guards beat him to within an inch of his life. It’s not only police brutality, but it’s also state-sanctioned police brutality. You could just as well say that it’s calling the government prejudiced because Pilate is willing to let the guards attack Jesus. You could also say that it’s calling the government apathetic because both Pilate and Herod want no part of it. Since this is taken from the Bible, you might as well call the New Testament anti-Semitic, as well. I just don’t see it.

Now I have to decide if I’d recommend the movie. This is one of the few movies that I can’t give a definite yes or no and is case in point for why I don’t like the fact that I’m required to give a yes or a no as to recommending the movie to a friend. Ultimately, I think faith is going to be the compelling factor for most people. I can’t say that all Christians will want to see it or that all non-Christians won’t.

However, if a friend of mine was having trouble making up their mind, I’d tell my friend to see it. The movie was done well, even though I probably missed a great deal of it and I wasn’t really impressed by the special effects. Subtitles were a big plus. I wouldn’t have been able to watch more than five minutes without subtitles. However, if I had a friend that didn’t want to watch it, I wouldn’t try to get them to watch it. I know plenty of people that definitely wouldn’t like it, either because of the religious basis of the movie or because of the gore.

I personally give the movie three stars out of five. It was a good movie, but I didn’t think it was great. I don’t regret having seen the movie. I was curious about it and I figured that if I’m going to like or not like a movie, I should at least see it. As for whether or not you should see it, I leave that decision to you. 

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