A review of “The Passion of the Christ” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: R for extreme and graphic violence. In Latin and Aramaic with English subtitles

Run Time: 2 hours, 7 minutes

 

 

One of the beauties of living in a democracy is the freedom – with enough cash and connections – to lay yourself bare on film for all the world to see.  Mel Gibson has the clout to subject himself to universal ridicule for splaying his megalomaniacal faith onscreen; crafting a mediocre movie to boot.

Gibson’s religious fervor is evident in every frame.  Saturated with vengeance, betrayal, and melodrama, his sadistic take on Jesus’ final twelve hours screams bloody murder.  Jesus died for our sins, a significance shoved down the ubiquitous throat a la a merciless, calculating, carnage-soaked massacre.

As a narrative piece, the film is heavy-handed and obtuse. Romans and Jews in a mélange of violated beliefs and indignities, lacking character arc and depth.  Granted it’s a timeless Biblical tale, but what of those viewers with little to no religious scholarship?

Performances range from over-the-top to downright drenched in humanity.  Jim Caviezel as the uber-abused Savior is eerily convincing and a little to the left of fanatical.  Best of show goes to Maia Morgenstern as Mary, whose maternal anguish is palpable, and Hristo Naumov Shopov as the helplessly conflicted Pontius Pilate. Film’s most powerful non-violent moments belong to Satan (Rosalinda Celentano), an unearthly cloaked being who haunts the fringes of a multitude of tumultuous acts. Caleb Deschanel’s cinematography is a thing of baroque-like beauty when the camera is turned on the film’s ferocious misdeeds.

Passion’s violence is staggering -- relentless and gratuitous and pure NC-17.  How many palms were greased to obtain an R-rating? Jesus’ vicious beating at the hands of Roman soldiers is unnecessarily lengthy and immorally bloody, a passion play of unrelenting pain and torment.  As for His maximum suffering – tell me something I don’t already know.

The film positively reeks of symbolism; vigorous and manipulative. Gibson’s own hand “stars” as the emblematic cross-nailer, a starkly personal statement of power and principle.

Back to that freedom of democracy. What kind of culture deems it appropriate to tout cinematic religious bloodletting, but allows Janet Jackson’s simple bare breast to become a national cause célèbre?