The Passion of the Christ
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The Passion of the Christ



No matter what you religious beliefs may be it has to be admitted that one of the most influential people in history was Jesus Christ. To many he is the son of God for others he is part of the triune godhead as the Son of God. There are some that may look at him as the last of the great Hebrew prophets. No matter where you happen to stand on the actually identity Jesus has altered the direction of the world like no other man has ever done. Even those that are not Christian know how he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death by impalement or crucifixion. Through this great suffering he was to liberate mankind from sin and provide a means of forgiveness. For many centuries the events of his trial, suffering and death were presented by the church in productions referred to as passion plays. Since they were typically in Latin the use of passion here doesn’t refer to the denotation it holds today but to suffering and pain. In most nations were Christianity is a popular form of religion passion plays continue to be presented; typically and naturally enough around Easter. While the main focus is on the amount of pain that Jesus endured on behalf of the world most passion plays are rather tame.

Passion Plays have been presented in many films over the last century and were at one time a fairly popular theme for a religious movie. In 1988 Martin Scorsese created a movie ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ which showed a more human version of Jesus that most audience members were used to. This created such a furor that many protested the film and the major studios moved away from most depictions of Jesus on screen to avoid controversy. All that changed in 2004 then actor turned director Mel Gibson took on the subject with his film ‘The Passion of the Christ’. Instead of trying to skirt controversy Gibson welcomed it through many unusual aspects to the production. This would become the subject of heated debates; embraced by some religious groups and protested by others. In most cases it is best to consider a film on its cinematic merits and how well it achieves the goals set out by the film maker. In a case like this it is almost impossible to dissociate completely from the feelings that you have about Jesus Christ and the role he plays in your fundamental faith. This had to be part of Gibson’s intent; for each member of the audience to filter the events as shown through their beliefs. There have been several home theater releases of this film over the years. In 2004 the regular DVD edition was released followed in 2007 with an extra laden DVD edition. The latest incarnation of the film is the current Blu-ray version once again distributed by 20th Century Fox.

Many actors want to direct by few have been able to do so with the panache of Mel Gibson. He scored wins for best picture and best director with his second film behind the camera, ‘Braveheart’ in 1995. ‘Passion’ was his third film and it took him nine years to pull this together. He might not have a lot of films in his directorial shelf but it is because the man obviously throws himself into his creations. After the unofficial ban on religious films that followed ‘Last Temptation’ it had to be an uphill battle to get this film the all important green light but Gibson, as a devote Roman Catholic felt a driving need to make sure this story was told in this particular fashion. Co-authoring the script with Gibson was Benedict Fitzgerald. Most of his prior experience was in made for television movies including remakes of a couple of classics; ‘In Cold Blood’ and ‘Moby Dick’. This was the first time that Gibson provided a script for a film and all things considering did extremely well in the endeavor. The first thing that became controversial for the film was the choice of language. The entire dialogue was done in ancient Latin and Aramaic. Gibson has stated that initially he wanted the film to be presented without subtitles in the local languages. This would have made the film completely unmarketable and would have defeated the intent of bringing this story to the public. Many films are distributed with sub titles so this was not as unusual as many would imply. The next hurdle was the charges of that the film was anti-Semitic. The circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus were often used to foster anti-Semitic feelings but Gibson has openly stated that this was not in intent. Lastly there is the violence. This is without a doubt the most brutal and violent mainstream movie ever made. The majority of the film is devoted to the unbelievable torture that the scriptural account provides about the last hours of Jesus’ life. Some have counted that this has reinforced their faith by graphically showing the amount of suffering that he took on to free us from sin. It is impossible not to be deeply moved watching this film. While the degree of violence and suffering is far beyond anything ever shown it has an underlying purpose and is completely integral to the story.

Gibson did a fair amount of embellishment of the traditional story as most people know it. Judas Iscariot, the betrayer of Jesus is shown tormented by demons on the form of children prior to his suicide. This does provide a visual representation of what was going on in the mind of Judas; something that many have conjectured about over the years. Then there is the scene in the garden of Gethsemane where the Biblical account shows Jesus in deep meditation and prayer prior to his last day on earth. In this variation Gibson has him directly confronting the devil and crushing the head of a serpent under his heel. This is a visual fulfillment of what was written in Genesis 3:15. Also included here is more on the political situation of Pontius Pilate. As a Roman governor he was subject to the Emperor but removed far away from the inner workings of Rome. He is seen as a politician trying his best to keep the local leaders appeased so as not to degrade his own position with Rome. While Gibson received a lot of criticism for changes in one of the most well known scriptural events there is a rational reason for their inclusion. With the dialogue in a strange language and the audience forced to read the subtitles it was important for Gibson to include visual elements to reinforce the message that Gibson wanted to get across to the audience. It also offers some relief for the audience from the constant blood shed and suffering that are vital to the film.

This is a brutal film and extremely difficult to watch. It is also considered to be the most controversial movie of our time. With that said it is a highly personal film from Gibson and even if your faith does not include the events shown here this is an important film. The Blu-ray version of the film seems even more graphic that ever. The 1080p video is brilliantly done but some may find the realism portrayed by the high definition to be too much to take. This is the Blu-ray version of the definitive DVD edition and includes all the extras presented on that release.

Posted 02/18/09

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