Depicting the last twelve hours in the life of Jesus Christ, Mel Gibson’s unrelenting religious drama pulls no punches on the brutality scale. Though that does offer hope, if you can get make your way through the startling brutality depicted. All in all, The Passion of the Christ emerges as a truly powerful and emotion churning film.
We begin in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus(Jim Caviezel) knows he will be betrayed . Judas( Luca Lionello), one of his trusted disciples, betrays Jesus for pieces of silver and leads them to where the master he followed is . Arrested, Jesus is accosted by priests and faces the temptation of Satan. Watching are his disciples, plus his mother Mary(Maia Morgenstern) and Mary Magdalene(Monica Bellucci), who are devastated by the proceedings that follow. As the hours pass by, it’s an emotional rollercoaster for all involved. From being taken to the conflicted governor Pontius Pilate(Hristo Shopov) to his scourging by soldiers, Jesus is put through sickening abuse and soul shaking cruelty. Despite being tortured and mocked, Jesus remains as resolute as he can in his conviction of his purpose to be the saviour of the people. As his torture continues, Jesus eventually carries the cross to his place of death as jeering crowds and devastated followers continue with him. The hope of resurrection comes in a soulful conclusion with the ascension of the Messiah.
Mel Gibson directs with real conviction and pardon the pun, passion. He’s created a film that doesn’t sugarcoat or simplify the last twelves of Jesus Christ’s life . I’ve found that often in religious movies depicting Christ, the brutality and hardship of his last hours is watered down and over rather quickly . And while many of those movies are fantastically made and crafted, The Passion of the Christ is a different movie altogether. Gibson crafts a truly harrowing experience that both rewards and scars. The decision to have the film be in Aramaic, with also bits in Latin and Hebrew, is an interesting one that I think pays off because it makes things feel realistic and immediate. Now I’ve read that there are those who view as anti-Semitic because the main people wanting Jesus put to death are Jewish priests. While I can understand where the accusation is coming from , though I don’t believe that the film itself is anti-semitic . It rather shows how there is sin and darkness on either side of things and how man can often be cruel and shockingly vicious towards others . The scenes of vicious brutality are intercut with flashback from Christ’s past, including the Last Supper and rescuing Mary Magdalene from the street. These scenes are bathed in a beautiful glow which counteracts the almost muted colour palette of the early passages, followed by glaring brightness as the journey towards crucifixion comes into motion. All of this is strikingly shot and realised by the talented cinematography Caleb Deschanel . His work is stark yet strangely beautiful; reminiscent of old fashioned painting and artwork. Among the savagery on show, the cinematography holds moments of soulful grace. The focus on eyes throughout is arresting in a very visual sense and in between the often harrowing images depicted, translates a lot of emotion to the audience. Sound editing makes every moment of brutality stand out, particularly the sound of the whip that cuts in the back of Jesus and into the ears of the audience. A truly haunting score from John Debney heightens all the emotions displayed in a way that is truly hypnotic, dark and yet stirring as it unfolds. For many viewers, the level of brutality, violence and general intensity will prove too much for them. And it is true that The Passion of the Christ is a test of endurance on both the emotions and the stomach. Some parts of it due feel like overkill, like a beating that refuses to end. But I believe that’s the main point of the movie and that by refusing to shy away from the brutality, it is attempting to bring a level of reality to the story which is often eschewed for something nicer.
Jim Caviezel is truly astounding as Jesus Christ in what is obviously an immensely challenging role. Caviezel finds the core of strength that comes through when experiencing startling torture. His soulful expression, underneath viciously inflicted wounds, brings volumes of depth and beatific humanity to Christ. Put through the emotional and physical mill, Caviezel is on hand to deliver a performance that says so much and is filled with deep reverence and dignity throughout. Maia Morgenstern is sublime as Mary, the mother of Christ who is seen throughout the movie enduring every parent’s worst nightmare. What this woman conveys with her eye is simply extraordinary; you feel every emotion goes through her and is expressed on her marvellous and nuanced face. My hats off to the immensely talented and totally believable Maia Morgenstern. The same can be said of Monica Bellucci, who doesn’t have a lot of dialogue but whose face speaks more than reams of dialogue ever could. Both women are truly superb as the important women in the life of Jesus. They both must watch with mournful, expressive eyes, the man they care about go through immense pain in order to save people from their sins. And they truly deliver work that like that of Caviezel, burns itself into the memory for its power. Hristo Shopov, who possesses a palpably haunted and weary aura, plays Pilate as a man who is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t . The burden weighs heavy on him and Shopov plays this convincingly and authenticity .Rosalinda Celentano appears in the brief but important role of Satan. With her piercing visage and unnerving aura, she’s a memorable part of The Passion of the Christ and pretty unforgettable. Luca Lionello appears as the traitorous Judas, who soon feels the immense guilt and feeling of disgust that comes with betraying someone who trusted you. Lionello embodies when he’s on screen this feeling of self-hatred and regret as demons swell around him.
At the end of the day, The Passion of the Christ is both a soul shaking and powerful movie. It’s not for the faint of heart and I wholeheartedly mean that , but if you have the stomach, it’s an unforgettable experience.