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Movie Review: The Passion

In Holidays on March 29, 2010 at 7:59 am

Foreword: one of the great things about having my blog is that I never get any rejection letters. My gentle readers are subjected to read anything I write, but also invited to participate in the conversation.

In 2004, I was working as our church youth director and I took a group of our teenagers to see The Passion when it first came out in the theater. I left shaking. I wrote the following review for several publications, but it was not accepted. However, I’m changing that today… Thank you for your indulgence!

I’ve just returned from seeing The Passion from Mel Gibson’s point of view. My first reaction how deeply the movie’s violence offended me. I do not question the authenticity of the way our Christ died, but I do question Mr. Gibson’s need to show and share it with the public.

Offended is not a strong enough word to describe my reaction. I was completely appalled. Nothing I read prior to the movie could have prepared me for the on-screen bloodbath and mutilation. Nothing. Disturbing and graphic were the strongest words I read prior to the movie. I had heard that the anti-Semitism had been toned down and indeed, I didn’t walk away from the movie with negative feelings toward Jewish people. More with negative feelings towards humanity in general.

I walked out of the movie shell-shocked and distraught. The movie is an excellent study of the power of mob mentality. Then and now. People line up to watch the crucifixion of our Lord and stand by aghast, but nobody truly speaks up. The argument that this is a Christian film about a true story does not hold water with me. It depicts stylized violence and a horrible bloody death. Theaters are filled night upon night as the box office receipts show a higher and higher profit. Christians are encouraged to go and see. Watch what happened. 2000 years ago executions were public entertainment and we assume society has evolved since then. Judging by the receipts, we have not. Much like a car wreck, we stare, both fascinated and repelled at the same time.

I tried to determine if this movie had redeeming value for my Christian faith. Would The Passion serve as a vehicle to bring more people into the faith or strengthen those of weak faith? I cannot help but think of Jesus’ words to Thomas (John 20: 29), “Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me!” I found very little in the film that would strengthen my faith or draw a non believer in. I didn’t need to see the blood dripping from His body, the holes in His hands, or the flesh ripped from His ribs to believe He suffered a horrible death.

I was saddened by how little of the film showed the three years of our Christ’s ministry and how little time was spent on His Resurrection. Instead, the movie focused on the punishment and crucifixion. The Roman soldiers excitedly took on their duty of torture, much like a fraternity hazing. The soldiers hit harder and harder, buoyed by their gleeful laughter as they ripped the flesh from the body of our Lord. I wonder if Mel could relate to these soldiers as he showed more and more graphic depictions. Was Mel caught up in the fraternity of filmmakers to compete for the title of most violent film? I read a review praising the film for following in the feet of the secular films the public has come to enjoy. Somehow, the Christian challenge to be in the world and not of it seems at odds with this film. Rather, it seems to pander to the public’s bloodthirsty tastes.

2000 years ago, Jesus’ friends and followers stood by, terrified to speak up, afraid to be a voice of reason or dissent. Pontius Pilate disowned the entire affair. As a faithful Christian, I will not sit by and watch, mute. I am upset and appalled. I will be a lone voice if necessary, begging people to stop filling the theaters. The tenet of my faith is that I believe even when I do not see. 

Below is a chart of the gross dollars the movie has generated

Opening day $26.6 Million

First weekend $83.3 Million

1st week total gross $125 Million

2nd week total gross $214 Million

3rd week total gross $264 Million

4th week total gross $295 Million

March 24, 2004 reaches $300 Million 

Judas gave back his 30 pieces of silver after he betrayed Jesus with a kiss. I can only wonder what Mel will do with his.

Afterword: In the six years since I wrote this, I’ve had opportunity to discuss the film with many other Christians. My personal opinion has not changed, but it was really quite a stark contrast to the opinion of the teenagers who went with me to the movie. They felt that The Passion really brought the sacrifice of Jesus to life. They also are desensitized to violence via television and video games most of their lives. I conclude that such a movie speaks differently to a different generation and if it helps grow their faith,  it has some redeeming value.

However, I stand by my original assessment, for myself.

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  1. I didn’t like the movie because it didn’t live up to its billing as being controversial, it lacked an in depth view into the psychological and emotional aspects of Jesus life—it certainly didn’t show his deep compassion and being human his empathy for humankind.

    Rather than spend all that time on the scourging, what about his moments of doubt and pain as he prayed so earnestly that he sweated blood. He obviously didn’t want to do what he knew was about to happen to him and why didn’t God answer his prayer?

    We are given the big picture and interpretation that he died to save the world, to save man from his sins—give the account of events in the garden of Gethsemane he was not a willing and eager participant in saving the world, never the less, thy will be done.

    If Mel had explored this concept more in depth then the film indeed would have been controversial but then visual graphics of violence is much easier to achieve and sells a lot more tickets.

    If he wanted to stir up the Jewish community he could have put forth the dichotomy between the Jewish God of the Old Testament Yahweh, the god of revenge and sacrifice and the God of forgiveness and love of the New Testament. It is like the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the last hurrah of this old god.

    He could have put forth the concept that Jesus didn’t die ‘for the sins’ of mankind but rather he was nailed to the cross ‘because of the sins’ of mankind and portrayed Christ as a threat to the structure and status quo of civilization.

    These concepts and themes would be extremely difficult to get across in a movie.

    All the controversy and anti-Semitism amounted to nothing more than prerelease hype, ala, PT Barnum and other great showmen.

    Mel Gibson is a shallow minded sensationalist who knows how to make money at the box office and that is about “The Passion” was a shallow graphically sensationalized box office success.

    Given some of the drunken forays and divorce of Mel after the movie I am reminded of a quote from William Burroughs, “Christ said, ‘Ye shall know them by their works,’ not their disclaimers.”

  2. I am glad to read your opinion on the film, Kim, since I did not go see it. I decided at the time that I already knew the story well and would not benefit spiritually by recounting the bloody details. I, for one, prefer the empty cross of the resurrected Christ. His birth, life, ministry, and ultimately death were carried out in the meanest of circumstances to show “us” the way. Namely, that through him death, as we knew it then, has no power over us and that life is indeed eternal.

    Crump, your opinion after seeing the movie confirms my own reasons for not seeing it and I appreciate your input. With regard to your query not explored by Gibson, “…why didn’t God answer his prayer?”, I believe God did answer Jesus’ prayer. I also believe his weakness was just like our weakness precisely because he was, at the same time, Son of Man and Son of God. In so many ways he was just like us and therein is the beauty of his story.

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