Passion of the Christ”
New Market Films
Directed by Mel Gibson
Written by Mel Gibson and Benedict Fitzgerald
Produced by Bruce Davey, Mel Gibson and Stephen McEveety
Starring James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica
Bellucci, Hristo Shopov, Mattia Sbragia, Luca Lionello,
Claudia Gerini, Francesco Cabras, Rosalinda Celentano
(out of four)
Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” is
one of the few films that really delves into the
suffering that Jesus endured, according to Christian
faith, in order to absolve humankind of its sins.
This isn’t the standard Sunday-school lesson,
but a depiction of the struggle and the suffering
of a man with great responsibility and the different
levels of humanity he encounters. The teachings are
not the focus of this film— it’s about
the pain humankind inflicted on him.
Gibson, a Traditionalist Catholic, made the film
with his own money as a love letter to his faith,
and has created a film of extreme emotional power
that will no doubt heavily affect fellow members
of his faith. It’s also superbly crafted, with
interesting editing techniques and beautiful, muted
colors from cinematographer Caleb Deschanel.
It will, however, also shock many people. James Caviezel’s
portrayal of Jesus isn’t the clean-cut one
people are used to seeing. Much of the film is devoted
to the cruel torture of Roman centurions and the
blood-covered savior’s march to the cross.
Brief flashbacks to the teachings of Jesus serve
as powerful punctuation, but won’t fulfill
the hopes of people looking for a Sunday-school lesson.
Gibson depicts all the stations of the cross in the
half-hour march to Golgotha. It’s bloody and
devastating as the weak Jesus struggles to make it
to the cross after merciless Romans almost beat him
The goal is to historically recreate the events as
they might have occurred, including the lashings
that peel off the skin. Gibson’s historical
details are so strong that the characters speak only
in Aramaic and Latin (with subtitles, although Gibson
originally planned not to use subtitles).
While Gibson culled his story from several scriptural
sources, including those not in the Bible, the story
itself comes from the standard passion story, and
any additional material seems to be in details. The
film begins after the Last Supper, as Jesus shakes
and sweats in the garden of Gethsemane while a manifestation
of Satan (Rosalinda Celentano) tempts him to leave
because the sins of humankind are too much for one
man to suffer. Then the disciple Judas betrays Jesus
to the Jewish priesthood, many members of which want
to get rid of Jesus, although there are also detractors.
The high priest Caiaphas (Mattia Spragia) takes Jesus
to Roman governor Pontius Pilate (Hristo Shopov)
to have him crucified.
Much has been made of whether or not the film is
slanted against the Jewish faith, an issue that shouldn’t
even need to be discussed. As a member of neither
the film’s faith nor Judaism, I find the charges
unfounded. The key point of Christian doctrine is
that Jesus willfully died for the sins of humankind.
The Romans and the Jews were the ones present, so
they killed Jesus and, logically, might be thought
of as heroes. Anyone who cites the Bible or this
film as a reason to hate Jewish people is simply
looking for an excuse to be prejudiced. Members of
the same group of people who accept the teachings
of Jesus also rally for his crucifixion.
Jesus endures most of his suffering from sadistic
Roman guards, and most of his friends and sympathizers
are Jewish, including Simon of Cyrene (Jarreth Merz),
a Jew whom guards force to help Jesus carry the cross
and who then defends Jesus against the cruel Romans.
Simon doesn’t appear in all four of the gospels,
and Gibson could have left him out if he wanted to
make Jews look bad.
If anything, Caiaphas comes off as a simpler, flatter
character due to the publicized cuts of lines from
the scriptures that bigots have used as an excuse
to hate Jewish people.
Pilate does his best to bureaucratically move Jesus
out of his responsibility because his wife doesn’t
want to see him crucified and the angry mob does.
Pilate doesn’t want to have the political responsibilities
of the decision to kill Jesus or let him live, and
Jesus freely gives him an excuse to let him die.
Pilate, as sleazy politicians often do in touchy
situations, attempts to wash his hands of the matter.
The real point of the film isn’t so simple
as to communicate a hatred of Jews. Gibson shows
the full spectrum of humanity that Christ, being
both fully human and fully divine, chose to save
through great personal pain. Some are bad, some are
good, most lie somewhere in between. “The Passion
of the Christ” is the story of a man who chose
to forgive them despite the amazing amount of suffering
they inflicted on him.