Thursday, 13 April 2006


With Easter the time when a ratings-truce is called among the networks and a chance to screen of some clunky, old fashioned bearded Jesus' monologues in a dusty Judean back-lot, this year (amongst the new Moses mini-series) is the screening of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (Sun 7 1030P).
While all films that use religion as their subject draw fire from one corner or another, and this one no exception, I think The Passion is a really good film, one that I own a copy of and one that I recommend to others to watch.
A lot was made of its Catholicism (Gibson is a "serious" Catholic), violence and anti-Semitism but I think all three of those issues are either not true or non-issues and the message it sends is far more powerful; it goes above and beyond the small-mindedness of some of its critics.
I have seen plenty of films that I would regard as more violent and more bloody (Saving Private Ryan or Seven to name just two, both equally well made and confronting) however The Passion is a brutal movie. It is the Romans (and not the Jews) that attract your ire because they are relentless in their brutality. And they know it. And they don't care.
The film's basis in the Catholic faith does not detract from the viewing experience for me (even though it adds to the "story behind the story" for those interested). What The Passion does, in my opinion, is give you a very real account of what Jesus went through and reinforces why it is a big deal. For the christian, Jesus death is more than just an historic incident or religious anomaly, it is the very core of their faith. Jesus, as God's son (and in reality God himself {as part of the trinity}) was killed so that God could have the perfect sacrifice for mankind's sinfulness (the separation from God). Jesus coming back to life (on Sunday, the "third day") demonstrates God's power over death and allows believers, through their living saviour, to be in relationship with God.
What this film presents is what Jesus (also God) went through to redeem mankind back to himself. The beatings, the humiliation, the accusations, the death. It was a big deal. When I watched this I found that I could not separate my own belief (as a christian) from an objective movie watching experience. I identified with the character on screen and this reinforced my faith. It furthers my contention that this film was in fact made for a christian audience as there is every chance that non-christians will either not relate to the story or see the point in the journey taken. Certainly there were enough non-christian film critics who did not like the film one bit. Was this objective criticism of the film itself or as much a criticism of the faith shown on screen ? Hard to say. Like all things one must (often) make up their own mind.
The story starts in the garden of Gethsemane. It is here that Jesus prays quietly before dawn, aware of what lies before him but receives little comfort. His mates are sleeping nearby, offering no moral nor spiritual support. The tranquillity of the early morning is a strong and slow counterpoint to the bright sunshine and loud noise that overtakes the story later on. It is here that Jesus meets Satan, a fallen angel who is no way equal to Jesus but capable of menace and also looking to win men's souls. Here he tempts Jesus to give it away however he does not realise God's master plan (of death and re-birth) which will once and for all thwart the devil's power. Satan re-appears at different times in the movie, always at a slight distance, always quietly watching the events as they unfold and always amidst the trouble. At the end of the Gethsemane sequence, just before the guards come to arrest Jesus, Satan turns into a snake and Jesus crushes his head with his heal. This highlights so many biblical truths that it is not possible to elucidate them now however here is one little verse from the very start of the biblical timeline. Gen 3:15
In addition to acting out Jesus' last 12 hours, the film has three or four flashbacks which are the only concession Gibson makes to contextualising Jesus' earthly ministry. As I am very familiar with the bible's teachings on Jesus life, I found the flashbacks enough to tie in what has happened up to this point with why he is enduring these punishments. There is one flashback that occurs just as Jesus is being nailed to the cross where (I think, I haven't seen it in twelve months) this image segues with Jesus explaining why he came to earth and why he must die - that is, to save mankind and redeem them to God. This is the power of the movie and why I highly recommend it.

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