The Passion of the Christ Review
By Joe Lozito
Heaven and Mel
For a filmmaker who wants to create an adaptation of the story of Jesus, Mel Gibson's motives seem ironically impure. Comparisons to "The Last Temptation of Christ" aside, Mr. Gibson's vision of the last twelve, bloody hours of Christ's life, "The Passion of the Christ", is so literal and obvious that he appears to be sermonizing more than directing. The lack of subtly extends to the characters as well, for example when Peter, after his hat trick of denials, locks eyes with Jesus, the Messiah's face can only be described as saying "I told you so". Somehow, I never imagined Jesus rubbing an apostle's face in his sin. Or maybe that's just Mr. Gibson's point-of-view shining through.
Sadly, there is a great opportunity missed here. Mr. Gibson is a gifted, intuitive filmmaker. Visually, there are some stunning moments in the film, not the least of which being a raindrop's-eye-view of the Crucifixion. I have no problem with a literal adaptation of the bible, but Mr. Gibson and co-screenwriter Benedict Fitzgerald add blood but little insight to the proceedings and, in fact, make the original Book required reading; very little of the early life of Jesus and his teachings enter into the film. The writers play around a little with Judas' road to suicide and the appearance of an androgynous Satan (Rosalinda Celentano, looking like a lost member of "Frankie Goes to Hollywood"), but other than that, they're content to follow the Stages of the Cross in all their gory detail.
Since Mr. Gibson chose to concentrate on the last twelve hours of His life, Jesus, played admirably by Jim Caviezel, spends the entire film bloodied and beaten, almost beyond recognition. He has no character; he's a symbol - which might be what Mr. Gibson intended. However, unless you're already a devout Christian, you have little invested in the Savior as Whipping Post.
The Roman soldiers and the Jewish angry mob (as they're depicted here) are such cardboard villains that they hold no weight. It's hard to believe anyone at any time would continually laugh and grin goofily as they scourge a man almost to death. It would be so much more interesting to see some human conflict in this story. As Mary and Magdalene, Maia Morgenstern and Monica Bellucci have the unenviable task of following Jesus through his stages of torture and continually weeping for him.
The actors are certainly to be commended, not only for keeping a straight face through some well-parodied terrain, but also for the feat of speaking the entire film in Latin and Aramaic. I'm not sure if the use of the language is a gimmick or if it actually adds something to film, but I am definitely happy not to hear the faux British inflection that typically plagues biblical epics.
Perhaps most ironically, the only character who retains a hint of empathy is Pontius Pilate, played with the furrowed brow of a put-upon employee by Hristo Shopov. The scenes between Pilate and his made-up wife, Claudia, offer a view of the film that could have been. A film without such obvious good and evil. One that might have given the audience more to think about than "wow, that Mel Gibson sure is religious".