Movie Reviews
1:24 pm
Wed February 25, 2004

The Passion of the Christ

I do hope there is a heaven, so I finally can ask to see a life of Christ worthy of its subject.

I came into "The Passion of the Christ" an agnostic; I left a true believer in the power of marketing. Director Mel Gibson has promoted this film to all of Christendom and more, engaging the pope enough to publicize his alleged remark that the film shows the way it was.

This much-heralded version of the last 12 hours of Christ's suffering is a testimony to the fact that the meek won't inherit the earth: Be flamboyant about your film's controversial Jewish guilt, pull back the most incendiary comment from the film, and watch the silver coins roll in from all the residual controversy and the evangelical fervor over the film's realism.

Did I say "realism"? Not the right descriptor. How about "cartoon"? The torture of Christ, about which most of the film is orgiastic, is so unrelenting (No one could stand after 10 minutes of the Roman flogging, but Christ stands up and goes on) that it becomes laughable. The Roman soldiers are so over-the-top brutal they are caricatures of all thugs ever filmed.

How a film about the arguably most influential religious figure who ever lived could be boring is a testimony to Gibson's unflagging earnestness in depicting the bloody torture for 2 hours until we finally cry out we understand the banality of evil!

What's good about the film? The inspiration from Caravaggio's paintings (His "Taking of Christ" comes immediately to mind) gives the film a darkly elegiac tone. Also, the relationship between Mother Mary and Christ has possibilities: Her resigned and painful witness to her son's travails is the true reality of the film. I couldn't stop thinking what an extraordinarily complicated business it must be for a mother to believe in her son's teachings, believe that he is the Son of God, and watch while he is brutalized for both of those reasons. But Gibson doesn't expand this possibility because of his obsession over the purgative province of violence. He's not in this territory for the first time; his Lethal Weapon" series alone would qualify.

The end turned out to be just as laughable as the ersatz torture: After the film-wide attempt at realism, Gibson has the rock roll back to show the corporeal Christ has miraculously risen.

I do hope there is a heaven, so I finally can ask to see a life of Christ worthy of its subject.