THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST
Review by Michael Jacobson
James Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci, Sergio Rubini February 17,
Director: Mel Gibson
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 127 Minutes
February 17, 2009
"I am the good shepherd. I lay down my life for my sheep. No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down and the power to take it up again. This command is from my Father."
nothing else, director Mel Gibson has achieved with The Passion of the Christ
a film that is virtually impossible to analyze apart from your own personal,
emotional response to it. Some
films are for the eyes and ears, some are for the mind, some are for the heart,
but Gibson has managed to bypass all of that and deliver a picture that goes
straight for your most basic instincts and drives.
was a movie some originally thought to be ďGibsonís follyĒ, as the popular
actor and Oscar winning director put up a large sum of his own personal money
to bankroll the production. It was
to be a religious film that took its religion profoundly sincerely; it would be
entirely spoken in two archaic languages with subtitles, and it would have no
major stars. Mel Gibsonís name is
a large one, but he would not be stepping in front of the camera this time as he
did in Braveheart. Then added
on to that was some rather unflattering prerelease press about whether the
picture would inspire divisiveness amongst its audience.
None of these components would seem to add up to commercial success.
Gibsonís leap of faith paid off. The
Passion of the Christ blew past the $100 million mark in only five days,
earning the mark of being the second biggest opening in film history (after Titanic),
and settling to date as the 9th highest grossing domestic film of all
time. Whether it was the controversy, the subject matter, the word of
mouth or the endless discussions, or elements of all of them, there was one
undisputable fact: people were
buying tickets and filling the theatre.
first saw the movie on opening day in the middle of the afternoon.
The auditorium was packed and quiet until the sounds of sobs began to
rise. When the picture was over,
people filed languidly out of the theatre in solemn lines like it was a funeral
procession. If film, as Martin
Scorsese once said, fulfills the need of people to share a common memory, there
probably was never a cinematic experience to be so permanently etched in the
minds of those who viewed it.
is probably too weak a wordÖyou donít see Gibsonís film so much as
experience it. From quietly
eavesdropping on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to being at ground level when
he is given up, summarily tried, barbarically tortured and viciously executed,
there is no safe place to retreat to. Gibson
goes for our gut with scene after scene, so we cannot pretend to be bystanders
from a respectable distance. Which
is the entire point of the passion and the film:
we share in the culpability of the sacrifice of the Christ.
have recommended the film repeatedly, but always with words of warning.
If you go to see it, you really need to realize that itís going to be
an ordeal. What you will look upon
is graphic and grisly, and possibly even nauseating, but it is far from
gratuitous, as Gibson employed historical and religious consultants to ensure
the technical accuracy of what is depicted.
Caviezel is the full embodiment of Jesus of Nazareth on screen in a brilliant,
heartbreaking, and no doubt physically exhausting performance.
He shared Mel Gibsonís desire to tell a story of the suffering and
death of Jesus in an accurate and unflinching way.
Because of Caviezelís work in front of the camera and Gibsonís work
behind it, every detail feels authentic, from the costumes and settings to the
language and the politicsÖand most of all, of course, the cruel torment.
film is remarkably faithful to the Gospels and to the traditional Stations of
the Cross as depicted in Catholicism. The
only liberties Gibson took were embellishments of the text rather than
detractions. Satan is depicted from
the beginning: while Jesus prays
and agonizes in the garden, Satan tries to tempt him off the path.
Jesus never acknowledges him until the beautifully symbolic finale of the
scene. The presence of Satan is
seen lurking throughout, up until his ultimate defeat and Jesusí triumph (a
fantastic exclamation point to the story).
also expands the role of Simon, who is forced by the Romans to carry the cross
when Jesus can no longer bear the weight. He
is given only passing mention in Scriptures, but here, he seems to become
representative of all men as he encounters Jesus.
At first, he wants nothing to do with the man, but by the end of his
journey, he believes; this I feel is Mel Gibsonís depiction of the journey of
faith of all Christians.
Pilate is known historically has a tyrannical loose cannon of a governor, so
many have been confused by the Gospelís portrayal of him as more benevolent.
Gibson remedies this by adding historical fact to the text:
Pilate had been called back to Rome twice by Caesar and warned to tone
down the bloodshed he was inflicting. His
desire to spare Jesus of Nazareth was not coming from a merciful nature, but
rather being worried about his own neck.
those unfamiliar with the Gospels or the other historical accounts of Jesus,
there may be some questions unanswered. One
friend I know could not fathom the zeal of the religious leaders in the film to
see Jesus die. We know from
Scriptures that Jesus was a direct confrontation to the rule of those leaders,
the Pharisees, who had turned Mosaic law into a kind of springboard for their
own power; they had made up hundreds of other laws to go with the traditional
ones (such as how many steps a man could take on the Sabbath and so on).
could be this lack of background information that gave wings to the charges of
anti-Semitism against Gibson and his film.
These charges are far from the truth, in my opinion.
In the first place, there are many Jewish people portrayed in the film.
The Pharisees may have wanted Jesusí blood, but there were plenty of
others who protested his crucifixion. His
followers, his mother, Mary Magdalene and Simon who carried the cross are all
Jewish, of course.
the second place, placing the blame for Jesusí death on all Jewish people
because of the actions of a few zealots is no different from judging all Muslims
on the basis of the terrorist acts of some extremist groups.
Yet there are those who willingly do both.
Itís that kind of thinking that can turn a peaceful religion into a
violent one, or a film with a profound and deeply spiritual message into a
the experience of The Passion is one that places the blame on all
humanity. If Jesus died for the
sins of all mankind, then all mankind put him on that cross, not just the people
of his day. When Jesus calls out in
his suffering, ďFather, forgive them, they know not what they do,Ē it could
just as well be a message for us sitting in air conditioned theatres some 2,000
years after the fact as it was for those who were wielding the whips and
focusing mostly on the historic and theological aspects of the movie, because
they meant the most to me personally. As
I mentioned in my opening, your assessment of the film is going to be based
largely on your instinctual and emotional reaction to what you see.
The violence in the film is harsh and uncompromising.
Hopefully, most will take from it the message that Mel Gibson wanted to
convey, which is the understanding of the nature of the sacrifice Jesus made in
order to finally bring man and God together again.
I canít imagine many people NOT taking that message away with them, but
for those who somehow cannot or do not, the experience of the film might seem
like two hours of unimaginable brutality.
that seek greater understanding from The Passion of the Christ will find
it. Those who donít may end up
finding it as well. But to
experience the film is not only to ponder a message, but to witness a supreme
cinematic achievement from a talented filmmaker who put his heart, soul, and
indeed, his passion into his work. This
should be considered one of the new millenniumís most important movies.
It looked remarkable on DVD, but high definition Blu-ray is an absolute treat. Every rich detail of the superb cinematography is rendered with crispness and clarity, and all sequences, from darkness to daylight, come through with amazing integrity.
The DTS HD soundtrack is powerful and dynamic, ranging from the quiet, contemplative moments to ones of brutality and chaos. Every detail comes through, with smart uses of the surrounds and sparing use of the .1 channel to deliver impact here and there and lend bottom end to the terrific music score. High marks.
This two disc
Blu-ray is just what high definition fans have been waiting for. The first disc
boasts FOUR commentary tracks, with my favorite being the theological one, with
Mel Gibson and three scholars of Christian theology, including two Jesuit
priests who assisted in the making of the movie. There is also a filmmaker
commentary with Gibson, his editor and his cinematographer, and one with the
producers, and one selected scene commentary on the score by composer John Debney. You can also watch with footnotes from the Bible as subtitles,
and, for the more delicate of constitution, you can opt for the Recut version
that trimmed a little of the harsher violence.
Blu-ray is just what high definition fans have been waiting for. The first disc boasts FOUR commentary tracks, with my favorite being the theological one, with Mel Gibson and three scholars of Christian theology, including two Jesuit priests who assisted in the making of the movie. There is also a filmmaker commentary with Gibson, his editor and his cinematographer, and one with the producers, and one selected scene commentary on the score by composer John Debney. You can also watch with footnotes from the Bible as subtitles, and, for the more delicate of constitution, you can opt for the Recut version that trimmed a little of the harsher violence.
The second disc is all standard definition, and it boasts a terrific 100 minute documentary "By His Wounds We Are Healed" that goes into the making of the movie in great detail with Mel and his actors and team. It's extremely entertaining and informative, particularly on the effects and makeup. "The Legacy" has five featurettes on the film and Christ Himself. There are also plenty of galleries of photos and historical texts, plus two theatrical trailers and two TV spots.
From a relatively low-budgeted movie that no studio wanted to touch to one of the most cherished and profitable movies of all time, The Passion of the Christ is as powerful and as important as modern filmmaking can get. This Blu-ray edition from Fox gives high definition fans everything they've come to expect from the medium, and much more.