A review from The Movie Snob:
The Passion of the Christ (A). I find this a very difficult movie to review – a sentiment not widely shared, to judge from the amount of ink that has been spilled about this film. A friend of mine described it as a Rorschach test, which I think is a very apt description. Most of the reviews I have read seem to reveal much more about the reviewer’s attitude towards the Gospel story and Christianity than about the artistic merits of the movie.
That being the case, I will first disclose that I am an orthodox, practicing Catholic. Thus, it will probably not surprise the reader that I was much impressed and moved by this movie. I have heard some critical sniping over points of historical accuracy, such as in regards to the languages used and the actors’ pronunciation. All I know is, this movie seemed entirely faithful to the Gospel narratives of the Passion as I remember them, and it brought those events to life with incredibly powerful immediacy. The violence is extremely graphic and bloody, but I believe it is indispensable to director Mel Gibson’s purpose, to bring the viewer into as close contact as possible with the sufferings of Christ. Although the scenes in which Jesus is beaten and tortured are all horrifying to watch, I found that I was most often moved to tears in the scenes when Gibson shows the effects of the events on His loved ones. It is almost unbearable to watch His mother Mary watch what is happening to Him, but the reactions of Peter, Mary Magdalene, and John are also incredibly poignant. There are several brief flashbacks to earlier episodes in Jesus’ life, and they are like oases in the desert, allowing the viewer to catch his breath before resuming the way of the cross. The flashbacks themselves are very well done, and I’ve heard several people say that they wish the movie had done a lot more with Jesus’ ministry before the Passion. I think that would have distracted from Gibson’s purpose for this movie, but I do find myself hoping that he will return to the subject and make another movie about the life of Christ. Ideally, Jim Cavaziel would reprise the role; I thought he showed Christ-like charisma and magnetism in the flashback scenes.
I would expect most Christians whose religion is of central importance to their lives to react to this movie much the way I did. For such people, the artistry of the movie is of secondary importance. Mainly, they want a movie whose artistry is devoted to making them forget that they are watching actors in a movie. I thought Gibson achieved this goal almost perfectly. A few quibbles – the treatment of Judas being hounded by demons after he betrays Christ was a little too Hollywood for my taste, and I wasn’t overly impressed with the device of the creepy androgynous Satan character that kept showing up. (Although, that said, I also thought the early encounter between Jesus and Satan in the Garden of Gethsemane was very effective.)
I did not find the movie anti-Semitic. Although most of the leading Jews, such as the chief priests and King Herod, do come off very badly, two leading Jews also attempt to object to the irregularity of Jesus’ trial. Also, most of the characters who show Jesus any compassion during the events portrayed are Jewish. Pontius Pilate, who has always seemed a very ambiguous character to me, is portrayed here as having some sympathy for Christ. But in the end, he condemns Christ because he thinks he has to in order to placate the mob and thereby save his own skin from the emperor’s wrath. Virtually all the Roman soldiers are sadistic brutes.
Going back to the Rorschach-test description of the movie, I have to say that I think much of the critical animosity towards this movie comes from critics whose real beef is with orthodox Christianity itself. Still, I would not recommend this movie to non-Christians or folks who are only nominally Christian. Although I think the movie is a great tool to provoke the already-converted to deeper reflection and meditation on the central events of Christianity, it is not designed to make believers out of non-believers. My guess is that most people who are not already pretty familiar with and open to the Gospel and Christian theology are going to see only a gruesome and repellent spectacle of apparently pointless suffering.