Either by virtue of fortitude or defect of hard-heartedness, I didn't write "I want to throw up" until page eighteen. That was when the Roman soldiers nailed Jesus's hand to the cross, with a distinct *splat*, and blood spurted out like a gusher. Blood poured down the nails, through to the other side of the rough-hewn cross, and down into the dirt.
There is no danger of overstating
the amount of gore in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST.
Roger Ebert, an encyclopedia of cinema, called it
the most violent movie he had ever seen. The agony
that Jesus endures mounts so quickly that we lose
our ability to wholly sympathize. I can't fathom what
it feels like to be scourged by a cat-of-nine-tails
for ten long minutes, or have thorns clubbed into
my scalp, or nails driven through my outsteched palms
and ankles. Gibson overruns my reference points
A Certain Type of Violence
The film begins with promise in the garden of Gethsemene. Christ, shivering with sweat and fear, calls out for his Father to rise up and defend him. Clouds rush over the sky to blot out the light of the full moon. God will not protect His son. The devil (Rosalinda Celentano) hisses, "No-one can carry the full burden of sin." Then, "No-one. Never." She sends out a serpent to harry Christ. The serpent represents knowledge of Good and Evil, the temptation to play God and determine one's own fate in contravention of the divine will. Christ grinds its head under his heel. This scene, brief as it is, shows a basic understanding of the real drama of the Passion. The key to the Passion is that Christ always retained the power to get out of the situation. If, even in his last moment, he had so chosen, he could have gotten down from the cross and saved his own life. It must have been an extraordinary struggle to accept abuse and wracking pain when the slightest crook of his finger or mumbled word would have secured escape. THAT is the measure of the Passion, but after the scene at the Garden, Christ's resolve is never shown to waver, not an inch, until he cries out, on the cross, "Father, Father, why have you forsaken me?" If that line were optional, I'm pretty sure Gibson would have omitted it. The surest sign of Christ's humanity in the Gospels is his doubt, his anger, his regrets; but these THE PASSION minimizes and isolates in favor of a Christ who grits his teeth and takes one for the team, resigned as a rag-doll, passive as a man enduring a bear attack by playing dead. As Scorsese clearly understood in his LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, the most important battle during the Passion was between the part of Christ that believed in ressurection and the very human part that wanted to stay with family, friends, and lovers. That internal scourging of the spirit too rarely surfaces in THE PASSION.
By Turns, Sublime and Obtuse
Sublime: When Judas (Luca Lionello) is thrown the bag of silver, the blood money spills all over the stone floor, clattering and clanging, making Judas accutely aware of his sin in the moment of its commission. Obtuse: A gaggle of demented children chase Judas around the desert and goad him into suicide. A crow pecks out the eyes of the theif who taunts Christ from an adjacent cross. Wasn't the whole point of Christ's death to refrain from seeking payback? The movie often strains against its own putative message of love and forgiveness.
And finally, sublime: Flashback from the bloodied and beaten Jesus, broken in the flesh, to a scene at the last supper where he washed the feet of his disciples. His body is so whole, and that he ministers so humbly to the bodies of others, that our hearts break when we return to his current ruined state. Obtuse: Flashback to when Jesus prophesized, ala Ikea, the coming of high-backed dinner chairs; Mary (Maia Morgenstern) putting her head on the stone floor, with a pan down to the dungeon in which Christ is kept, as though the Blessed Mother were a dowser.
Gibson spoils the Pieta moment
(the dead Christ in Mary's arms) with a long, almost
loving shot of the bloody nails and thorns removed
from Christ's body. Gibson reminds me of the title
character from Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It
All For You, a dictatorial nun who belittles the
very real problems of her students by comparing them
to Christ's as his hands "rip, rip, ripped"
under his own weight on the cross. Weilding Christ's
suffering as a cudgel, to impart shame and awaken
I don't see much in the way of homophobia. Herod, who is presented as a mincing dandy, finds no fault with Christ. He orders that Christ be set free. And while the devil may be described as androgynous, I think the better term is sexless or inhuman. She has a face devoid of either the feminine or masculine, blank, pinched, without compassion. I don't doubt that Gibson is a homophobe based on his past directorial efforts -- I just don't see it in THE PASSION.
No, THE PASSION fails
because it is a superficial and inappropriately triumphal
account of one man's inner victory through defeat.
As the resurrected Jesus prepares to leave his tomb,
drums beat as though for the start of war. Though
he makes a valiant effort from flawed premises, Gibson
has too much belligerence in him to capture the Prince
of Peace at what should be his and our most glorious
-- Martin Scribbs