CGB Review of The Passion of the Christ (2004)

“Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.”
–Luke 23:26

This is my review of The Passion of the Christ!


I’m pretty sure I don’t need to summarize the plot of this film, hence I will say this: The Passion of the Christ is arguably the most realistic interpretation of the final twelve hours of the life of Jesus Christ.
I was twelve-years old when this movie came out.  Oh, yes, I remember the controversy that surrounded this film very well.  Even though Pan’s Labyrinth is the film that started my love of reviewing movies, the Passion of the Christ was the film that influenced me to start paying close attention to movies instead of just casually viewing them.  I give Passion of the Christ much credit for turning me into a cinephile (lover of cinema).

The Hits
Jim Cavizel is phenomenal as Jesus.  He fully captures both Jesus’ agony and sense of mission through a composed and humanistic performance.   Cavizel’s expressive eyes and poignant line delivery capture Jesus’ devastation over all the sins of mankind that have led to His crucifixion.  His agony in the garden alone is gut-wrenching to watch, especially when Satan starts attempting to discourage Jesus from His mission.  The part where Jesus says, “Father, you can do all things.  If it is possible, let this chalice pass from me…But let your will be done, not mine,” and the ashen clouds cover the moon has always haunted me.  Also, I love the fierce intensity in Jesus’ eyes as He stares down the devil right before He tramples the serpent.
Even though the Young Messiah’s version of the Most Gracious Virgin Mary is respectful, Maia Morgenstern is quite possibly the most raw and accurate Mary.  Where the Young Messiah’s Mary is sweet and nurturing, Passion of the Christ’s Mary is a mother bear who is forced to follow the treacherous journey of her Son’s grueling sacrifice.  I like that she is a middle-aged woman because it brings realism to the character.  The scene where Jesus falls and Mary flashes back to seeing the child Jesus trip and fall breaks my heart every time.  Another powerful scene is when she lies on a floor and presses her ear against the stone.  The camera then pans down to the dungeon where Jesus is being kept and He looks up, sensing His Mother.
Satan in this film is downright unnerving.  Okay, granted, seeing the prince of darkness on screen is always unsettling, but this Satan in particular is quite spot-on.  With piercing eyes, an intense gaze and a voice that eerily resembles a hiss, this depiction of the fallen angel scared me as a teenager and continues to disturb me as an adult.  I really appreciate that this Satan is androgynous, which is reflective of how the devil can appear as something ugly or appealing, depending on the deception he seeks to accomplish.
If there’s one person who should have gotten at the very least Oscar consideration at the time of the film’s release, it would be Jarreth Merz, who plays Simon of Cyrene.   The way he shouts at the Roman soldiers to stop beating Jesus when He falls is made powerful by Merz’s visceral performance.  His scene is brief, but he uses his time to portray a man who goes from just being a random stranger plucked from the crowd to a committed ally of the crucified Lord.

The Misses
Because this is a factual account of Jesus’ Passion, next to nothing is done to develop the relationship between the characters.  To be fair, the movie allows the relationship between Jesus and Mary to shine as the heart of the story.  Other than that, we don’t get enough interactions between Jesus and His disciples.  I understand that this is called The Passion of the Christ and not the Ministry of the Christ, but from a narrative standpoint, this is problematic.
Speaking of narrative, one of the most difficult aspects of telling the story of Jesus is that essentially, the audience is expected to follow a main character who undergoes grueling torture without ever making an attempt to fight back.  Just to be clear, I fully understand and embrace His sacrificial offering.  However, someone who is not a believer would not feel the same way because the film does not explore Jesus’ reasoning for allowing the fate that befalls Him.

About The Violence
Yes, I am aware that the film has been criticized for being exploitative.  I respectfully disagree.  Is the violence cringe-inducing?  Oh, yes.  However, the violence of those times is presented with utmost accuracy in the film.  Mel Gibson heavily researched his subject matter so that he could tell the story of Jesus’ final hours the way it was meant to be told and that is worth commending. Maybe the film was too horrifying for our secular world to handle, but that’s just the way it was in Jesus’ time.

The Passion of the Christ is by no means a film to watch casually.  It is an admirably brutal film to watch and reflect on.  The stellar cast brings the people of the Bible to life and Gibson’s unflinching approach makes the Passion of the Christ a painful but poignant portrait of the grotesque suffering that our Lord Jesus Christ endured for the salvation of our fallen world.
He died for you, for me, for all of us.  Now what are we going to do for Him?

Saint Veronica, pray for us.

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