If it's crap ... We'll tell you
(Some spoilers do follow. I analyse how certain scenes added to the experience. If you want to go into this movie completely blind then I recommend you do not read this review.)
The Passion of the Christ chronicles the arrest, trial, torture and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This film is best known for its graphic portrayal of the torture of Jesus Christ, which has been surrounded in controversy. I found however that I was more surprised by how superbly crafted this film is rather than the level of violence depicted.
From the outset I noticed that this film looked very authentic and I was hooked into the experience. The costumes worn by the Priests were suitably extravagant in comparison to the ragged robes of the crowds. The locations used to film also looked authentic and the amount of people they gathered to fill the streets and courtyards was impressive. In addition all of the dialogue is spoken in either Hebrew or Latin, which I thought to be a great touch and added to the authenticity. However there were certain words used such as `idiot' which came into use much later. I was very impressed with the cinematography as well. Some of the camera angles were brilliant, particularly when Jesus is being forced through the streets, shown from Jesus' perspective.
Flashbacks are strategically placed throughout the movie but don't exist to fill in any backstory but provides juxtaposition to the present scene. For example the scene depicting Jesus being flogged in the streets is interrupted by a scene of Jesus being welcomed in those same streets on Palm Sunday, which highlights how once this man was loved by the people and now he is hated and ridiculed.
I never felt that the film was dragging on; in fact I think that it was over too quickly and they maybe should have devoted an extra 15 minutes to exploring the events from the perspective of the Apostles and Mary, who I thought were very underused. The scene where Peter denies that he knows Jesus three times felt slightly rushed and then Peter isn't seen for the rest of the film. Many of the other Apostles don't appear in the film at all. Likewise Mary doesn't have a major role apart from looking on at Jesus' torture.
The violence in the film drives the movie's point home about how much suffering this man endured. There were some scenes that were honestly shocking and not easy to watch. However I went into this movie prepared to see an obscene amount of violence, based on the controversy surrounding the film, and as a result I wasn't as shocked as I thought I was going to be. In comparison I watched Valhalla Rising, a movie with a similar amount of violence, without any knowledge of the movie and was really horrified by some of scenes. Although I was aware that Jesus forgave the people who condemned it was still shocking to see him forgive them after the amount of violence the movie depicted. This, I feel, is the aim of the movie; to reaffirm that sacrifice he took and his own reaction to that sacrifice by displaying it in a manner that would shock most viewers. Many scenes of violence did shock me and the way that Jesus still forgave those who put him to death was shocking but not so much that it forced me to reassess my own faith, which despite being raised as a Catholic, has dwindled somewhat over the years.
Jim Caviezel looked identical to the Western representation of Jesus and his performance was stellar, whether he played the compassionate teacher or the thrashed and beaten wreck. A scene that I found to be particular surprising occurs in the Garden of Gethsemane. Although Jesus accepted his fate at the hands of the Romans, in the Garden of Gethsemane actually he prays to God to save him from his fate before mustering up the courage to give himself up, which highlighted the humanity of Jesus despite his divinity.
The film also features a disturbing and unique portrayal of Satan played by Rosalinda Celentano. Satan serves as an external tormentor rather than someone who has a direct influence in the proceedings. The "Madonna and Child" scene is a prime example, a scene simply designed to horrify.
Another great scene which really surprised me was one where Judas is tormented by demons before he hangs himself. Not only is it intensely disturbing but Judas is the one Apostle whose reaction to Jesus' arrest is fully explored. Like the "Madonna and Child" scene it is a scene designed to disturb and is one that is not featured in the Bible but is actually found in other religious sources such as works of art, which is another reason why it surprised me.
I was very surprised how Pontius Pilate was portrayed. Pontius Pilate is usually portrayed as the heartless solider that condemned Jesus however he actually asks the crowds for their judgement. He's portrayed as a man who is conflicted about what to do because he is afraid of whom he may anger and as a result leaves Jesus' fate in the hands of the people.
I was very surprised by some of the acting from the Romans. Those who had no speaking roles used great body language, displaying very subtle expressions of horror during Jesus' torture.
I went into this movie expecting to be shocked by the level of violence and emerged from the experience more surprised by the performances, scenes that were not originally in the Bible and generally how well-crafted the movie was, in particular the cinematography and level of authenticity. Although I understood the message of the movie my level of faith remains the same. This is more a reflection of my own character rather than a flaw in how the film presented its message. I'm sure that many people will watch this film and be much more shocked by the level of violence than I was and as a result the film's message will be more pervasive. This is definitely a movie I will watch again and who knows; perhaps my opinion of this film and my own faith will change.
Final Score: Full Price