Passion of The Christ
Saw the movie last night. And I'll see it again in upcoming days. Some random thoughts, not really organized here ...
It is certainly the most beautifully filmed Gospel movie I've seen. It's well-acted, for the most part. The music was "eh" and there were too many slow motion sequences, and I wasn't crazy about a couple of dumb artistic decisions. The worm thing with Satan is more appropriate for a horror movie. What was frustrating is the scene is otherwise brilliant, that is, the androgynous actor who plays an intense Satan who simply says, "No. Never." Then the worm and I was like, "Cheesy. This is the Gospel. Not Chucky 5." The raven sequence was dumb as well ... the guy is already dying on a cross, God doesn't need to add to the punishment.
Otherwise, much of it was outstanding. The use of "original" languages was brilliant, as was the decision to use them ... to hear the Gospel spoken in its original language is stirring. I enjoyed the Latin, too, though I'm pretty sure the people at that time would've spoken Greek. In either case, it works.
Mary has a crucial role. Her humanity is powerful, but she also has a willingness to endure the suffering, a clear submission to the will of God and an understand of her son's role in the redemption of the world, too ... in some ways, the movie is as much about Mary watching the suffering as our watching the suffering. She co-suffers. The movie may have done more to explain some of the Catholic concepts of Mary as co- this and that than any argument I've heard. Mary remains faithful. She doesn't scream at the injustice. She cries out in her humanity, but her faith never leaves her.
And the disciple John was played exactly as I've always imagined him. John is the one disciple who remains with Jesus (except for the garden), and is very young at the time of the crucifixion. He is played with skill as a young man who is in way over his head, but wants to remain faithful. He sort of senses what is going on, but I get the sense he remains with Jesus out of love. The other disciples had all fled by this time.
The Resurrection is given short-shrift, and is shot in slow motion, and is wrong by the Gospel. When Jesus is resurrected, he is not restored to his pre-beating state, except for a couple of holes in his hands. Jesus' body is entirely different ... and he is not immediately recognized by his mother or the disciples — even after they've seen him resurrected.
The sections with Peter was, to me, the most moving in the story. When we read the Gospel, we are to put ourselves in the place of Peter, for inevitably, Peter says and does what many of us would say or do. Peter promises Jesus he would follow Jesus to death, falls asleep on the watch, tries to violently prevent the crucifixion, denies Christ to save his own skin with the mob, and finally goes off to weep rather than follow Jesus to the cross.
Peter never returns to the movie. However, Peter does return in the Gospel, and it's crucial. After Jesus' resurrection, Jesus tells the women, "Tell the disciples and Peter to meet me ..." Peter has denied Him, and sees himself as no longer a disciple. But Jesus has none of that. Jesus calls Peter, has Peter affirm him once for each time he denied him, and Peter goes on to Rome to found the Roman Catholic Church (along with Paul). And according to tradition, Peter is crucified in Rome in one of Nero's parties.
But this is Mel Gibson's vision, not my own. He has executed it brilliantly, for the most part. His goal is a passion play, not a dramatic depiction of the Gospels. They are two different things. Passion Plays focus on the day of crucifixion.
And that Gibson has done. It is extremely violent. The movie follows the Stations of the Cross. Simon the Cyrene is brilliant, the crowd scenes were brilliant ... the depth of emotion of Pilate and the Romans is beautifully handled. The Romans go through a powerful and realistic range of emotions. The brutality of the men, who are alterately mocking, jeering, brutal and concerned, is realistic. I believed that in ways I hadn't believed it before. Mel Gibson understands men in groups, and their potential for violence and mockery. The Romans come off really quite well, considering they sign off on crucifying a man for thin political reasons.
Judas is brilliantly handled, as is Satan (except for the worm thing). The problem with any artistic depiction of Satan is to prevent him from taking over the emotional core. Because of our fallen humanity, it is simply easier to identify with a rebellious, selfish being who believes there is no possible redemption for mankind, than to believe in a suffering God who redeems the world. We can see rebellion, selfishness and unbelief all around us every day. It requires an act of faith to believe that beyond all that, there is a God who has made provision for our salvation. The problem with Judas is he does something very horribly wrong, and for mixed motives. Nothing to me is as shocking in the Gospels is the consequences of actions that are not terribly different from how you and me or people we know might act.
For example, Pilate is just trying to wiggle out of a situation. He wants to let Jesus go, but he's in a political bind and caves in to public opinion. How many times have we wanted to do the right thing, but conformed to the world instead? I'll tell you when I stop doing it.
And then Judas. Judas, I've always believed, thought Jesus was a Messiah who would kick the Romans out through military force or miracles and re-establish an independent nation of Israel and be its King. This met Judas' religious beliefs about the Messiah, and as the church treasurer, he imagined himself as probably being CFO of the new country. Except that Jesus, though He met all the requirements of the messiah, wasn't going along with the program.
My suspicion is this is what Judas was after: Jesus' refusal to kick out the Romans and insistence on speaking about a spiritual kingdom caused Judas to lose his faith. Judas thought perhaps he had wasted his time for the past three years following this preacher, and wanted a fresh start on life. How about turning Jesus over for 30 pieces of silver, enough to build a small farm? One of two things will happen: Jesus will do a little time in jail, pay a small fine, and go back to Galilee to work as a carpenter. Or Jesus would reveal Himself has Messiah, and with His hand forced by Judas, Jesus would at last start the rebellion to kick out the Romans. (BTW, none of this is biblical — it's just my spectulation.)
In the movie, some of this is hinted: Judas is seen as rash and regretful from the start. His sin becomes lack of faith. For even after the betrayal, he could have been redeemed by Christ. "And Judas went and hanged himself."
Lastly, the Jewish leaders come across terribly. It's not anti-Semitic. But you have to admit this was not the Sanhedrin's finest hour. They felt threatened by his teaching, and by his popularity. They were concerned by what they felt were blasphemies. There were rumors of more trouble.
So they schemed to kill a man who they felt would bring the wrath of Rome upon them for stirring up rebellion, and at the same time rid themselves of a religious troublemaker who posed a threat to their positions. Jesus had after all thrown the moneychangers out of the Temple, and said obscurely that the would tear the Temple down and build it up in the three days. This generates concern about the authorities. There could've been some background here, some of the regret you see in the face of the Romans at times, or with Pilate. But it's Gibson's vision...