Filmmakers have endeavored to capture this man on celluloid since the silent era of film, but Jesus might be one of the hardest historical figures to film.
The Passion of the Christ (2004) co-writer and director Mel Gibson portrays Jesus, played by Jim Caviezel, in his anguish and torment, in an unrelenting portrayal of Jesus’ Roman crucifixion which doesn’t hold back any punches.
From the beginning of the film, as Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is agonizing over God’s will, but Jesus’ obedience to the will of God will lead him to the cross of crucifixion in its unrelenting ‘passion’, a grueling two hours for the viewer.
Jesus’ agonized facial expressions, as portrayed by Jim Caviezel, elevates the intensity of the moment in Gethsemane. Then, Judas betrays him and gives him over to his enemies to be crucified.
Dialogue in Latin, albeit unhistorical, and Aramaic, adds flavor (and subtitled in English) and space has been made to digress from a verbatim retelling of the gospel in the aid of drama.
But the effect is, at times, overdone, with showy slow-motion camera movements, intended to revere Jesus while it’s also violent.
The relationship between Mary and Jesus is sincere. The flashbacks to Jesus’ life in ministering to the needs of others makes a striking contradiction from many scenes of his torture–why such horror for such a good character? Jesus’ taking on the burden of humanity sins is the supernatural and theological substance Gibson doesn’t elaborate on too much.
The brutish Roman guards make the scourging look realistic. The scene eventually climaxes in an emotional crescendo—when the violence becomes too much for this viewer, an eventual bogging down in excessive violence, a violence that is hinted at right at the start with the quotation from Isaiah the prophet, that hints at yet another blood fest from the director of Braveheart.
Yet, The Passion of the Christ is an emotional roller-coaster. It can reach a haunting tone and moments that tear at the heart, but there’s also a hint of inspiration. There are moments that make us sympathize with Jesus and we see his selflessness. While one shouldn’t sacrifice one’s life as Jesus literally did, The Passion of the Christ challenges us in our own contexts to endure the pain of putting to death selfish actions and inactions.
The Passion of the Christ (2004) ***½ Revised version of review, original published Entertainmentnutz.com, 2004. Starring: James Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Maia Morgenstern, Francesco Cabras, Rosalinda Celentano, Claudia Gerini, Ivano Marescotti, Matt Patresi, Sergio Rubini. Screenwriter: Ben Fitzgerald, Mel Gibson. Director: Mel Gibson.