Hey folks, Harry here with a bit of a celebrity review of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. Douglas Tennapel, yes the artist/writer, had a chance to see a screening of Mel's movie and reacted quite strongly. He goes more into depth about the disturbing nature of the fim, than most of the reviews we've seen. There are things far more disturbing in this film than mere whippings and physical bodily torture. If you wish to not be spoilt by his descriptions, know then that he loved the film quite deeply. If you need to know more, then read on...
Okay, I’ve seen the Passion of Christ. I’d like to start by stating my bias since I don’t see how a Christian like myself could watch a movie about the being I’ve given my life to and simultaneously dismiss my baggage to watch it as some neutral piece of media.
But I’m also an artist/writer having created Earthworm Jim, The Neverhood and Creature Tech and I’m currently working on one of my pilots for Nickelodeon (crossing my fingers for a pick-up!)… let me tell you, it’s not every day I get to see entertainment that deals with subject matter so close to my heart that also stands tall as a magnificent work of art. Usually we have to cringe through dung-heaps like Left Behind, the Omega Code and Joshua.
Bias aside, this is not a movie designed for Christians, it stands toe to toe with any other realistic depiction of inspiration like Schindler’s List, Chariots of Fire or Braveheart. One thing is for sure, everyone confronted with the story of Christ will have some sort of reaction and it usually is not neutral.
The version I saw was not the final cut. It had a shot with the timecode still on it and there was a lot of music used from Last Temptation of Christ (no comment). The story is all too familiar, I’ve read and studied the Gospels hundreds of times and I was blown away at how new this all was to me. The story begins with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane laying down a desperate prayer to God. The rest of the movie documents his last 12 hours to his crucifixion. Every so often, some event within Jesus' road to the cross triggers a flashback, and this is where we learn the backstory of the other characters involved. The reactions of characters like Mary, Peter and Judas are slowly contextualized as these sub-plots blossom into mini-passion plays of their own. My heart broke for Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Judas, Pilate’s wife, the good centurion and John.
The DP work is the best technical part of the movie. Caleb Deschanel drenches the night scenes with either extreme warmth or extreme cold…I mean he throws on a blue gel and that garden is BLUE! This is the guy who can set a camera to perfectly capture atmosphere I haven’t seen since his The Black Stallion days. They clearly emphasized atmosphere, I don’t mean the dramatic kind, I mean the chemical kind. You wander through the garden and feel the fog. You sit at the last supper lit by a candle and the air is thick and present. It feels like you’re sitting there watching the real deal. Of course, my religion warns us of graven images, and I have to keep thinking to myself, “these are actors, that’s not the Christ.” It’s that realistic and engaging.
The Christ pictures of recent can’t just tell the story. They seem to need to fix things, make Jesus not raise from the dead, make him the lover of Mary Magdalene, make him whatever. But Gibson leans on the simplicity of the original story. He’s not shackled to the scriptures, because he boldly throws in details here and there that blend with the original story. He’s respectful, but he’s not afraid. This is a movie that secular Hollywood could not make, but it’s also a movie that the Christian community could not make either.
The Christ pictures of the 40s and 50s were too busy glorifying the spectacle of Jesus. Every time he turns around he’s doing this neato miracle, like it’s a magic show. The Passion of Christ downplays the miracles to focus on Jesus' terrestrial dilemma. This is a story about the son of God stuck on Earth with only one way out and he knows it’s coming. I marveled at the depth of philosophy in those who challenge Jesus. When the devil temps him she asks him first about who he is. Jesus is God. Then the devil asks him that famous question, “Who is your father?” brilliantly trapping him in an apparent contradiction that often foils those of us who believe in the Trinity…if Jesus is God how can his father also be God?
The devil is my favorite character by the way. Every movie has to have a bad guy right? This is the scariest, minimalist devil I’ve ever seen. Skip the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want to hear about the scariest thing I’ve ever seen depicted on celluloid… when Jesus is being whipped, he is in agony. The devil floats among the guards in slo-mo, seemingly invisible to them…and what’s that in her arms? A baby. She cradles the baby like it is her own, yet she is clearly mocking the imagery we’ve seen of Mary holding her child. Jesus looks up at her, delirious from pain and the baby…slowly turns to us…and it has a horrifying blasphemous-psycho smile. My wife turned her head, “Oh stop!” I got a chill up my spine that would rival the scariest moments in The Exorcist. I’m not kidding, that image is burned in my brain forever and I’ll never forget that. It’s delicious. I’m getting nauseated thinking about it right now. Evil damned baby.
The Passion is also scarce on dialogue. So much is communicated through the eyes of these characters, some you can tell go from being an enemy of Jesus to a follower within the moment of just one look. This reminds me… I’m DYING to see this thing without the subtitles as Gibson intended. I’m glad I got to read this one but it would be an even more emotionally immersive experience to just watch as a cultural outsider. But still, it’s rich to hear the characters speak ancient, beautiful poetic languages as well as the Roman guards laying down mockery in Latin.
The actors are top-notch…James Caviezel is buried under so much blood and make up that a lot of his acting is done with just one eye! The heavy lifting is done in response to his beating by Maia Morgenstern as Mary mother of Jesus (heart-breaker juxtaposition award goes to her thinking back to Jesus as a child while on the road to Calvary), Monica Belluci (no matter how much make up you take off and throw dirt on that face it’s still a treat to behold) and even Hristo Shopov’s Pontius Pilate! This guy’s face is like iron. Behind his hard exterior is a man doomed in a dead end job he thinks is beneath him. We get a wealth of story just between looks from his wife. Pilate is screwed no matter what happens and we see the agony in his face.
Oh that reminds me of another scary moment! (skip this paragraph if you don’t like spoilers) When Judas has done his thing he sobs and tries to renegotiate his bargain with the priests. When he goes into the public a shell of a man he slumps against a wall and these kids start tormenting him. It’s subtle at first but one kid has this horrible wrinkly old-man-meets-an-alien face…possessed by a demon. Chilling! My wife squeezed my hand off of my wrist, “Make them go away!” Delicious! Go Mel, GO!
As I spend my days working in Hollywood, I get to hear my God’s name used as a cuss word. He’s the brunt of jokes. Jesus is dismissed as a myth. I get to hear the name of Jesus and honor of Christians spoken of with deep distain or stereotyping “my people” as shallow, violent, intolerant fill in the blank. This is about the being I have sworn my allegiance to and it is refreshing to see a movie where the subject matter is boldly presented with respect.
Nobody can watch the Passion of Christ without having some sort of reaction. Jesus doesn’t inspire neutrality in people. This film has already had some controversy…over-bloated by media no doubt, but this movie does make one think. It makes us argue, defend, accuse and cry. I love some aspects of the controversy of this film because THIS is what film is supposed to do. Remember? There is something here for the church and the un-churched.
If you post this call me “Doug TenNapel”