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The Passion of the Christ on DVD

The Passion of the Christ on DVD

By Jim Bray

Talk about a brave heart!

Mel Gibson, with the courage of his convictions, swam against mainstream Hollywood’s secular, anti-Christian current to create this intense and intensely moving look at the final hours of Jesus of Nazareth, the man Christians believe is/was the Son of God who died for the sins of all. The film deals with that cruel death and the circumstances around it.

And while it is a very religious film, it unspools more like a historical documentary - or docu-drama - than a celluloid-based hymn. This adds a sense of realism that at times is painful to behold.

Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ” is obviously a labor of love, but it’s also a terrific movie in its own right. Sure, it’s disgustingly violent – and the violence is primarily one way, aimed at Jesus and initiated by whatever vicious thugs happen to be in control of him at the time – but it’s my opinion (never having met Mr. Gibson, though I’d love to) that the director wanted to shock an audience grown desensitized to movie violence by decades of Friday the 13th and the other ultra vicious stuff churned out by the forces of tolerance and decency in Hollywood.

Kind of like Saving Private Ryan and how it tried to put the horrors of war into perspective for generations who’ve never had to suffer more than a long lineup at the drive through window, The Passion of the Christ attempts to put into perspective the immensity of Jesus’ sacrifice and the depth of character and commitment it required in order for a “merely” mortal man to allow himself to submit to it in the first place, knowing as he did what was coming.

And Gibson succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. I’ve never really been grossed out by movie violence, and while The Passion of the Christ didn’t gross me out in that way either, to see the kind of treatment human beings can inflict on other human beings (to this day, alas) is enough to make one cry at the baseness of some humans. These were not merely men following orders, they were evil, stupid men following orders with sadistic glee. And it’s obvious that they were well-practiced at their jobs.

Now, I’m no scholar of the bible or of history, so I can’t comment intelligently on the accuracy of Gibson’s portrayal of the situation, but I wonder what would be the point of Gibson laying on the violence so thickly if there were nothing in historical reality on which to base it. He doesn’t strike me as a person who goes overboard merely to titillate, but as someone who tries to be as realistic as possible. Just watch his other films.

So let’s assume for the sake of argument that the treatment Jesus of Nazareth received at the hands of his captors was, if not standard, at least common. This makes Jesus’ reaction to the horrors inflicted upon his flesh even more remarkable, his holiness and his calm grace even more important. For never does he fight back; he knows why he’s there, why all of this disgusting humiliation is being inflicted upon him, and he knows that his duty – indeed his very existence on earth – is to accept this punishment in service of a higher purpose.

My God, what a remarkable person Jesus must have been if, as millions of Christians believe, this movie is based in reality!

It also puts communion into perspective, performed at the last supper and in ritual since then as Jesus giving of his flesh and his blood is commemorated.

Anyway, beyond the graphic nature of the violence, this film is indeed a wonder. It looks and sounds like a zillion dollars, with cinematography and overall production values that are a joy to behold. An epic, indeed. And it does an excellent job of putting us into the era and the situation, right from the first frames.

And after you’ve endured The Passion of the Christ you may begin to have an understanding of what Christianity is about. No wonder Hollywood didn’t want any part of it before the profits started rolling in.

Score a huge success for Mr. Mel Gibson. His movie does not so much entertain as it enlightens. It doesn’t preach, it unfolds almost like a documentary (or at least as much of a documentary as Michael Moore’s “op ed” movies). It puts Jesus’ death into historical and religious context, and clearly shows that he wasn’t crucified because he claimed to be the Messiah (though that was the "hook") but because he represented a clear and present danger to the power and influence of the status quo.

The Passion of the Christ isn’t about Jews or Roman or Christians but about people. It moves, it disgusts, it uplifts, it depresses, it inspires.

It works.

Jim Caviezel plays Jesus and that must have been one heck of an ordeal. He doesn’t have a lot of lines (most come via flashbacks that help put the “present” situation into context), and most of his dialogue is actually made up of moans and other cries of misery – but he manages even through horrifying makeup to project a calm serenity, a strength of character. He seems like Jesus may have been like, and what higher praise can one give for an acting performance?

Maia Morgenstern and Monica Belluci are good as Mary and Magdalene respectively, though they don’t really have a lot to do during most of the film other than cry. But they do it well, with facial expressions and body language that speaks volumes without dialog. Ditto for so many other performers in the film, from extras on up.

Perhaps the most interesting supporting part comes from Hristo Shopov as Pontius Pilate, the Roman bureaucrat who finds himself caught reluctantly in the middle of what he sees as a private matter between Jews. While Romans are generally portrayed in movies as the villains in Judea, this Pilate isn’t a villain. He’s primarily a politician, and he even tries to save Jesus’ life. In the end, however, he is weak, or at the very least when push comes to shove he doesn’t really care what happens to a single Jew.

And of course actors portraying the sadistic thugs who make Jesus’ final hours so horribly miserable turn in hideously believable performances.

Gibson has chosen to shoot the film with dialogue spoken in Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin, with subtitles. This adds to its feel of realism, but it also means you have to take breaks from your eyes being transfixed by the screen to the mundane task of reading the subtitles. I found that this detracted from the power of the film, though on the other hand if it were much more powerful I might have had to leave the room. As it was, my dear and gentle wife could not even sit down to attempt sitting through the experience that is The Passion of the Christ.

Bottom line? The Passion of the Christ is more than just a movie. It is indeed an experience, in many ways an ordeal, as well as a personal statement by its creator. It is an act of faith. It is a modern masterpiece of movie making. It is an important event.

And the Hollywood that refused to embrace it now finds itself left out in the cold by its huge success.

Perhaps there is some justice in the Passion of the Christ, too.

The DVD is sparse, but excellent. It’s presented in separate widescreen and Pan&Scan versions and I highly recommend ignoring the Pan&Scan one if you care in the slightest about preserving the epic look and feel of this remarkable film. The anamorphic widescreen version is 16x9 TV compatible and the picture quality is first rate. The image is about as sharp as you can expect from a non-HD product, and the colors and textures (and, alas, the crimsons of torn flesh and spilled blood) are rich and deep.

Audio is offered in either dts or Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it is also top notch. There’s good use of the surround channels and the sound effects can be positively gut wrenching. No pun intended.

There are no extras.

Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is not merely a must see film for those whose constitutions can take it; it’s a testament to one man’s beliefs, character, determination and vision and proof that if you really want to do something badly enough you can find a way.

The Passion of the Christ, from Warner Home Entertainment
126 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1, 16x9 TV compatible), dts and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Jim Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Belluci, Hristo Shopov
Produced by Bruce Davey, Mel Gibson, Steven McEveety
Written by Benedict Fitzgerald and Mel Gibson, Directed by Mel Gibson


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