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 Hollywoods
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.
Gibsons film, The Passion of the Christ is obviously a labor
of love, but its also a terrific movie in its own right. Sure, its
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 its my opinion (never having met Mr. Gibson, though
Id 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 whove 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. Ive never really
been grossed out by movie violence, and while The Passion of the Christ didnt
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 its
obvious that they were well-practiced at their jobs.
Now, Im no scholar of the bible or of history, so I cant comment
intelligently on the accuracy of Gibsons 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 doesnt
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 lets 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 hes 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
And after youve endured The Passion of the Christ you may begin to have
an understanding of what Christianity is about. No wonder Hollywood didnt
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 doesnt preach, it unfolds almost like a documentary
(or at least as much of a documentary as Michael Moores op ed
movies). It puts Jesus death into historical and religious context, and
clearly shows that he wasnt 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 isnt about Jews or Roman or Christians but
about people. It moves, it disgusts, it uplifts, it depresses, it inspires.
Jim Caviezel plays Jesus and that must have been one heck of an ordeal. He
doesnt 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
Maia Morgenstern and Monica Belluci are good as Mary and Magdalene respectively,
though they dont 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 isnt a villain.
Hes 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 doesnt 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. Its 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. Theres good use of the surround channels and the sound effects
can be positively gut wrenching. No pun intended.
There are no extras.
Mel Gibsons The Passion of the Christ is not merely a must see film for
those whose constitutions can take it; its a testament to one mans
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
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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