a critiQal film review The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Plot: A retelling of the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus of Nazareth (Caviezel), including his betrayal by Judas Iscariot (Lionello) that eventually leads to his crucifixion.

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  • ...whether or not you believe doesn't matter - you never doubt the filmmakers do, and that is what makes the film work.

Following a viewing of The Da Vinci Code (2006) with it’s religious overtones, I was able to borrow The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson’s controversial film about the final hours of Jesus’ life, which I had been wanting to see since it first hit theaters back in ’04.

Having never seen most of the depictions of Jesus that have made it to the big screen – including The Last Temptation Of Christ and The Greatest Story Ever Told – I was unsure what to expect from The Passion of the Christ.

Would Mel Gibson be able to create another epic that was able to beat even his widely-acclaimed Braveheart? Judging by the box office totals, many thought so. And now, finally, I would find out for myself.

Prior to The Passion Of The Christ, Jim Caviezel probably wasn’t very well-known to most viewers. This anonymity actually worked perfectly for him, as a famous face would have been a distraction when portraying Jesus. After all, how many people believe Jesus looked like a Tom Cruise or a Tom Hanks? Nobody. No matter how much make-up would have been applied, any more famous actor would have been too recognizable in this role.

Without that distraction, viewers will easily be able to associate the face they see on the screen with the face they have seen numerous times in the past, whether it be in paintings or stained-glass windows or anywhere else they may have seen depictions of Jesus. And that’s just the visual aspect of Caviezel’s character.

Once the viewer has connected with him visually, his impressive performance in The Passion of the Christ will pull them in for the long haul. His portrayal of Jesus is incredibly convincing, never wavering for even a second of screen time. Whether the viewer is religious or not, Caviezel manages to show that there is something different about Jesus – and the viewer will be able to feel it as easily as the people around him on-screen. It’s not something the viewer can actually put their finger on, but it’s there just the same. Despite the trials that he goes through, there is no doubting his convictions, or the underlying sense of hope behind his eyes.

But the acting is only one part of The Passion of the Christ. Gibson realizes this, so has made sure the actors aren’t working alone. Everything in the film, from the gritty color to the incredibly realistic sets, are designed to blend in perfectly with the vision that Gibson is creating for the film.

It’s not pretty – in fact, it’s rather brutal, but it is an experience and a half to watch. No matter what the viewer’s beliefs, they will be impressed by the incredible vision that Gibson has brought to fruition. It’s obvious from the first scene that this film was a personal journey for everyone involved, and Gibson is able to bring that across to the viewers with amazing clarity.

While some viewers may be originally turned off by the fact the whole film is subtitled, the film is so immersing that before the viewer is even half-way through, they will have forgotten that they are reading the dialogue, rather than hearing it.

Being allowed to choose English as the spoken language would have taken something away from the vision that Gibson is creating in The Passion of the Christ, and is not allowed even on the DVD version. To see the story in the language in which was used at the time immerses the viewer more fully into the film. While this isn’t true for most foreign-language films (in fact, I usually can’t stand reading subtitles and would rather deal with dubbing), this is one movie that would be less of an experience if translated to English.

The brutality of The Passion of the Christ is extremely extensive, yet each scene is necessary. When Jesus is being brutalized by Roman soldiers during a public flagellation, the viewer can easily see why it is so troubling to watch. When the soldiers pause, and Jesus struggles painfully to his feet, it’s a moment that is felt more than seen by the audience.

Without showcasing what Jesus went through would be a cheapening of the beliefs of so many out there. By depicting the massive brutality that Jesus was exposed to, Gibson is able to showcase a strength of conviction that is unheard of in today’s society.

The Passion of the Christ is bound to be one of the most talked-about films of our time. From Jim Caviezel’s first scene as Jesus, the filmmaker’s belief in the story they are telling is clearly evident, and that passion carries over into an almost physical feeling for the audience.

Whether or not you believe the story is irrelevant. You never doubt the filmmakers do, and that’s what makes The Passion of the Christ work so well.

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