The Passion: Gibson's depiction is believable

Monday, March 8, 2004

Mad Max, Braveheart, What Women Really Want ---- these are movies Mel Gibson is known for.

But The Passion of Christ, Gibson's film of the trial and crucifixion of Christ, has made waves in both entertainment and religious circles that will likely establish the handsome actor/producer as a media missionary.

Like Mad Max and Braveheart, the film is rife with violence, but it is not gratuitous. The filming is masterful, from the fog-shrouded Garden of Gethsemane, to the terror of the earthquake that splits the Jewish temple.

An androgenous Satan slinks ---- and floats ---- around in selected scenes. Literalists may take exception to the film's sparing portrayal of demons, but regardless of the tradition they spring from, the demons are symbolic of mankind's susceptibility and fallen nature.

Jesus, while beautiful in flashback scenes, carries the brutality he suffers with an appropriately unbelievable grace and strength, balancing the central Christian belief that Jesus was both man and God.

Actors perform using the ancient Aramaic and Latin, but the subtitles very closely follow the story as told in the four synoptic Gospels.

Fears that the film may spark anti-semitism are not unfounded ---- but even the Bible does that in the minds of some people. The initial appearance of Jesus before the Sanhedrin portrays a vocal dissension among certain members of that Jewish court regarding the clandestine arrest and determination that Jesus be put to death. Common Jewish people are awakened from their homes to orchestrate a demonstration against the man they welcomed into town only a week before.

Pontius Pilate and his wife are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Herod's court is a place of debauchery.

Roman soldiers are portrayed with machismo, especially the two burly whip-wielding men who push themselves close to exhaustion as they beat a silent bleeding Christ. Yet some of the same Romans are transformed with fear and wonder upon Christ's death.

Gibson has managed to portray a very believable and graphic version of reality without resorting to nudity ---- except for the very discrete close-ups of Jesus's nude body as he prepares to emerge from the tomb. The appropriate "R" rating is strictly for the bloodshed and abuse suffered by Jesus.

Since the 1970s, so-called Jesus films and novels have set Christ in more contemporary surroundings. The Passion is a return to tradition, taking the crucifixion of Christ out of time to depict a reality that is immediate to today's people.

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