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My husband and I drove 50 miles, in a rainstorm, to view this much-touted epic after being inundated by advertisements, studio hype, and intense religious discussions and arguments. We wanted to view for ourselves what all the fuss was about and to decide whether the truth about Jesus, as interpreted by Mel Gibson, was worth watching. Since we live in the buckle of the Bible belt, and area churches have been booking local movie houses solid, we made the trip to Paducah, Kentucky, for the 2:00 p.m. showing on a Friday afternoon. We really didn’t want to fight the crowds, and we didn’t feel it was necessary to pay more than matinee prices to see this film.
Please understand that as a Jew I was leery of any film that might perpetuate the ingrained belief of Christians that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. Both of us wanted to be open-minded and fair, however, and to view the movie without any prejudicial, preconceived notions.
Most people have probably seen the numerous religious epics already produced by Hollywood, such as “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” “The Bible,” “Sparticus,” and “The Ten Commandments.” Who can forget Charlton Heston as Moses or the numerous actors who portrayed Jesus in these films (even if they were blond and blue-eyed and spoke with a Swedish accent)? We watch these films because it’s easier to visualize Bible stories than to actually sit down and read the Bible. We eventually come to believe that they are the truth, especially as they are presented to the public ad nauseum during every Christian holiday. Mel Gibson stated during interviews prior to and following the release of his film that he wanted to present the story of Jesus’ last twelve hours strictly according to the Gospels and as a testament to his rejuvenated Catholic faith.
I must comment that the actors in “The Passion of The Christ” looked authentic for the location and era except that the man portraying Jesus was “too pretty” for a Middle Eastern Jew. The costumes appeared authentic and the customs presented for the times looked “real.” All dialogue was spoken either in Aramaic or Italian (Latin) with English subtitles, which to me proved very disconcerting and distracting. I imagine that some of the elderly folks in the audience might have had a difficult time keeping up with the subtitles, especially as the movie progressed and the action became more intense. The actors’ accents were disconcerting and, to me, sounded like Americans reading dialogue in a foreign language but without the nuances and flavor of the language. I did find the look and feel of the location and the time frame to be more believable than in other previously produced religious epics.
The Pharisees (Jewish religious leaders) were portrayed as hard-hearted, bigoted, nasty folks. They wanted revenge for Jesus’ reviling them for their actions, thus they instigated the crowd to insist on Jesus’ crucifixion. (Stupid, mindless, unthinking people everywhere can become caught up in acts of violence as evidenced over time by religious fervor or soccer matches.) Pontius Pilate was portrayed as sympathetic to Jesus’ plight, but also a wimp who didn’t want to jeopardize his position and power within the Roman hierarchy. His wife, Claudia, was portrayed as sympathetic to Jesus and pleaded with her husband not to put Jesus to death. One had the feeling that Pilate wouldn’t be welcome in his marriage bed if he made the wrong decision so he tried to pass the decision off on Herod. Herod, on the other hand, was portrayed as a stereotypically debauched Roman only interested in partying, so he refused to condemn Jesus. Pilate eventually bowed to the will of the Pharisees and the people and ordered the crucifixion.
I am amazed at the cruelty of the Roman guards. They actually found it amusing to torture and kill Jesus. Why then do Christians not revile and persecute the sadistic Italians for killing Jesus?
What I found hard to take was the gratuitous and graphic violence of the film. I can only describe it as “shock and awe.” We have been exposed to graphic violence in films for many years, thus the “R” ratings, but this film far surpassed any other previously conceived. It should have had a “D” rating for disgusting. Who can forget all the teenage slasher movies our children love or Samurais beheading and cutting off their foes’ hands? I can only say that I had to cover my eyes and moan when they were nailing Jesus to the cross with fake movie blood spraying everywhere. Yes, Mel was true to the Gospels, but did we need to see blood all over Mary’s face and mouth after she kissed Jesus’ feet following his giving up the ghost? Did we really need to see Jesus’ skin being flayed from his body during his ordeal? Did we need to feel and hear the Crown of Thorns being rammed into Jesus’ scalp by the Romans? Did we need to see a Roman guard being sprayed in the face by Jesus’ blood when he stabbed him in the side with his lance to see if he was dead?
In the final analysis, this film was a violent, bloody travesty.
It is one that I will never watch again and I would not recommend it to
those with bad hearts or those who are about to deliver babies. It
will never become an annual “classic.” I’m sure Mel Gibson is proud
of his final product and the fact that it is breaking all movie release
records. He is counting his good fortune all the way to the bank.
What this film accomplishes is to lambaste the public with blood, gore,
and violence and to ignore the true message of Jesus Christ according to
the New Testament, which was one of love and forgiveness. One so-called
Christian was quoted as saying he didn’t realize Jesus was a Jew.
Another said he didn’t realize Jesus suffered so much during his crucifixion.
Much violence and hatred have been perpetrated in the name of religion
over the centuries and I find it amazing that Mel Gibson would consciously
contribute to introducing more bigotry, controversy, and hatred to this
dangerous and unsettled world. People choose what they believe in
just as the ancients chose what to include in the Bible. Religion,
and religious-based movies, should be taken with a grain of salt.
“The Passion of The Christ” lacked passion and compassion for its viewing
audience. Don’t believe everything you see or hear in the Gospels
according to Mel.
Laurel Rose Diaz
March 6, 2004