‘Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do...’
My faith has always been a complicated issue. Raised as a Catholic before many years as a staunch atheist gave way to my current guise as an agnostic, faith is an issue that fascinates me, but also makes me feel a little uncomfortable. This is perhaps one of the reasons why I have never bothered with The Passion of the Christ. Any art with a religious slant either absorbs me or repels me, and Mel Gibson’s controversial retelling of the Christ myth has always fallen squarely in the latter camp. And yet…
The Passion of the Christ covers the final moments of Jesus’ (Jim Caviezel) life on Earth. From the betrayal of Judas (Luca Lionello) to the hounding and persecution led by Caiphas (Mattia Sbragia) to the doomed intervention by Pontius Pilate (Hristo Shopov), Gibson’s ultra violent film charts all of this right up until Jesus’ final moments on the cross at Golgotha – and be warned, this is a tough watch.
I should start by saying that Gibson himself is a… controversial figure, to say the least, and this film itself received criticism for historical inaccuracies and antisemitism, but that shouldn’t cloud your judgement around the quality of the film itself. And this is high quality filmmaking. Caviezel, who would pretty much vanish into obscurity the second credits rolled on this movie, delivers a powerful and emotive performance that will live long in the memory. Jesus’ pain and suffering is etched on his face, and the many degradations and acts of violence that he endures are sold to the viewer as authentic and lived in. Is the violence necessary? Well, it’s a violent story. There is little here that isn’t mentioned in at least one of the canonical gospels, and the little flourishes that Gibson does include only add to the overall story rather than detracting from it.
With The Passion of the Christ, Gibson made a film that is in Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin, a film that is utterly and brutally violent, and a film with controversial subject matter, and somehow spun box office gold from all of those disparate elements. No matter what you think of him as a man, Apocalypto, Hacksaw Ridge and this film stand as proof that he is a genuinely talented director.
I always thought this film wouldn’t be for me. I was wrong. If you are unsure I will leave you with this – I firmly believe that The Passion of the Christ is a film that everybody should see at least once.