My Passion Review
I liked the movie. No, that isn't quite right: How can one like a portrayal of a man being killed brutally? But I thought it was effective in presenting the truth of the sacrifice on Calvary. Let me present a few thoughts that I had, in no particular order:
1) Cinematically I could see how one could dislike the film. It as lots of Gibsonisms in it, techniques that recall Hamlet, Braveheart, and other films he's made. The techniques work on me (I know that The Patriot is a bad movie, but I still like and am affected by it), but I can see where they could fall flat.
2) Gibson did his homework: almost everything that Jesus says in the film is a quote from the gospels, from the psalms (he prays psalms all the time, something you might not have noticed if you don't pray the psalms yourself), to the book of Revelation (the line to his mother "See how I make all things new!"). This is a movie grounded firmly in scripture. Even the crow plucking out the eye of the mocking thief recalls Proverbs 30 (I don't have the exact verse handy).
3) Judas. I'm glad that Gibson didn't make any attempts to romanticize him, to make him some kind of revolutionary or fallen hero. John, who knew him, says he was a thief, and his betrayal was motivated by money. Sin is not heroic, romantic, or revolutionary; it's cowardly, small-hearted, and selfish. Judas did it for money. I loved how when Judas received his payment, the bag of silver coins flies through the air. Judas tries to catch it, but the bag spills, and all the coins fall to the floor, as Judas clutches frantically at the wages of his sin. Gibson has effectively communicated the nature of the rewards of sin: they cannot endure. All the goods of this world pass away. To choose the goods of this world rather than Good Himself is madness.
4) Peter is just like me: all sorts of brave talk about following Christ no matter what, and even courage to fight and damage my enemies (Malchus' ear), but no courage to do the real work of surrendering himself, even unto death. His betrayal happened faster than I pictured it in my mind, but was done well, I think. Note how the look from Christ causes despair in Judas, but repentance in Peter.
5) I thought John was a bit unemotional, simply watching, watching, and watching again. The biggest reaction from him happened when Christ said "Son, behold your Mother." I'm not sure what to make of that.
6) Mary. The mariological aspects of the film probably affected me most. I've always had a somewhat distant relationship with Mary in my own prayer life--I never really liked the Rosary much, and didn't know why. I still don't know why, but the problem is getting better, since I ask her to watch over my wife and child. But the movie makes it easier. The woman who played her was brilliant, I think. She was portrayed as understanding that this had to happen, but regretting it nonetheless: see the line at the beginning of the movie from the Jewish Seder: "What makes this night different from every other night?" "Once we were slaves, but now we are free." Thus Mary and the other Mary point out at the beginning that this sacrifice is the true Passover.
The mopping up of the blood at the scourging was and is a typical Jewish action, since the blood is the life of the body. The blood is traditionally buried with the body, and even now you will see women (it always seems to be women who do this--they are most involved with the beginnings and endings of life) mopping up blood after bombings in Israel.
7) The Scourging: It was awful. But it was awful in real life. I've seen pictures of the actual flagella used to whip people, and they were brutal, just like in the movie. It is my understanding Mel got the details on this scene from the Shroud of Turin.
8) The Crown of Thorns was even worse than the scourging. I know in my own meditations on the Passion that the crowning with thorns always struck me as the worst part--imagine thorns being driven into your scalp. Ouch!
9) I loved Simon of Cyrene's character, starting off reluctant, but ending up a willing coworker with Jesus. You have to remember about Simon that he was in town for the Passover, and that touching the bloody cross would make him ritually impure, thus making his journey for nothing. It would be like going to an ND game and then losing one's tickets. But there is irony in this: although by helping Jesus he was unable to go to the Temple to pray on the Passover, by helping Jesus he was present at the fulfillment of the Passover.
Furthermore, the image of the cross across both sets of shoulders and Simon right next to Jesus, almost embracing him, called to mind Christ's saying in Matt 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. That yoke is, of course, the Cross.
10) Pilate and Caiaphas : I saw an interesting commentary on Pilate that we like Pilate and hate Caiaphas because Pilate is more like us. When confronted with a moral dilemma, Caiaphas makes a wrong decision and sticks to it. Pilate hems and haws and takes refuge in pseudo-philosophy: What is truth? Pilate was a coward, but so are we. That's why we think the portrayal of him is sympathetic, even though he condemns a man he knows is innocent. He's actually worse than Caiaphas, since Caiaphas thinks Christ is guilty.
11) Anti-semitism, anti-shmemitism. If Jews identify themselves with the long-gone priestly class, then perhaps the film could be perceived as anti-semetic. But the Sadducees don't exist anymore. Modern Judaism comes from Pharisaic (Synagogal) Judaism, and they aren't even mentioned in the film.
12) One thing that the film shows is how little most Christians know about the Bible in general and the gospels in particular. How could any self-respecting Christian ask "Is that in the bible?" Don't you know what's in the Bible? If not, why not?
I would write more, but I have a cranky baby.