The Passion of the Christ Movie Review
Membership Level› Guest
Author/Source: Karl Bastian
Topic: Movie Review
Pastor Karl was privileged to get to see a pre-release screening of Mel Gibson's new movie The Passion of the Christ on Jan. 20th, and responds here to its impact on him, and answers questions about it's appropriateness for children.
The Passion of Christ, the Kidologist’s Review
I was honored to be given the opportunity to preview The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson on January 20, 2004. Following the film, Mel Gibson was there to be interviewed.
The Director, Mel Gibson
I have long been a fan of many of Mel Gibson’s films (Maverick being a favorite). He is to be commended and honored for the personal sacrifice and suffering he has gone through to create this film. When asked if putting in the film Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me” might be charged as being less than tolerant, Mel’s answer was “Well, he wasn’t known to tell fibs.” His way of saying, ‘well, that’s what he said.’ It is an awesome movie and millions of people will be grateful for his vision and obedience to God in the production of this film against great odds.
My fear, is that because this film is so good, Mel has been catapulted rather rapidly to the top of the Christian celebrity list. Suddenly, he is the featured guest and speaker at multiple Christian concerts and events. We must be careful to let the film stand alone, and not link it too closely to the man who made it. Just as Paul said to Timothy, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ”, there is a need to honor, praise and emulate only that which is good, and be willing to separate the rest. Mel certainly believes the Bible and has an awesome reverence and respect for Jesus and His work on the cross. Many are trying to figure out whether he is ‘saved’ or not. While I’ll leave that to God, his interview did reveal some questionable theology, though all of us have errors in our theology, no one can be right on every point, for sure.
My caution is just to let the movie stand on its own merits, and it will stand the test of time quite well. Mel’s future is yet to be seen. He may disappoint some, who want him to be the next great evangelist. He is an actor and a director, and an eccentric one at that! Even in his interview, when given potential home run questions, he squirmed and hedged, seemingly uncomfortable in front of a large group of Christian leaders all admiring him (myself included). He certainly seemed humble, even awkwardly leaving the stage when another person on stage got a bit too complimentary for him to just sit there and accept it. It will be interesting to see how he grows in his faith and where that journey takes him. Not many new Christians can make such a big a splash upon their first venture into the Christian world and industry. Please pray for him. For perseverance, for growth in his relationship with Christ, and that his belief will be more than belief, but a relationship with Christ, if it is not already. I’d hate to get to heaven and not find him there, but being a famous Christian and having made the best film ever of the passion is not salvation. It is faith in Christ – hopefully he has done that, and if so, hopefully our hopes will be on the who the film was about, not the man that made the film. Men disappoint, but God never will.
The Movie, The Passion of the Christ
This is not a review of a movie. This is a review of an experience with the Passion of the Christ. With a budget of some 20 to 30 million dollars and one of the best directors in the industry, it would be a waste of time to elaborate on film quality – casting – lighting – editing – set design – score – etc. They are all superb and set this film apart from all other attempts at ‘Jesus movies.’ In fact, a recent review of four previous crucifixion scenes from early attempts to capture this pivotal event in history on film, were almost laughable, with Jesus having only mere scratches and a few spots of blood, and the set designs, sound and acting being weak by comparison. This does not mean that Mel Gibson’s adaptation of the Passion will replace those previous films, for indeed, this newest portrayal of Christ’s death is not suitable for children and probably will not be useable even in Sunday worship services, so those ‘tamer’ versions will retain their usefulness in worship and in church classrooms and homes. But The Passion of the Christ provides what has never been offered before: a devastatingly brutal, yet accurate, visual experience of the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus Christ.
This film will change you. Worship and communion will never be the same. The Sunday, after seeing this film, I was struck by the impact of worship as images of the Passion were still vividly in my mind. Not just the painful sacrifice of Jesus for my sins, but even the quieter moments with His disciples as He tried to explain and prepare them for what lie ahead. I have such a deeper and richer appreciation now for what my faith means and for what it cost.
How to describe the film is difficult. It is brutal, but it is not gratuitous violence. It is bloody, but it is not gory. It is heart wrenching, but not disgusting. It is distressing, but not depressing. It will shock you, and jar you, and cause you to cringe, but it will also force you to deal with the reality of what Jesus voluntary suffered for you. As Mel Gibson said in the interview following the screening, “It was all about the blood. Jesus could have pricked his finger, and that would have been enough, but he chose to go all the way.” This movie, as well, goes all the way. It certainly deserves the R rating, but is appropriate for any adult. In fact, every adult ought to see it. In a culture that glorifies violence in entertainment, and yet hides it in real life, this film brings to the surface the harsh reality of the hatred within man, and his opposition to any rule above himself. It is abundantly clear in this film, as in the Gospels it was based upon, that Jesus was not killed for a crime, He was not killed by the Romans, He wasn’t even killed by evil Jews. He was killed by each and every person who has sinned and needed a sacrifice to take the penalty for them in order to be able to stand before a righteous God.
The complaints in the media that are negative are fascinating to listen to. Most are ridiculous. The familiar claims of being anti-Semitic are silly. Jesus was a Jew dying for the world. As one non-Christian Jewish leader said, “Yes, there are some bad Romans and bad Jews in this film, but all the good guys are Jewish too.” Most of the rest are desperate complaints by those who have not seen the film and fear its message. As James Dobson said, “This is the most controversial film that no one has ever seen.” The rest have been outright lies, which amaze me it is allowed, but the media must allow them since it is the one they are quoting who is lying, and not them directly. Like Pilate, they can wash their hands of it, by reporting only the negative, but making sure others take the blame.
I’ve been asked what my favorite scene was – hard to have a favorite scene in something so dramatic and agonizing, but the scene that brought me the most tears was one where Mary, as she is running toward Jesus to help Him as he falls carrying the cross, the movie flashes back to her running toward Him to help Him up from a fall as a young boy. You are flooded with a sudden empathy for what she must have been feeling as the one who had known Him the longest, and knew He was a special person sent by God for a great work. She knew of the angel's visit promising He would bring peace on earth, and yet the scene now before her must have seemingly contradicted those past promises and ideas of what those promises would mean. The song Mary Did You Know began to play in my mind’s ear.
One of my favorite aspects of the film is the lack of English. Any dialogue we need is provided in subtitles, but most of the words are not translated, and it has a powerful effect. I’m not sure we need to know exactly what the soldiers were saying as they beat and taunted Jesus, their laughs and cruel faces tell us more than words ever could. We would be evaluating the words instead of taking in the scene and what was happening. It made it so much more real. You discover again how unimportant words are in the midst of dramatic events, the events themselves are yelling, words would only cloud the message. As a book is often better than a movie in that the imagination is freed to conjure up images no movie could show, so the lack of English enables the viewer to imagine the kinds of things they were saying to Jesus without having it fed to you. I would be curious to read a script someday if there is one and they truly were speaking those languages, but I’d rather not know the words, at least for awhile.
The most difficult scene, was not the crucifixion, it was actually the scourging of Jesus. It was dramatically depicted and seemed to never end. I was prepared for the cross. The scourging was agonizing and brutal and very bloody. And yet, you see Jesus climb back up for more, when any other man would have remained on the floor in a pool of his own blood. When He climbed back up for more, I wept. I was reminded of a child who once asked his pastor, “What if Jesus had fallen off the cross? Would he have climbed back up?” and the answer was “Yes, he would have climbed back up for you.” I had never considered that he endured so much before he even got to the cross.
As a children’s pastor and children’s ministry worker and leader, I must answer the question as to whether this film is appropriate for children. The simple answer is no. Mel Gibson, the director, even said after the screening, that he would not recommend it to anyone under thirteen. While I do think there are some children who could see it and benefit from it, I would think they would at least be over ten, and no parent should take a child to see this, unless they have seen it first, without their child, and then decide their child could benefit from it. My reason for restricting it is not simply the violence. Unfortunately, too many of our kids have seen films far more gory or violent than this! There are some other ‘artistic’ elements of the film that could be too scary or haunting for children. There is an actor that portrays Satan, as a person who visits, talks to, and taunts Jesus. There are some creepy images of demons and one scene where demons are tormenting Judas and leading him to hang himself. Demons are shown as a crowd of taunting children and one of them shows his demonic face briefly. Younger children, being concrete relational, will not understand these images. They will think that children drove Judas to hang himself. The imagery of children as demons may scare or disturb children. There is one other demonic scene that could freak kids out, but since this is a pre-release review, I do not want to give too much away!
But regarding the violence, as I have explained to kids in my own ministry, even if they have seen violent movies, there is a difference in this film. While some movies are violent, but are fiction, and others are violent, but are trying to accurately show a reality from the past, this film’s violence is different because it is intensely personal. It is not just historical violence, such as in Mel Gibson’s film The Patriot, which I believe every American should see to understand the sacrifices early Americans made for us, but it is a very personal violence because it is painfully clear that you are partly responsible for the pain and agony you are watching.
Throughout the film, I was constantly struck with the thought, “He did this for me” and “My sin made this necessary.” You see, I know Jesus. I talk to Him nearly every day – to see him suffer is to see more than my closest friend suffer right before my eyes, and I can’t stop it, because it is over. It is something that, in God’s economy of time, I caused to happen long ago. The unbeliever will have a hard time understanding that, but it is what makes this film so profound. You feel like you were there. You ran when the soldiers appeared in the garden after dark, you saw the false trial, and hid in the crowd too afraid and confused to do anything, you watched him being yelled at, laughed at, mocked, and beaten, and while you couldn’t go home, you stayed safely anonymous in the jeering crowd. You followed Him, but at a safe distance, as he struggled to carry your cross down the road, and you watched the grueling crucifixion wishing, wondering what you could do, but did nothing, all the while wondering what went wrong. And then you saw the sky go black and felt the wind rip across the landscape and the ground shaking below you as the earth itself seemed to cry out that a terrible and yet profound event had just occurred. The Passion is no longer a Sunday School story – it is a reality you experienced, and a reality that will live with you the rest of your life.
Go see this film. Take your friends. And when the time is right, even if years from now, make sure your children see it as well. And then worship the Christ, for as the film shows, He is no longer dead, but risen!