I finally saw The Passion of the Christ
. It is a very intense and powerful film. It does have a lot of violence, but it wasn't quite as hard to take as I thought it would be. In the scourging, for example, you didn't actually see many of the blows at the point they hit Jesus' flesh. What you mostly saw was the sadistic glee on the faces of the torturers and the wounds Jesus sustained. I saw it in a group of four. Two of us were able to watch it all, and the other two turned their heads for very short periods. We don't really know the extent to which Jesus was beaten, particularly at the time of his arrest and during the procession to the crucifixion site, but I suspect it was somewhat overdone although I have no doubt that it was in fact brutal.
Some have called the violence in the film pornographic, but I didn't find that to be so. The violence seemed clearly for the purpose of portraying the suffering Jesus went through, not for the sake of titillation. I saw Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
a few months ago. I found that film disgustingly pornographic in its violence, yet it received far less criticism for violence than Gibson's film has and received mostly favorable reviews. The original trilogy was purportedly written as Christian allegory. I have not read the books, but that film did not seem at all Christian to me. However, found The Passion of the Christ
faithful to the Christian message.
I felt it was a very accurate portrayal of Jesus. The overwhelming message of the movie was of a man of love. Considering Mel Gibson's reputation, I was somewhat surprised that the film seemed to carry a strong pacifist message. The flashbacks were mostly very well done, and provided a better understanding of Jesus than could have been done without them. They demonstrated that the love shown by Jesus during the Passion was of a piece with the love he demonstrated and taught during his ministry.
I did not see any anti-semitism in the film. Jews were presented as an oppressed people, and as far from monolithic. Jews were shown as a people with all the variety one would expect in any group of people. The Sanhedrin was certainly not presented sympathetically, but the presentation was more nuanced than I anticipated from the reviews I had read. It came across that they did what they fett was needed in the best interest of the Jews. They didn't seem as self-serving as I expected them to be portrayed, atthough they did appear cynical. They seemed very skillful at working the crowd to get it to press for Jesus' death.
Gibson has been heavily criticized for portraying Pilate sympathetically. However, he was certainly not portrayed as a good person. He was portrayed as a person frustrated and bitter about his work, and somewhat cold and calculating. He was shown as unhappy with being forced into a politically difficult situation, possible a no-win one, with Jesus being brought before him with the demand for crucifixion. In the end, his motivation for making the decision he did appeared to be that it was the least dangerous politically.
Claudia, Pilate's wife, was presented very sympathetically, and possibly that was overdone a little although the sympathetic presentation is rooted in scripture. I found the vignette of Claudia asking her husband about whether he could sense the truth powerful. It was an effective demonstration of the dramatic difference between those with a real sense of the Spirit and those who just don't get it at all.
The real villains portrayed were the Roman soldiers. They were presented as incredibly sadistic and cynical, although by the end some of them seemed touched by the power of Christ's love.
One of the things I had wondered about was whether it was a film for Christians, or whether it would also be effective as an evangelistic tool as some have indicated. It showed somewhat more promise as a tool for evangelism than I expected, through the use of flashbacks to provide context and the powerful message of Jesus' love. Yet there were also parts which required knowledge of the story. The flashback to the story of the woman caught in adultery would, I think, be incomprehensible to someone who did not know the story since it omitted the charge against her and what Jesus' said to those who sought to stone her. It does seem to me to be primarily a film for those who know the basic story.
Much of the extra-Biblical stuff didn't work for me. I didn't find the portrayals of Satan very helpful, and in fact they seemed somewhat of a distraction. Also, I think many viewers might not understand what he was seeking to portray. The scene of a younger Jesus building a very modern table seemed to me truly bizarre. It seems extremely unlikely, and I couldn't figure out what point Gibson was trying to make with it.
That Gibson filmed it in Aramaic and Hebrew, neither of which I know, was not a big barrier for me. Subtitles were used very sparingly, and I did wish that more of what was said had been provided through subtitles. However, the thrust of what was happening was generally clear.