Directed by Mel Gibson Written by Benedict Fitzgerald & Mel Gibson Starring Jim Caviezel, Monica Bellucci & Maia Morgenstern
Film Review by Dean Pettipher
All people will at some point relate to being overpowered by a sudden light shining upon them, resulting in striking revelations of indisputably benevolent sacrifice that they until now had taken for granted. One form that such a light may take could be a chocolate Easter egg, which a newly independent individual buys for himself or herself, recalling those bygone years of childhood when some dear family members or friends happily had those seasonal treats covered. In that moment gleams one of the truly secular Easter messages. That is to say, people are frequently reminded at Easter that to love and to be loved are arguably the two greatest feelings of all. Even if through a visual depiction that is so brutal and uncompromising in its intensity that the picture requires a great deal of perseverance to watch, few films so fittingly illustrate these notions, along with their heightened significance around the Eater period, like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004).
Cinema lovers of all faiths or no faith at all will gain some profound understanding of that ineffable force that drives people to do so much for others while expecting absolutely nothing in return, not least because the crucifixion remains one of the only parts of Jesus’ life that scholars almost totally agree on being historically accurate. Thus, putting faith aside, the knowledge that Gibson’s movie is likely to have been based on a true story, has the capacity to unite and inspire rather than alienate those outside of the Christian spheres. Boldness alone did not raise the movie to the seat above the clouds reserved for the highest grossing foreign language film and/or subtitled film in US box office history. Indeed, filmmaking that combined courage with sincerity at least set Gibson’s work on course for becoming the highest grossing religious film in worldwide box office of all-time.
Sincerity here comes in the form of various qualities, which combine to create a dramatic masterpiece. At the heart of what makes the movie triumph are specific scenes serving as defiant interpretations of what Jesus’ crucifixion might have been like to experience, both as a participant and as an observer. Acts of abuse and torture here are so harrowing that one wonders at times whether or not Steve McQueen employed them as the main inspiration for the similarly vicious but no less compelling scenes of his period drama entitled 12 Years a Slave (2013). Christ in those instances in particular and throughout the story is brought fully to life through the remarkably composed performance of Jim Caviezel, who performs as if his purpose on Earth revolved around it.
The poignancy of the action is heightened by expertly-timed flashbacks with succinct dialogue that together firmly place the crucifixion of Christ within the context of his life from childhood into adulthood, as well as the principle events of the crucifixion tale that occurred just before the tragic climax on the cross. Gibson and the crew cleverly manage to keep the focus on Christ while exploring the role of a few principle supporting characters in the story, such as his mother, Mary, and his disciple, Judas, to an extent of intriguing depth. One only wishes to have seen even more exploration of those characters that were not quite as lucky, such as Mary Magdalene, or some of the other eleven disciples. Moreover, noting how beautifully Gibson brought key moments from Jesus’ story to life, which to reveal here would spoil the cinematic experience, to have witnessed any of the other endeavours of Christ and his disciples, such as the wedding at Cana, when Jesus turned water into wine, might just have enhanced the drama that much more. Fortunately, audiences witness enough in the final cut to leave them speechless when the story closes.
The impact of The Passion of the Christ still burns as fervently as ever. So much so that Gibson announced in late 2016 that he was working on a sequel with the Braveheart (1995) screenwriter, Randall Wallace. Virtually all that is known right now is that the sequel has been entitled The Resurrection and that Gibson is determined to make a film that at least reaches that standard of its previous chapter. Recalling the outrage endured by its predecessor at the hands of some critics over a decade ago, this new undertaking will certainly attract a relentless plague of controversy from all directions. However, if Gibson and his collaborators can maintain a focus on the secular values of the religious source material, which every year encourage people from all backgrounds to take part in Easter-themed celebrations to the extent that they feel like truly wanted and fully integrated parts of the festivities, then the upcoming project will achieve the greatest miracles of the movies, which include entertaining through great storytelling and inspiring positive change, in thought, word and/or in deed, along the way.