In Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ”, there are many themes that tend to be unsettling or upsetting to the average viewer. It is an especially powerful movie for a Christian, especially a Catholic, because it depicts the suffering of Jesus in a way that is far more tangible to us. It is realistic, not dulled to make it more palatable for the modern moviegoer. It also illustrates the many trials of Jesus’ conviction as well as the agonizing pain of overcoming fear of death and persecution and the temptation to flee. This movie shows us in a very clear way exactly how Jesus suffered.
The movie focuses on realism in that it does not try to weaken the imagery of Jesus’ suffering. We often see the passion depicted in a way that is weakened to make it more appealing to Hollywood. Mel Gibson depicted the passion by showing every detail of the physical and mental suffering of Jesus and the disciples. This gives us an idea of how we might have reacted to the situations in the Gospels if we were there. Personally, I found that the movie changed my feelings on how the Gospels should be read; the movie shows the Gospels in such a visually impressive way that I recognize the suffering far better now than before.
The Movie could easily be criticized for it’s harsh treatment of the Jews and the comparatively mild look at the Romans role in Christ’s execution. In framing the film as he did, Gibson seems to be implicating the Jews in the murder of Jesus. This distorted vision of history combined with the powerful, emotional imagery of the film is a dangerous combination. When one views “The Passion of the Christ,” it is best to keep one’s mind open to the Catholic viewpoint, but it is also important to understand the historical flaws which have been subtly, and not so subtly, inserted into the film.
Gibson’s movie allows us to better understand the suffering of Jesus, as well as any victim of torture, by showing the true extent to which a person may suffer before death. One thing that all the original audiences of the Gospels had in common was that they lived within the boundaries of the Roman Empire. Some were Romans, some were Jews, but all of them lived in the Empire. The Gospels, and most of the New Testament, are written in a way that assumes we recognize the impact of certain things. All the early Christians would have known personally what happened at a crucifixion. In our modern view, the crucifixion is nowhere near as violent or painful as it would have really been. One may find that their feelings shift from being unable to familiarize oneself with the pain of the crucified people to being sympathetic to all people who were crucified.
The movie also shows us what other punishments were really like. It gives us an up close view of scourging, whippings, the various torture devices used by the Romans, and the true pain that someone would go through. When we read the Gospels, it is assumed that these are things we know already, but when we watch this movie, we are given the full picture of what Jesus suffered through. This film, despite its historical flaws, allows us to understand the pain and suffering of those who are tortured or executed. Regardless of whether we are followers of Christ, to understand the suffering of others is an extremely important ability.
This film utilizes the idea of demons and Satan to emphasize the shame of Judas, the suffering of Jesus, and the evil of the Romans and the Jewish priests. Though the instances in which demons and evil things interact with Jesus and Judas are not accurate according to the Gospels, they allow us to see the full extent to which those involved might have suffered internally. These symbolic additions illustrate the emotional pain of Judas and Jesus.
Many of the non-gospel additions to the movie come from Sister Ann Catherine Emmerch’s visions from “The Dolorous Passion.” This gives us another perspective from which to view the Gospels. For me, the addition of Sister Ann Catherine Emmerch’s visions shows how Jesus had to confront temptation just as we do. When Satan arrives in the Garden of Gethsemane and the snake crawls out toward Jesus, there is a clear reference to the Garden of Eden. We see that Jesus, who has come to save us for the sins of Adam and Eve is rejecting the temptation that they accepted. In this case, his temptation is to flee and to escape capture by the authorities.
“The Passion of the Christ” has allowed me look at the Gospels as events which can be grasped much more easily now that I have seen what it would have been like to be there. The connections drawn to Jesus’ life as a carpenter and his relationship with Mary connect him to the average person. This movie shows us how Jesus gave his life, despite the temptation to use his free will to escape. Despite the injection of Mel Gibson’s questionable personal views, “The Passion of the Christ,” if viewed with an open mind and a questioning approach, is a fascinating film and a theologically rewarding experience.
Emmerch, Ann C. “The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Index. Sacred-Texts.com, n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2013. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/pjc/>.
The Passion of the Christ. Dir. Mel Gibson. Perf. Jim Caviezel and Monica Belluci. Icon Productions, 2004. Film.