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The Passion of the Christ [Apr. 16th, 2004|05:25 pm]
Okay - it's after Easter. But since I just learned how to do cuts and since I never did post this, here are my ramblings on the film:

On the whole, I thought it was an awesome movie. We are creatures for whom a picture often is worth a thousand words. Seeing such an in-depth and visual depiction really brought a lot of things home and in some sense, made more real the story that we all know off by heart and take for granted.


A lot was made about the movie being violent, and it certainly was. What I found though was that because the violence had been hyped to death and you were warned so many times about the brutal violence you were about to witness, that the actual movie was not as bad as what I had been dreading. Although I normally abhor violence in movies, I felt that I still had to see this one. After all, if He could endure it on my behalf, the least I could do was sit through a 2-hour depiction of it. And it probably did me good.

Intellectually knowing about the crucifixion is one thing – really understanding it is another. I confess that many a week, I mumble my way through another recitation of the Nicene Creed, " … for our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered death and was buried …", without really appreciated it. Seeing those graphic, and probably realistic, images of torture and crucifixion shocked me out of my complacency.

I know someone who didn't like the movie because she said she saw no love in it. For me, unlike action movies with their pointless violence, I actually saw beauty and love in the midst of horror. Watching this, being immersed in the totality of His sacrifice, I was overwhelmed by why God would bother given our propensity to continually turn away. Knowing that He endured it for us, including for me personally (and probably would have even it had been just for me personally) – it is the most sublime of love stories.


I have heard some complaints in Christian circles about additions to the Biblical text being used in the movie. Most of it smacks of the same rigmarole I used to encounter at meetings about the Sunday school Christmas pageant. We'd agree on a script and choose who was going to play what role, and then someone would start objecting to everything. Was it appropriate for the shepherds to say, "Look at that star" when the Bible only mentions the magi seeing the star. Was it appropriate for the innkeeper to have a wife, as she's not in the Bible? (Technically the innkeeper isn't in the Bible either – nor is it certain that the innkeeper would have been male, as taking in visitors for money was a culturally female occupation.) Don't get me wrong, I am not advocating an Bible study approach of picking and choosing certain verses and ignoring the ones you don't personally care for. Nor do I have much time for people who add on to the word of God. However, from a drama perspective, if you push this idea that nothing that isn't verbatim in the Bible can be depicted, then it makes all children's pageant, religious movies, dramatic monologues, and skits virtually impossible since you are inevitably interpreting Scripture or putting words in the mouth of a Biblical person that isn't in the Bible. Furthermore, as can be seen in this excellent paper, http://www.livejournal.com/users/novak_freek/28406.html#cutid1,even dramatic readings can be problematic as your personal bias will affect the inflection and stress of the words even if you just read the Bible.

Personally, I loved the inclusion of character of Satan. We know Jesus was tempted in the wilderness after His baptism. While the gospels do not carry any specific references to any other temptations, I would find it very surprising if the forces of evil (however one conceives of Satan) took that defeat as final and never tried again. I found the scene in Gesemene where Satan was attempting to place doubts in the human side of the Jesus' mind about His ability to go through with what He knew would unfold to be one of the most moving scenes in the movie.

Similarly, I find criticism about the over-inclusion of the Virgin Mary to be misplaced. We know that Mary was present at the Crucifixion, although the gospels are silent as to at what point in the Good Friday story she arrived at. Not being a Jewish historian, I am not sure whether the trial before the Sanhedrin or the flogging that Pilate ordered were public events. If the public could have been present at the trial or torture and if someone had notified Mary, it doesn't strike me as improbable that a mother would be present at these horrible moments to support her only child.


Two of my favourite scenes were the healing of Malchus's ear and Simon of Cyrene because in both cases they were parts of the passion story which I usually gloss over and which were made more real to me by the movie. Luke 22:51 simply says that Jesus said "No more of this!" and touched the man's ear and healed him. It's not a very important line and since we are ultimately interested in what happens next to Jesus, we don't give this little incident any thought. The movie's depiction of the guard with his hand on his restored ear and the look of amazement on his face brought home the reality of this little one liner in the gospel story. It made me see him not as a piece of Biblical trivia, but as a real person who had a brief but very profound encounter with Jesus. In those couple of moments as he sits bewildered trying to figure out how his severed ear has been resorted, it's almost like he is also wondering why they are putting to death a man who can work miracles and why a man that they are putting to death would take the opportunity to work a miracle for one of his oppressors.

I had always pictured Simon of Cyrene as being forced to carry Jesus' cross when He no longer could. The movie's depiction of Simon as co-carrying the cross along with Jesus really provided an image of what the essence of the Christian life is. Jesus just doesn't hand us our crosses. We are sometimes called to share in the sufferings of Christ, but He too is there to help us bear the weight of that which is sometimes thrust upon us.


Much has been made of the supposed anti-Semitism of the movie and nothing could be further from the truth. To begin with, there is illogicalness in saying the movie portrays Jews in a bad light when almost all the characters in the movie were Jewish - Jesus, Mary, Peter, Judas, John, the rest of the apostles, Herod, the guards, the high priests, the crowd. Some did the right thing, some meant to do the right thing but stumbled in weakness, some did the wrong thing, some did the wrong thing believing in their hearts they were truly doing right. Jews, like every other racial group comes in all moral persuasions. Even the assertion that the movie portrays the Jewish religious leaders in a bad light isn't completely true. There were members of the Sanhedrin who opposed the procedurally illegal trial of Jesus and the movie shows that.

If anyone comes off badly in the film, it is the Roman soldiers, who are depicted almost without exception as being bloodthirsty, prejudiced, crass, and of low intelligence.

I have heard people say that Pilate was portrayed in a sympathetic light, but must respectfully disagreed. The movie shows Pilate telling his wife that if there is any more trouble in Jerusalem Rome will have his head. The movie, probably for lack of time, doesn't explain for those who don't know that Pilate had been a terrible governor. There had already been two riots in Jerusalem. The first had been when Pilate had hung golden shields inscribed with the names of deities in his palace on Mt. Zion. The emperor himself had to order them removed. The second time was when Pilate seized the sacred revenue from the Temple for the building of an aqueduct. It probably was true that Pilate was on his last probation, but if was true, it was because of his own bad choices in the past. Pilate was a weak man who was willing to let a mob make a decision that as governor was his responsibility to make and absolve responsibility for himself.

In my book, Pilate gets no points for asking the right question "What is truth?" because ultimately he didn't care about its answer. I have more respect for Caiaphus who was at least acting on what he believed to be the right thing to do than I do for Pilate who was willing to sacrifice a man that he thought was innocent to save his own skin.


Do I think the movie was good? Yes. Do I think it was amazing? Yes. Could I make a better movie? Doubtful. Was this a perfect movie? No.

There were a few scenes that I didn't understand or felt added nothing to the movie: Mary cleaning up Jesus' blood with towels, the flashback scene with Jesus building the table that almost seemed inappropriately humorous, and the scene with the crow pecking on the bad thief after his blasphemy. I also found it surprising the Mary Magdalene was identified with the sinful woman in John 8, when every Bible study book or commentary I've read links her with the sinful woman who anointed Christ's feet.