I am somewhat speechless after seeing this film, so it is good that I have somewhere to write my thoughts. I do not go to the movie theatre much anymore, as I do not like to pay so much money when I can spend less and watch them in the comfort of my own home on DVD. But I did not want to wait the time I would have had to wait in order to see this film by Mel Gibson. So much has been talked about this movie prior to it's opening such as reports of anti-Semitism and the amount of violence that it supposedly had. After watching it myself, I cannot agree with either assessment.
As far as the anti-Semitism goes, I can understand why Jewish leaders might take that away from this film. It would not be easy to watch any movie in which your own kind had such a direct impact on actions that would affect the world for the next 2,000 years. With that said, I think anyone that would walk away from this film angrier with the Jews than when they walked in is a nutcase anyway. No sane person leaves this film angry. If anything, they leave feeling ashamed. Ashamed because the message of Christ's life and death was one of allowing salvation for the rest of us.
The Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ lived and died so that the rest of us might be forgiven for our sins and pass into heaven. God gave his only son and there is a moment in the film in which God sheds a tear that really brings this point home. We are all sinners and I for one felt as though I can do more than I have considering what this man did for all of us. He was a man and he was put through cruel and excessive pain and torture for the sins that man had committed and would continue to commit forever more. I am shamed because I have only recently understood this concept and much of my life has been spent denying his grace.
Non-believers might not be changed or even touched by this film, but those of us who do believe do not wish revenge on any one sect. We do not feel anger towards Jews or the ancient Romans who actually carried out this atrocity. After all, Jesus himself asked God to forgive those that had done this to him. If he can, I dare say so can the rest of us.
As for the violence, I do not deny that it is present. But I do not agree that it is excessive to the point of being pornographic, as some have suggested. It almost appeared that save a very few moments, every bit of the blood and violence that was shown was there for a purpose. Perhaps I have been desensitized, but I do not think that is why I have no problem with it. I simply think it was necessary for telling this story in a very symbolic way. As an example, one of the things many have objected to was the plucking of the eye from the other criminal being crucified. What I took from that was that this criminal had turned away from God and Jesus at that moment. The crow can very easily signify Satan himself. The other criminal goes with Jesus and Jesus tells him that they will both be in Paradise that very day.
I will admit that the scourging lasts a bit longer than is perhaps necessary, but it also shows what cruel savages the Romans could be and the disdain they felt for not only the Jews but this particular one. Pilate himself is let off the hook, and in some ways this seems to fit. He might have been portrayed as less emotionally wrapped up in the ordeal, but he does get his moment to wash his hands of it all thus showing his complicity in the death of Christ.
The most powerful scene in the entire movie, to me, was the denial of Christ by Peter. The actor does an incredible job showing his sense of suffering as he does so and it was impossible not to both understand why he had done it and feel the shame he must certainly have felt as a result. There is not one bad performance in this film. Some are taken to the extreme, but it very much fit with what Gibson was going after. In particular, Maia Morgenstern, as Mary, was extremely powerful. With subtlety, she showed the pain and anguish the mother of Christ felt and her every moment on screen is amazing. And what more can be said of James Caviezel? Wow. At every moment, either as he is suffering or in the flashbacks, he inhabits this role perfectly. I would very much think this film could earn him an Academy Award (we shall see next year, won't we?) In fact, I should think this film will garner many awards as it is that good.
Caleb Deschanel does a spectacular job with the cinematography painting brilliant portraits with lighting and the assistance of the location and art director. He is certainly one of my favorites for a reason. The costuming is spot on, especially with Mary and the Romans. And the music is simply beautiful, serving every scene with the perfect pitch and mood. The only blight upon the whole movie was perhaps its script. Now the use of Aramaic and Latin worked very well, and I think it would have been perhaps even better without subtitles, but this is not what I speak of.
One of the arguments against the movie is that it does not show enough of the earlier life of Christ and thus gives the audience less to contrast with his eventual demise. I think this is a fair judgment. It would certainly invest the audience slightly more in the story, particularly for those that are not aware of the life of Jesus or are non-believers. Further, when one watches a movie, many things that happen earlier in the film can have a direct effect on how something later is perceived. Had there been a bit more of a linear structure, the ending might have been even more moving, yet at the same time, I suppose it could very well have lead to emotional overkill. I do not think the script was bad, just that a different direction might have been utilized when telling this story. It surely does not take away from the final product.
It is not an easy film to watch, especially if you are a believer or have a difficult time with violence. It is rated R for a reason, but more importantly, it touches on very serious themes that many films do not possess today. I was quite struck by the juxtaposition of the previews against the movie itself. They seemed very out of place and showed the decline of Hollywood brilliantly. Gibson poured his heart and soul into this film, as well as some $50 million of his own money for production and marketing. He will make it back and then some and he should be applauded for standing against the wind and making the movie he wanted to make in an environment that normally looks down on the message he was attempting to send. In short, this is a brilliant movie and easily the best of the year thus far. It will be very tough to surpass it, in my book. That is all.