Reviewed by: Brett Willis
If Jesus is God, how could he die? If Jesus died on the cross, then how can he be alive today? Answer
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|Featuring|| James Caviezel … Jesus
Maia Morgenstern … Mary, mother of Jesus
Christo Jivkov … John
Francesco De Vito … Peter
Monica Bellucci … Magdalen
Mattia Sbragia … Caiphas
Toni Bertorelli … Annas
Luca Lionello … Judas
Hristo Shopov (Hristo Naumov Shopov) … Pontius Pilate
Claudia Gerini … Claudia Procles
Fabio Sartor … Abenader
Giacinto Ferro … Joseph of Arimathea
Aleksander Mincer (Olek Mincer) … Nicodemus
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|Director||Mel Gibson—“Braveheart,” “The Man Without a Face”|
|Distributor||Newmarket Film Group|
“This film tells the story of the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus, on the day of his crucifixion in Jerusalem. This film’s script is based upon several sources, including the diaries of St. Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824) as collected in the book, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Mystical City of God by St. Mary of Agreda, and the New Testament books of John, Luke, Mark and Matthew.”
Both the Mel Gibson (the director) and James Caviezel (the actor who plays Jesus) are devout Roman Catholics. The film is subtitled, as it was largely shot in the languages of the period, Aramaic and Latin.
For many months, and even more strongly for the past few weeks, we’ve all been subjected to a propaganda campaign in the media and on the Internet, attacking “The Passion” with a variety of “concerns” ranging from the possibly-valid to the irrelevant and outrageous. Now that the release date has finally arrived, each of us can decide for ourselves whether to see the film. And if we do see it, decide also whether the objections were justified.
Many of the negative reviews of this film are written by people who don’t believe that the Bible is given by the inspiration of God, a problem that severely colors their approach. Sometime late in a review, the writer will subtly peck away at the reader’s faith, implying (for example) that Pilate carried more blame for Jesus’ death than the film shows. But doesn’t the film follow the Biblical record on Pilate’s role? Yes, but they imply that the Biblical record ITSELF is tainted, because when the Gospels were written, it was important for Christians not to antagonize the Romans, so they blamed the Jews for Jesus’ death INSTEAD, etc. etc.
I believe that any reviewer of this film should state his view of the Scriptures up front, so the reader knows the worldview from which the review is written. For my part, I believe that all of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, and they teach absolute truth. I further believe that not only were the original manuscripts inerrant, but God has also PRESERVED the Scriptures by superintending the process of canonization AND by seeing to it that a false reading of a passage (whether a transcription error or a deliberate alteration) in some copy of the Scriptures can be detected and refuted, not by a philosophical or “critical” process, but by the “majority text principle” of letting the countless copies which are undamaged in any given verse out-vote the damaged copies. The bottom line is that the Scriptures were reliable when first given, and they’re still reliable today.
Relevant Questions-and-Answers: How do we know the Bible is true? Answer / When we say that the Bible is the Word of God, does that imply that it is completely accurate, or does it contain insignificant inaccuracies in details of history and science? Answer / How can the Bible be infallible if it is written by fallible humans? Answer
When I was a kid in the 1950s, growing up in a formal church, we had Wednesday night midweek services during Lent only. One year, a Passion film was shown during those services, a 15 minute slice each week. [“Passion,” in this context, means “Suffering.”] When the Crucifixion was shown, I distinctly remember an awesome sense of personal responsibility that gripped me as the nails were being driven into Jesus’ hands (off-camera of course, but with sound-effects). More than any sermon I ever heard in that church, that film sequence convicted me of sin, and of the fact that by my sin I had shared in causing those nails to be driven.
However, classic-style Passion films probably wouldn’t have the same effect on today’s audiences that they did on those of 50 years ago, because techniques of extreme graphic violence have been used in films of all types, from war movies with a message of self-sacrifice to ridiculous horror and horror-comedy flicks. Moviegoing audiences are desensitized, are bored by the old-style “less is more” approach, and demand “realism.”
So, an actor/director from Hollywood’s “A-list,” who happens to believe that the message of Jesus is true, has chosen to spend somewhere between 25 and 35 million dollars of his own money to make an R-rated Passion film befitting the trend of the times. Mel Gibson’s primary target audience is not extreme conservative Christians who’ve never seen any of his other films. He’s reaching to the same people who’ve followed his previous work, but he’s telling him something more important than he’s ever told them before. It’s as simple as that.
After a quote from Isaiah 53, “The Passion” opens with Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane while Peter, James and John have drifted off to sleep. After waking His disciples (who have never seen Him in such torment) and speaking with them, He returns to His place of prayer, and it appears that His face is peppered with sweat like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). The interchange between Jesus and the Disciples is a mixture of Biblically accurate dialogue and creative license. [The film’s dialogue is Aramaic or Latin, with subtitles.]
As Jesus continues to pray, Satan (a hooded, pale-skinned, shaved-eyebrow, somewhat gender-neutral figure) appears at Jesus’ side and tells Him that He cannot take on the sins of the whole world, that saving mankind’s souls is too great a task. Lest we miss the point that it’s a supernatural character we’re seeing, a maggot dangles out of one of Satan’s nostrils, and a “pet” snake is at his feet. The snake slithers over and onto Jesus as He prays in agony. Jesus steels Himself against temptation, rises, and crushes the snake underfoot (a symbolic reference to Genesis 3:15, which actually means that Jesus would crush Satan himself by His death).
Most of the arrest scene is Biblically accurate. It seemed strange and redundant to me that Judas’ kiss of betrayal came AFTER Jesus had already identified Himself to the Guard; but since Jesus identifying Himself is found only in John and the kiss of betrayal is NOT recorded in John, it’s possible that the two events happened in that order rather than the other way around.
The scene includes the struggle between the Disciples and the guard; Peter cutting off the right ear of the Guardsman, Malchus; Jesus re-attaching and healing the ear, and telling Peter to put up his sword because all who take the sword shall perish by the sword; and the Disciples finally forsaking Jesus and fleeing.
The rest of the film follows the same pattern. About three-quarters of the content is faithful to the Biblical record. And most of the “extra” material is neutral and not misleading in any way.
Peter’s denial of Jesus (I said there was no profanity in the film, but in one denial Peter says “damn you,” which faithfully reflects the account in Matthew 26:74).
The Sanhedrin (the council of Jewish chief priests and elders) being called into an illegal session in order to condemn Jesus (but we see that some members were not invited; and some who WERE invited object to the proceedings, and then leave in protest or are kicked out).
Caiaphas (the High Priest) tearing his garments, and the Sanhedrin condemning Jesus for blasphemy, because He admitted that He was the Messiah (the “anointed one,” the prophesied King who would inherit the Throne of David). [“Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word “Messiah.”] This claim WOULD be blasphemy if it were not true. But in Jesus’ case, it WAS true.
The priests taking Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor (because as a subjugated people, the Jews had no authority to carry out death sentences), and slyly translating “blasphemy” into something the governor would care about, namely “sedition,” by claiming that since Jesus was perceived as a King, He was a threat to Roman rule.
Judas repenting when it’s too late, claiming that he’s betrayed innocent blood, throwing the money back at the priests, and hanging himself. [There’s a lot of extra-Biblical creative license in the Judas sequences; for instance, Judas is confronted and tormented by children who turn out to be demons.]
Pilate being warned by his wife not to get involved in condemning Jesus, because she in turn was warned in a dream. Pilate repeatedly acquitting Jesus, then passing Him off to Herod Antipas because Jesus was a Galilean and belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction. Herod (who is shown as a degenerate sicko) passing Him back to Pilate. [By the way, although the Herod family were rulers of the Jews, they themselves were Idumeans (Edomites).] Pilate attempting to satisfy the bloodthirsty crowd by just “chastising” Jesus.
The Roman scourging (including the use of a cat-of-nine-tails, which is not a Biblical certainty but a good educated guess). The Crown of Thorns, the mocking, the spitting. The crowd choosing the murderer Barabbas rather than Jesus in the Passover prisoner-release. Pilate finally giving up, literally “washing his hands” of the matter, and assenting to the crowd’s chant of “crucify him.” Pilate says that he’s innocent of the blood of this man (he isn’t, of course). [In an early cut of the film, Caiaphas responds with “His blood be on us, and on our children,” which is taken from Matthew 27:25. The inclusion of those “blood curse” words drew strong objections from some Jewish leaders, and the nature of the final cut was in doubt. In the theatrical version, an unidentified person (not shown on screen) responds to Pilate, but the dialogue isn’t subtitled, so only someone who knows the language can tell us whether the response was the “blood curse” or not.]
Simon of Cyrene being forced to help Jesus carry the cross. The nailing. The two thieves crucified along with Jesus, one angry and defiant, and the other expressing faith. Several of Jesus’ words on the Cross. The darkening of the sky. The earthquake, and the veil (curtain) in the Temple being torn in two (Matthew 27:51). [The veil in the Temple separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, where at one time the Ark of the Covenant was kept. The symbolism of the veil, and of many other things in Temple worship, was the separation between God and sinful man.
Hebrews 10:1-22 makes the point that Jesus’ flesh was ALSO a veil between God and man (paralleling it with the Temple veil), and that when Jesus’ flesh was torn (which occurred at the same time the Temple veil was torn), the blood sacrifice of Jesus opened up a way for man to have direct fellowship with God. The animal sacrifices of the Law of Moses, which were inadequate to solve the problem of sin, foreshadowed and were replaced by the all-sufficient sacrifice of Jesus, which forever takes care of the sin problem in anyone to whom it’s appropriated by faith.]
Jesus’ teachings (most seen in flashback), including those about forgiveness and loving your enemies, and about how no one takes His life from Him, but He’s voluntarily laying it down, how He has power not only to lay it down but to take it up again.
What we have here is a film taking the position that Jesus WAS exactly Who He said He was. Before considering any negatives, we need to step back a moment and appreciate how rare that is!
The violence is extreme. The special effects of Jesus being beaten with rods, scourged, and nailed to the Cross leave nothing to the imagination. Not only that, but both the Jewish Temple Guard and the Roman Soldiers take pleasure in pummeling Jesus CONSTANTLY. From the time of His arrest on, whenever they’re walking Him anywhere, they can’t take two steps without whacking Him one. This content is there from the beginning, broken only by flashback scenes to somewhat happier times. In the second hour of the film, beginning with the Scourging, it becomes overwhelming.
Ordinarily, even in a worthwhile film like “Saving Private Ryan,” where a constant drum of violence is somewhat inherent to the plot, the violence itself is a minus. But this isn’t ordinarily. One of the complaints of negative reviews is that not enough time is spent on Jesus’ teachings. But that’s not the film’s purpose nor focus. In John 3, Nicodemus (a ruler of the Jews) came to Jesus by night and admitted that they (he and the other rulers) knew Jesus was a Teacher come from God. In what seemed like a major change of subject, Jesus said that Nicodemus needed to be born again. The point is that Jesus’ ESSENTIAL role was not that of a Teacher, but of a Savior. OUR essential NEED is not to understand more and more doctrine, but to be born again. And without the blood sacrifice of Jesus, it would not be POSSIBLE for us to be born again.
Gibson is giving us a look at what that blood sacrifice actually was. In Romans 5:6-10 we’re taught that it’s a rare thing for one man to die for another, even if the other man is “righteous” and deserving of the sacrifice. But in the case of the Cross, Jesus died for us while we were His ENEMIES, in order to make a way for us to become His friends and to be converted from unrighteousness to righteousness. Of all the violent acts that have occurred in the history of the world, the Cross was by far the most important.
If any event deserves the full Hollywood treatment, this one does. Therefore, I do not consider the graphic nature of this presentation to be a negative. Of course, it’s not appropriate for young children.
Not surprisingly, certain scenes in the film (such as Mary cradling Jesus’ body as it’s taken down from the Cross) have a distinctly Roman Catholic flavor. But not so distinctive that they’re an impediment to anyone else’s faith. I commend Gibson for giving the film a broad general appeal among Bible believers of all stripes.
Some content is either based on the writings of those two Nuns that we’ve heard so much about, or is Gibson’s own creative license. To someone who’s familiar only with the Biblical record, those snippets of content come out of nowhere, without warning, and then go away again.
Certain details which we know could have been improved over other Passion dramas, such as putting the nails through the wrists rather than through the palms of the hands, or having Jesus carry only the crossbar instead of the entire Cross, were NOT fixed. Reportedly, this was to preserve familiarity with the story as most people visualize it. Other details, such as not emphasizing asphyxiation, or omitting a Greek version of the title “King of the Jews” fastened to the Cross, are incorrect, but tolerable. The essence of this story is Jesus’ sacrifice—the BLOOD that so many of our songs sing about.
Groundless. If anything, Gibson shows even-handedness and restraint in that matter. It’s clear that the Sanhedrin was not unanimous in condemning Jesus. And while the Temple Guard engages in some gratuitous violence, all the really bloody torture of Jesus is done by the Romans.
The liberals say Pilate must actually have been the primary mover in killing Jesus. They say this, because they want it to be so. Was Pilate sometimes a bloodthirsty murderer? It sure sounds like it, from Luke 13:1. But the factual historical record (found in the Scriptures) is that Jesus was really no threat to Rome, the Jewish leaders were the ones who conspired to put Jesus to death, and they forced Pilate into carrying out their wishes. See John 11:46-53. In this amazing passage, Caiaphas says that one man (Jesus) should die for the people, so that the whole nation doesn’t perish.
Caiaphas was a murderer who THOUGHT he simply meant that he was going to have Jesus bumped off for political reasons, to avoid trouble with Rome. But because he was the High Priest, God was at the same time speaking through him and giving a second sphere of meaning to his words. Jesus’ death was to be a Substitutionary Atonement for sin, so that other people wouldn’t have to die in their own sins.
Some Scripture passages, such as I Thessalonians 2:14-16, name “the Jews” as the killers of Jesus. But other passages spread the blame more generally. In Acts 4:24-28, the Apostles quote Psalm 2, and interpret it to mean that pretty much EVERYONE — Herod (an Idumean, remember), Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel—were gathered TOGETHER against Jesus, TO DO WHAT GOD’S COUNSEL HAD FOREORDAINED TO BE DONE.
The most important point, as Gibson has said, is that WE’RE ALL GUILTY. And that no one took Jesus’ life from Him, but He laid it down of Himself. Anyone who tries to use the Biblical record, or a dramatization of the Biblical record, as a justification to persecute someone, just doesn’t get it. God will be the judge of all unbelief. Until Jesus returns, our message centers on God’s offer of mercy and forgiveness.
If the essential message of this film is true, and if everyone needs to believe on Jesus, then regardless of the objections that are voiced, the number one ACTUAL objection against this film by any unbeliever is that it’s showing a truth that he does not acknowledge. The person may not KNOW that that’s his primary objection—it may be lodged in his spirit rather than in his brain—but yet it is.
So many of the voiced objections betray a double standard. This film is being judged by a different set of rules than any other. And the people who always proclaim that movies are just entertainment and don’t really change behavior or beliefs—where are those people now? I don’t hear them. The silence is deafening.
I’m sure that I’ll acquire a copy of this film for my own video or DVD library. And at some point, when she’s a teenager, I’d like my daughter to see it. Of course, some people couldn’t handle this content. The Gospel has done just fine for 2000 years, without the Holy Ghost needing help from this film or from any other dramatization. “The Passion” is NOT an indispensible addition to anyone’s witnessing tool kit. But there ARE ways in which it could be used effectively.
I HIGHLY recommend this film for anyone of appropriate age, maturity and stamina.
Violence: Extreme | Profanity: None | Sex/Nudity: None