Passion of Christ Review

by Karina Montgomery (karina AT cinerina DOT com)
March 3rd, 2004

Passion of the Christ, The

This Film is Not Rated

All controversy and religious fervor or outrage aside, this film needs to be looked at as what it is: a movie. Despite the spectacular amounts of hype and hoopla, despite the lightning strikes (literally) and conversions, this is, after all, still a movie. Is it a good movie? I'll tell you what I think.

First of all, I need to applaud the actors, all of them, for performing in languages not their own for the entirety of the film, against other actors doing the same, and being completely believable and emotionally rich. Jim Caveziel (Jesus) in particular has a lot to deal with in any given scene besides Aramaic inflection and he came off like a native. Secondly, the cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. I can't say that everything captured on film is gorgeous, but even in our neck-cricked front row seats, every shot was really stunning.

I wonder how many people noticed the single frame blips of multiple red dots at different points on the screen during the first hour or so of the film. It was an interesting editing choice, a subliminal way to make you feel the immediacy of the event as if you are there - as if seeing flecks of blood on the camera lens right before a cut to another angle. And it is not at all unreasonable to think that the camera lens would be spattered with specks of blood, because every other available surface in the scene is.

Yes, the violence against the body of Jesus and the injustice of the charges is extreme. It is unspeakably uncomfortable to watch the scourging of this man. Regardless of who the prisoner might be in a historical or religious context (and I am not belittling or invalidating anyone's faith here), you cannot watch what is being done to Caveziel and not feel waves of horror and empathy and numbing disgust at the cruelty of which man is capable. I felt the most sympathy when his mother Mary (aided by a flashback from Jesus' childhood) is responding to the maternal fever to protect her son. After all that, does anyone even remember who ratted out who to whom in the actual arc of the film? No - it all fades under a torrent of blood.

As a film, well, if you hadn't read the book, so to speak, you would definitely not get what the deal is. Director Mel Gibson and screenwriters Gibson and Benedict Fitzgerald seem less concerned with The Greatest Story Ever Told and more concerned with showing the depths of the sacrifice that the human body of Jesus Christ underwent. They do succeed, but is a convincing snuff film really a good film? Whether he was Messiah or lunatic, man or god, the short version of the story is that his flesh was rent asunder by men and wept over by women. No matter what amount of good this act should have done the world, it is mortifying to realize he was far from the first or the last person to be mauled in such a way. Who to blame for killing Jesus or why they did pales beside how they did it. Do we feel the depths of his conviction (regardless of whether it comes from divine light or madness)? We do. Do we feel the depths of his torment? Oh my word we do. But do we come away with anything more than "that was some seriously unpleasant stuff I just sat through?" No. In that sense, the film failed me. And don't get me started on why this movie has an R rating when sexuality in other films is given an NC-17.

The hype? Your own personal religious beliefs can tell you whether you should be outraged at the plot points as presented here; I am no Biblical scholar and I certainly don't think anything about a death as charged as that of Jesus of Nazareth can be handled in such a brief time when there is flaying to be done. From a technical standpoint, the film is impressive. From a narrative or message-bringing standpoint, it left me wanting.

These reviews (c) 2004 Karina Montgomery. Please feel free to forward but credit the reviewer in the text. Thanks. You can check out previous reviews at: and - the Online Film Critics Society - Hollywood Stock Exchange Brokerage Resource

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