The World's View of The Passion of the Christ
The Goriest Story Ever Told
By RICHARD CORLISS
Excerpts from the Mar. 01, 2004 issue of TIME magazine
The screenplay, by Gibson and Benedict Fitzgerald, begins starkly in the Garden of Olives — no loaves and fishes, no wedding feast at Cana — but
adds nonbiblical flashbacks to Jesus' idyllic childhood with his beloved mother Mary (powerfully embodied by Maia Morgenstern).
It also visualizes Satan (Rosalinda Celentano) as an androgynous creature, a Gollum with weird sex
appeal, who slithers through the crowd, working infernal mischief.
Like most movies, this one favors the underdog, the insurgent, the solitary hero against the powerful. Gibson's Jesus is a traditional movie rebel. He shows steely contempt for authority, chastens his mates for being slackers and argues with his Father — the God who sent him on this sacred suicide mission. This Jesus is so human he almost forgets he's divine. The grotesque pain he endures in his last 12 hours nearly blinds him to his task of redeeming mankind by dying for it. His memories are not those of a distant godhead but of his youth in Nazareth. Gibson's Jesus is a deity who has fallen in love with his human side; only death can restore his divinity.
The Passion's Jesus sees Satan everywhere, clouding men's minds, taking the form of snakes and little boys, following Jesus up Calvary to gloat and grimace.
This one is crimson carnage from the moment Jesus is condemned, half an hour into the 127-min. film. One of his eyes is caked closed from a beating by Jewish goons, but the Romans are the pros. They take their time applying 80 or so wince-worthy lashes to his body, and the camera pays avid attention to the whole draining spectacle. He falls three times, which is fine for Catholic fidelity but wasteful and redundant as movie drama.
Inspired as much by Renaissance iconography, the Stations of the Cross and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary as by the Gospels' terse narratives, Gibson portrays Jesus' agony and death in acute and lavish detail. In the end, all that gore tends to blunt not only the story's natural power but even the sense of horror at what a god-man has to endure to save all men. The Passion may be unique in movie history in devoting most of its length to the torture of one man who doesn't fight back. He takes a flaying and keeps on praying. This is Gandhi as Rocky. It's Bloodheart.
What is the audience for this Passion? Many Christians — who would appreciate the message — may be repelled by the film's unrelenting bloodletting. The teen boys who make box-office winners every Friday night may like the blood, but they want their heroes to fight back and blow stuff up. Nor is this exactly a date movie. No, the audience profile for The Passion of the Christ is fairly narrow: true believers with cast-iron stomachs; people who can stand to be grossed out as they are edified. And a few movie critics who can't help admiring Mad Mel for the spiritual compulsion that drove him to invent a new genre — the religious splatter-art film — and bring it to searing life, death and resurrection.
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