A long-haired hippy-type, who appears mentally incompetent and unable to reply to direct questions, is grabbed by some evil Jews, who beat him bloody. They drag him to a meeting, where they beat and kick him and there is more blood, and bring him before the Romans, who have him savagely beaten so that there’s blood everywhere. He’s then forced to walk the streets with a giant T, dripping blood the whole time, while he’s beaten, and eventually nailed to the T, where even more blood drips from his wounds. Along the way, there is a lot more beating and blood. Did I mention the blood?
Well that was an interesting two hours. I need a bath. And a stiff drink. At least I’m not a Jew since those guys killed Jesus, and they did it in slow motion in 5.1 surround sound.
It is a bit awkward giving The Passion of the Christ a quality rating because it isn’t a movie in the normal sense. There is no plot, no character development, and no theme beyond “people suck.” You are expected to come with your own theme and apply it to the work, but it isn’t already on the screen. What is up there is torture: blood, whipping, skin peeled off, impaling, and even an eye eaten out. It is nonstop gore. What we have here is porn, religious torture porn.
Now that isn’t meant as an insult. I’ve got nothing against porn. It serves its purpose quite well. If you want to see two reasonably attractive adults having sex without fear of arrest for peeping, then porn is the way to go. But you don’t toss on Deep Throat or Anal Sluts 2 expecting a riveting story. You don’t watch some guy cumming on a girl’s face and wonder how this will affect her character’s philosophy. You don’t watch three meat puppets gang-banging a teen and speculate on their motivation. And you don’t spend ten minutes with a babe bent over a table being DP’d by a bent dildo, and ask what the deeper message is. If you’re watching, it is simply to be affected by the sensationalized material: to be excited. You don’t need a story because you know all you need to know before sitting down in front of the screen.
And that brings us back to The Passion of the Christ. Why is this Jesus guy being tortured? Did he have something interesting to say? Why do the Jewish leaders hate him? Why does Peter want to fight while all the other apostles want to run? Who are any of these people? None of that is answered. Jesus is given no personality at all. He barely speaks and after the first few minutes of the movie, he couldn’t if he wanted to. Outside of a brief flashback that shows him working on a table, we are told nothing. Mary is his mother. That’s it. We get nothing else from her. Mary Magdalen is some girl that Jesus helped once. That’s her entire character development. Jesus’ few followers are given no time and most aren’t even given names. We don’t know these people, with the strange exception of Pilate, who is given just enough screen time to indicate that he could have been the main character in a much deeper movie than this one.
With the film not even attempting to make these characters distinct, we have a distancing movie about whipping and pain in general. We’re never made to feel for Jesus, the individual. Instead, it is some guy being whipped and our sympathy can only come from a broad dislike of torture.
Of course any viewer of The Passion of the Christ already knows these people as well as he needs to for the film’s purpose. All a fan can get is the experience, the excitement of seeing a scantily clad man turned into raw meat. For anyone with an extreme whipping and blood fetish, you’re in luck. Enjoy. For anyone looking to see God suffering, you should be happy too. And if you’re both a sexual pain fetishist and a religious zealot, you’re going to be orgasming in your seat without needing manual manipulation. Like all porn, there’s no need to watch from beginning to end. Just fast-forward to the bit of agony that gets your heart racing, and repeat.
The ultra-religious Mel Gibson has made a film far more violent than any of his Mad Max movies. It is thinly based on the gospels, but primarily comes from the writings of a mystic nun and the Passion Plays that were performed in Europe as a means of drumming up anti-Jewish sentiment. (Read your Bible: only briefly does it mention the scourging. Nowhere does it state that Jesus had most of his skin ripped off.) So, is the movie anti-Semitic? Sure. Gibson, a man who denounces Vatican II (where the Catholic Church proclaimed that Jews should not be blamed for Christ’s death) and has stated that his father has only told the truth in his entire life, is not someone to make an evenhanded religious flick. For anyone who missed Gibson’s father’s rants, Hutton Gibson is a Holocaust denier who has stated that the Jews weren’t killed in Poland, but that, “They simply got up and left.” He also claims that Jews are ruining the world, trying to take over The Church and business, and that Allan Greenspan is a Jew that should be killed. These are the true words that Mel Gibson accepts. So, it is no surprise that he’s manipulated the story a bit, making the historically cruel Pilate into the only reasonable man, and placing all the desire to kill Jesus on a group of stereotypical-looking Rabbis. They show up at the whippings, but are too icy to even enjoy it. They are completely amoral, removed from the suffering. But the charge of anti-Semitism on Gibson is a bit misplaced because it is the story itself, and the Christian faith that houses the hatred of Jews. Gibson is just repeating what’s all around him. Yes, he could have made the “story” slightly better, and instead made it slightly worse, but it is only by a trivial degree. There are plenty of reasons not to see a man flayed for two hours that are far more immediate than the anti-Semitism that’s part of the larger context.
While the quality of the filmmaking isn’t that important in porn (as long as the music isn’t too hokey, the film isn’t too grainy, and the camera knows when to zoom in on gaping vaginas), but I would feel remiss if I didn’t say something. So: the acting primarily consists of appearing to be in pain or crying, so none of the actors were stretched (except literally). Again, it is hard not to see the porn-connection, where actors only need to look excited and simulate orgasms. The camera work is quite good by any standard, and the cinematographer did know when to zoom in on gaping wounds. The sets are attractive, although too claustrophobic, making the town overly tiny. The non-torture special effects are reasonable, though the falling temple looks cheap. The music is excellent if you like the new age world beat sound and does set the tone nicely.
I was quite fond of the androgynous Satan who pulls a boo!-scare on one of the apostles. I don’t know why he/she was hanging out at the whipping, holding Fred Mertz’s love child (the anti-Christ? Or just Gibson being weird?), but the Devil was filled with good horror film strangeness.
So, is The Passion of the Christ for you? You probably already know. If you fit into the already mentioned fanatic or fetishist categories, you’ll have a good time. But it isn’t going to affect anyone else. If you like bukkaki, then Cum on Her Face 5 is going to be a treat, but no one who doesn’t is going to watch it and suddenly be excited by repeated ejaculations. So it is with The Passion of the Christ. No one is going to convert who isn’t already on his knees, one way or the other.