I was talking to a very dear friend from church yesterday, and somehow the topic of Mel Gibson's 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ entered the conversation. As we talked about our personal experiences with the film, she suggested that I write a post about the movie considering yesterday was Good Friday (the day that the film takes place, for those of you unfamiliar). I didn't make it home in time to write the post for Good Friday, but with Easter coming tomorrow, I think that this post still resonates rather clearly.
I have only seen The Passion of the Christ once, during its initial run during Lent in 2004 (although I own the DVD, so my regular readers know I'll have to watch it again at some point for my DVD Challenge). The film was released on Ash Wednesday of that year, gliding into theaters on the first day of Christian preparation for Easter. I, however, didn't see the film until Easter Sunday because that was the first time that both my father and myself could find time to see it together. I had only months earlier experienced a bit of a religious awakening through my church's Confirmation program, and my Catholic faith had never been stronger. This newfound bit of faith spurred me towards seeing the movie despite the "horror" stories I had heard in the weeks since its release. Still, my dad - a devout Christian but not a Catholic - and I really wanted to see it, and Easter was our first opportunity, so we decided to give it a watch.
There's a very good reason why I have yet to give The Passion of the Christ a second viewing. It is one of the most brutal films you may ever experience, regardless of your personal religious beliefs. Obviously, if you do believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (like I do), then you'll probably take the film a lot more personally than someone who doesn't share those same beliefs. As my friend and I talked last night, she mentioned that she thought the film was one of the most violent she had ever seen, and I tend to agree with that sentiment, to a degree. In the annals of cinematic history, there have been countless numbers of excessively violent films (you don't have to look that far back to see the grotesque horrors placed in front of audiences in films like Saw or Hostel). The reason that The Passion stands out as so glaringly violent is because it's all directed at one individual rather than a collective group of people. Seeing the brutal onslaught exacted upon Jesus (portrayed flawlessly by James Caviezel) is almost too much to bear.
Regardless of your current opinions of Mel Gibson, it's hard to argue that his film isn't a tour-de-force of raw power. A devout Catholic himself, he made some interesting decisions when crafting the film. For example, he chose to have the screenplay written in Aramaic to give the film even more authenticity. However, the basis of the film is to show the sacrifice that Christ made for all mankind as he suffered his way through the streets of Jerusalem on the path to his ultimate crucifixion. The Passion chronicles every painstaking detail, but the attention to such detail gives the film its power. It's not the prettiest or easiest film to watch, but in a way, it's almost a necessity for Christians to behold. You can hear the story of His death and resurrection come the Lenten and Easter seasons, but to witness what it must have truly been like leaves quite the scar on your psyche. But this is a very good scar in that it reminds us of a man who gave everything He had in order for us to live.
I was talking to my grandfather a few days ago, and this film also came up in our conversation. He's as devout and conservative a Catholic as they come, so he had nothing but praise for The Passion of the Christ. "A masterpiece," he called it. I'm not quite sure whether I can place it on such a lofty pedestal just yet, but when I finally give in and watch the film again, perhaps my mind will change. It may not be a film that will appeal to everyone - it's obvious demographic is the Christian market - but for those of you who believe in Jesus as the Son of God, then this film, no matter how brutally violent and off-putting, should be seen. You're not going to enjoy it, but that's the entire purpose of the film. So on this Holy Saturday, let us remember the sacrifice that Christ made for us as we prepare to welcome Him back into the world tomorrow on Easter.