"But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5)
That verse opens the film by Mel Gibson, "The Passion of the Christ". It is a cinematic drama covering the final day in the life of Christ. It is as violent and graphic a play as the Gospel accounts imply the real events were.
From the outset, it was this reviewerís intention not to view the film as if it were the very Scriptures nor to deem attending this movie to be an act of worship. Mel Gibson offered it up as entertainment, and that was the spirit in which the offer was accepted.
Lest anyone be mistaken on this point, this film is to some degree a work of fiction. Scenes are added for which there is no biblical or historical equivalent (Jesus as a lad falls and skins His knee), dialogue is invented (Simon of Cyrene saves Jesus from additional beatings), and visual symbols of supposed spiritual events are shown as if they were actually transpiring (we see demons come and go and many appearances of Satan, some in which he speaks, and others silent).
In short, when you approach this film, be certain to acknowledge that what you are viewing is in large part one personís imagination of one possible manner in which many of the events summarized in the Gospels could have occurred, and, sprinkled in with the references to actual events are depictions of events which never did occur. In short, we have a fictionalized drama set in and around an historical event.
Sadly, this movie was overly hyped. Yes, it was brutal, but so was "Schindlerís List". Most certainly this movie was violent, but not nearly so much life was lost as was depicted in "The Lord of the Rings" (first, second, or third episode, it does not really matter). This movie does portray some Jewish officials of ancient Israel conspiring to have Jesus killed, but it does not blame the entire Jewish nation. For all the hype, there is very little controversial about this film.
It was good theater. With little doubt there are likely no more noble subjects which could have been chosen for a screenplay. It was well directed. It was very good cinematography. It made some in the audience cry. It even made some laugh (watch Pilateís cup bearer tremble or the interplay between Jesus and His mother when she calls Him for dinner). It was also educational as it reminded the world of what Roman scourging and Roman executions were all about.
In summary, it was a good picture and worth seeing. As entertainment. If you go expecting a word-for-word retelling of the Gospel story you will be quite disappointed. Or, if you go expecting a full blown call to salvation, or even an adequate explanation of what it means to be saved, you again will be disappointed.
Those who believed this to be the greatest evangelistic tool in this century have simply misplaced their faith. This is only a Hollywood movie. It can be used as part of personal evangelism, but since it is lacking so much of the message, it is hard to envision how merely viewing this film will bring very many to repentance or to a saving knowledge of Jesus, the Christ.
Details, Details, Details
Since this reviewer only paid for one screening of the film, and, he did not take his notepad with him, some of the following analysis may be just a bit on the spurious side. However, there were some aspects of the film that did evoke just a bit of discomfort.
- A fictional scene was added showing Mary, Jesusí mother, mopping up the blood of Christ from the courtyard where the scourging took place. This seems out of place from both an historical context and from a theological one.
- A raven plucks the face of the unrepentant thief on the cross.
- Jesus carries His entire cross (which it may be pointed out had an exceptionally tall center beam compared to the other two) while the thieves only carry their cross bars.
- Demons appear and disappear rather freely as does Satan. While it is appreciated that an effort was made to explain that more was happening than at just a human level, was this the right symbolism? Nonetheless, this reviewer did like the visual representation of Jesus stomping the snake on its head.
- During the scourging, when the punishment is at an end, Jesus is slumped down in obvious agony, and the Romans are exhausted from inflicting the penalty, for no explicable reason Jesus rises and invites the scourging to begin anew. This focus on the physical pain of the sacrifice rather than on the spiritual pain, or more to the point, the spiritual efficacy of the sacrifice, diminishes the overall impact of the film. It was almost as though the screen writers believed that it was the physical pain of the sacrifice that brings redemption. In fact this focus on human and physical pain instead of on the fact that it was God Himself in the form of the sinless perfection of Jesus who was crucified is perhaps the filmís greatest lack.
- That all men deserve the condemnation of Hell is not brought forth, except in the opening verse displayed on the screen, Isaiah 53:5. This leaves the film foundering in terms of motivation. Why did Jesus die? For those who know the answer, they can point to a few small clues intimated at throughout the movie, but for those who do not know, this facet of the movie will remain something of a mystery. Note, however, it is this very lack that could be used as a jumping off point to launch a discussion with an unbeliever who has seen the film but does not yet grasp the point of why Jesus died.
- With what seems to be mere seconds of screen time, the resurrection is lightly handled. So much opportunity was squandered. There was much written in the Scriptures about the proofs that Jesus chose to use to show Himself alive to many hundreds of people, it is a shame that this was not explored at all in the film.
Worth the Price of Admission
Among the better points of the movie include the following:
- During the arrest, Peter cuts off Malchusí right ear with a sword and Jesus restores the ear in the midst of the chaos. This is dramatic and well done.
- Each of the trial scenes is exceptionally well done, with special care given to the motivations of each character. Included in these fine details are the reactions of the crowds, the costuming, and even the facial expressions used in close up shots. You do feel that this is the way the accusations and charges probably happened.
- Pilate, with his obvious concern for wanting to release Jesus but being constrained by the violent and emotive nature of the crowds, is portrayed in such a manner as to be among the most believable of the personages on screen. His internal conflict is expressed through the actor so well that you almost find yourself sympathizing for him. Sadly, and tragically, Pilate chooses his own self interests over those of God, and the rest is history.
- Scourging and crucifixion are treated with all the horrible accuracy of most books and articles I have read on the subject. More to the point, Scripture also speaks of how terrible these acts were. That the human face is disfigured to such a degree by the end of the film is in line with how this reviewer interprets those accounts of Scripture.
- Rome and Jerusalem were hated enemies. That these two nations were the deadliest of combatants, and that Israel was a hotbed of zealous unrest while occupied by Roman forces is plausibly discussed and lies at the heart of much of the political maneuvering behind the story of sacrifice of the Christ.
This movie is worth seeing, as entertainment. It must be viewed as a fictional account based on historical events. Do not expect a full gospel presentation. Do go to learn more about the interplay of the Roman and Jewish nations during the days of Jesus.
While the authors of the movie miss the point of why Jesus died in favor of protracted scenes of the mode and misery of execution, this is still an interesting film and should generate much discussion among unbelievers. See the film with limited expectations, if you are the type who regularly goes to the cinema, and be prepared to discuss with your neighbors why Jesus really died.
Note: for those with children, this reviewer did take his ten year old son. When pointedly asked, he indicated this film was not so disturbing for himself, though, he stated that children younger than he might be upset by some of the scenes of brutality. Each parent will have to make this judgement for themselves.
He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. (Isaiah 53:3-6)
To explore the implications of the Second Commandment on viewing films such as The Passion of the Christ, read the article:
Second Commandment Issues--Art, Plays, and Movies of Jesus.
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