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Review ::
The Passion of the Christ Film Review
27 Feb 2004
Film review.
The Passion of the Christ Film Review

Like many Americans I have looked forward to the opening day of the movie The Passion of the Christ. Unlike many Christians I was not looking forward to my faith being strengthened, and unlike many Jews I was not overly worried about the film contributing to anti-Jewish sentiment, because I am a Muslim and I guess I am in more of a position of neutrality.

For weeks I have been following the controversy and have been troubled by things that I have heard on many different sides. As a person of faith myself, I have been concerned about a lot of the anti-religious hysteria I have seen coming from media elites who are bothered by the mere mention of anything even remotely connected to faith. At the same time I have been troubled by the insensitivity I have seen prevalent in many Christian circles as they ignore the historical anti-Jewish violence that has been associated with the death of Jesus and seem not even willing to listen to reasonable positions that differ with their understanding of the historical event.

On the day of the opening of the film I listened to St. Louis talk-radio. A caller known ad the Texas Man called WGNU 920 St. Louis radio and complained bitterly about Jews who had criticized the film and angrily stated that no group of people who dominated America ( in his opinion) should be this upset. The host for his part said that there has been historical anti-Jewish violence relating to the death of Jesus, but he defended the violence saying that “the Jews persecuted the early Christians and after Constantine when Christianity became a power they got a dose of their own medicine”. Caller after caller had the same sentiments and as the day went on I was giving more credence to the belief that this film would cause anti-Jewish sentiment.

I arrived at the theater an hour early expecting to see pamphleteers, evangelists and maybe even Jewish protesters as the theater is an area with a large Jewish population, but I saw none of that. Rather I saw hundreds gather in line, including several church groups, with eager anticipation to seeing the film. Once seated inside of the packed theater it stuck me as odd the joyous look on the crowds face. Why was everyone smiling when the entire theater knew they would be seeing a bloodletting shortly? Instead of smiling would it been more appropriate to have a look of contemplation on their faces?

The film began with a verse from Isaiah 53 which explained that the death of the Messiah was because of the sins of the world, an obvious addition by director Mel Gibson to defend against the charges of him promoting the theory that today’s Jews should be blamed for the death of Jesus.

I approached the film from an unbiased standpoint, as a Muslim I accept Jesus as a prophet, but I do not accept him as a deity or the son of God. However, within minutes of the movie I found myself questioning almost every scene and found that almost the entire story of the movie failed the test of common sense, reason, historical realities, political realties, and theological realities.

As Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane and sweats beads of blood while his disciples’ sleep he is approached by an evil looking figure that is supposed to be Satan before the Roman soldiers enter to arrest him escorted by Judas who had received thirty coins from Caiphas the Chief Rabbi in a manner more suited for the Gambino Crime Family than a religious order.

The arrest is violent and after Peter engages in a violent struggle with the Romans, and even cutting one of the soldiers ears off before Jesus heals the wound, but after being roughed up is let go while Jesus immediately receives a savage beating on the way to meet the Jewish leaders. This fails the test of logic as the accused stranger Jesus is beaten in such a manner, and yet the one who has openly assaulted several Roman soldiers is sent to go free.

The meeting with the Jewish leaders where Jesus is asked to defend himself against charges of destroying the temple, claiming to be the son of God, the messiah, and the King of the Jews is one of the most sinister scenes I can ever recall in any film. The Jews are depicted as bloodthirsty animals hell-bent on seeing Jesus dead and those who defended Jesus were beaten and ran off.

Veering from history Gibson interjects his own Catholic theological teachings at this moment as Jesus is asked “are you the Messiah the Son of God”. It is the Christian teaching that Jesus was the Son of God, never the expectation of the Jews that the Messiah would be the Son of God, and in fact that belief is a violation of Jewish law.

As Jesus is being sent to meet Pontius Pilate the film shows Judas being chased away from the city by possessed Jewish children who lead him to a tree where he hangs himself. It is never asked in this film or in any passion play just who was Judas? Was a devout Jew upset by some of the teachings of Jesus, a patriot wanting to see liberation from the Romans or was he the evil man that history a portrayed him to be where his name has become identical with betrayal.

Jesus is beaten with whips on both sides of his body before he sees Pilate in a scene that goes on for far too long and revels in the gore of the pavement stained with blood, a weeping Mary, sadistic Jews and brutal Romans. The flesh of Jesus rips open and many in the movie theatre begin to weep as the see the pain of Jesus and Mary and the pleasure on the faces of the Jews and Romans on the screen.

Pilate is portrayed as a wise man with a compassionate wife. He is a man of reason, maybe even a Mandela or a Jefferson as the movie portrays him. He is stuck in a bad position ruling those pesky Jews who just can’t seem to take kindly to occupation. But, Pilate was not a compassionate man; he was a murderous thug who ruled the Holy Land with an iron fist for the benefit of Caesar. He was called back to Rome twice for being too brutal in his rule and sent thousands of Jews to be executed and thousands more to be jailed and tortured.

The compassionate Pilate, who happens to be of the same nationality as Constantine and the Church of Rome and representing the same empire, does not want to kill Jesus. He wants to let Jesus go, but the Jews yell “crucify him, crucify him!”

In the end Pilate gives in to the Jews, but not to worry Jesus absolves him of his role and blames the Jews in the film and in the scripture which is hardly a coincidence considering the Church is based in Rome and if someone is to have a blood libel then let it be the Jews not Caesar. If Christianity is supposed to teach responsibility then why did none of the Christian leaders of Rome make an historical apology for their role in the plot to kill Jesus while they turned the masses like rabid dogs onto Jews?

Given the choice to set Jesus free or Barabas, who is presented as a buffoon and a murderer (when in all actuality he was most likely a freedom-fighter against Rome), the crowd elects to set the stupid-looking Barabas free and then calls for the crucifixion of Jesus and the supposedly wise Pilate washes his hand of the situation. Christian history has always stated that this was a custom of the time to release a prisoner at this time of the year, but why is it not recorded in any of the other historical texts? Pilate seems to be motivated by avoiding a Jewish rebellion and seems somewhat intimidated by the Jewish crowd; does that match the historical accounts of the bloody Roman occupation?

After this point the, The Passion of the Christ becomes a pure snuff film. Gibson revels in the brutality and the crowd seems to have a fetish for the violence that leads some extreme Christian sects to crucify or torture themselves.

The carrying of the cross is cheered by the masses of Jews, while Jesus is beaten the entire way to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, by the Roman soldiers. Mary, Mary Magdalene and James follow the path and cry as the film flashes back to scenes in the life of Jesus in between the violence.

I am not sure what the message is at this point. Why do we need to be subjected to this kind of violence? I am asking Gibson in my mind; haven’t we seen enough already? Do we need to see the continuous beating? How many times do we have to see the Jews cheer and smile at the bloodbath?

These Roman soldiers, who serve Pilate, create another huge hole in the logic of the film; if they serve a merciful Pilate and he is their boss, then the merciful Pilate surely would have ordered them to treat Jesus humanely. However, that does not make good theatre or prose so the story goes on until the bloodied and scarred Jesus is hoisted onto the cross in between two criminals (one whom he exonerates and says on this day we shall be in Paradise together, whatever happened to three days?) and the other gets his eyeballs poked out by a crow in a grotesque scene for mocking Jesus, to which the crowd in the theater cheered.

The death of Jesus is accompanied by a storm which destroys the Temple (which in reality would not come for another forty years and that would be by the merciful brethren of Pilate who laid siege to Jerusalem). Before fleeing the storm a Roman soldier is ordered to put a sword in the stomach of Jesus to make sure he is dead and is showered in the blood and he seems to enjoy it in a similar fashion to a porn fetish film.

Satan goes crazy in Hell, and Jesus’ tomb opens to a cheering theater crowd who has seen a well-done movie and a cinematographic masterpiece that was long on the opinions of Gibson and his version of Christianity and short on historical facts.

The Pope is reported to have said “it is as it was”, well I don’t know about that, but what I do know is that this film fails in bringing people together in this divided world and succeeds in further dividing people. Instead of focusing on a message of peace, love and brotherhood; Gibson chooses to focus on violence and preying on the emotions of the audience. The message is “I’ll win you to Christ by pity for his sacrifice, not respect for his message”, and that is a sad thing indeed.

Umar ben-Ivan Lee is a freelance writer and activist. He may be reached at themuslimuluv2hate (at) hotmail.com

Copyright by the author. All rights reserved.
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Comments

Religion...For the sleepwalking!
27 Feb 2004
As for the movie?...Who cares! Another hyped up, meaningless ploy. (Be outraged at the ticket prices, popcorn and soda!)
As for religion?...Whatever floats your boat.
Myself? The title of this says it all!