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An angry Roman accuses Jesus of "cheating"
at the game "Limbo," by manually raising the
bar to walk under it.

The Passion of the Christ
Review written by: Alex Sandell

I guess Mel Gibson was going to kill himself, but then God told him to make a movie instead.  Gibson went on to film The Passion of the Christ.  The movie probably would have been about as big a hit as those other Christian movies, such as, Jonah:  A VeggieTales Movie or that free videotape the Church of Latter-Day Saints occasionally leave on my doorstep, if a ton of Jewish organizations didn't turn it into the biggest news story since Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction. 

Forgetting that the fastest way to get people to see a movie is to tell people not to see the movie, spokespeople for Jewish groups across the world popped up on nearly every news program ever aired claiming that this film was anti-Semitic.  They said it would cause Jews and Christians to fight.  I think I even heard one say that Palestinians would get a chain of multiplexes, and wouldn't let Israelis visit.  All this, plus the end of the world, was apparently going to happen if The Passion of the Christ was unleashed upon the public.  Mel and the gang fought back by turning the Pope into Yoda, when John Paul supposedly said, regarding the film, "it was what it is."

Will The Passion of the Christ cause jacked-up Christians to scare the Jewish community into hiding?  My Magic 8-Ball is telling me that "All Signs Point To No." Now that I've had it pounded into my head that this film is essentially the most powerful voice of hate since Adolph Hitler, I couldn't help but ask myself, throughout the flick, "was that part anti-Semitic?"  Personally, I didn't think so.  Always one to get a second opinion, I consulted with my Magic 8-Ball, which told me, "My Sources Say No."  One time it said, "Better Not Tell You Now," but I think I shook it wrong. 

The Passion of the Christ is basically 2 hours of Jesus Christ (James Caviezel) getting his ass kicked (and not the one he was riding on during Palm Sunday).  The film is incredibly faithful to the bible it was based on.  Because it's only one section of the New Testament, it sort of feels like watching a movie based on the end of a book.  Being that I was raised Catholic and am well versed in the Bible, this wasn't a problem for me, but if you come into this movie not knowing one scripture from the other, you're going to feel like those folks who tuned into the final episode of Sex and the City without bothering to watch the 90+ shows that led up to it. 

Gibson occasionally stops the brutality to show Jesus talking to the 12 Apostles during the Last Supper, or the Sermon on the Mount, or a couple of touching scenes with his Mother Mary (Maia Morgenstern).  It was the softer scenes with Mary that touched me the most (must be the Catholic in me). 

Seeing Jesus washing his hands before dinner and playfully splashing water on his mom was a fun scene that personalized their relationship more than that stuffy old Bible ever did.  A scene of Mary running to her son's aid when he falls as a toddler spliced with her running to her adult son as he falls while carrying the cross put tears in my eyes. 

Hearing Jesus asking his Father to forgive his tormentors, for they know not what they do packed quite a punch after seeing just how poorly he was treated.  The torture scenes really are intense and relentless.  The makeup effects are quite believable and add a far more visceral element to the scriptures.  This is corporeal punishment of the highest order. 

Mel Gibson's directing and Caleb Deschanel's cinematography bring the film to vivid life.  This is the second time in a year that I've praised Deschanel's camera work in a film.  The man is becoming a force to be reckoned with.  The "he who has not sinned should cast the first stone" scene is a slow-motion work of art.  It's as subtle as it is powerful.  When the "stone-casters" drop their rocks and turn and walk away, it makes a person second-guess any hatred they've felt for others over the years. 

As many of you already know:  I'm an agnostic.  I don't believe anyone actually knows what happens after they die.  I don't believe that, if he was really crucified, Jesus knew what would happen to him.  But I am a film critic, and what I do believe is that it's my job to always tell the truth about a film.  And The Passion of the Christ is a well made movie that does Mel Gibson proud.  It's not the second coming of Christ, but it's a finely crafted piece of work that should not be missed.  

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Text (Copyright) 2003 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].