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The Passion of the Christ
Review of the Movie - From a Christian Perspective
By Dr. Jacob Mathew, Chief Editor and Founder, Holisticonline.com

After all the publicity and the hype, Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion of the Christ was aired to moviegoers starting on February 25, 2004. I was afraid that I will have to wait long to get a ticket as I didn't buy one earlier. But I was pleasantly surprised that I could go see the movie on the opening day in a neighborhood theater in Akron, Ohio. I was glad I did; I can finally share my views on the movie firsthand. I would like to caution you that this is not a movie critic's review of the movie. It is my personal opinion, which, no doubt, is colored by my Christian background.

In my opinion, the move is exceptionally good in depicting the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ. It truthfully depicts what is in the Gospels; a few artistic liberties were taken, however, without affecting what is portrayed in the bible. And these are kept absolutely to a minimum.

In my church (Eastern Orthodox Church) the Good Friday service is the longest service of the year. It begins at about 9 AM and does not end till about 4:30 PM. (It is even longer if a bishop is present.) During the day, we "live through" the passion of the Christ hour by hour. There are two processions outside the church on that day, one depicting the agony of St. Mary, mother of God following Jesus to Calgary carrying the cross and the other depicting the scene where the Jesus' body is taken for burial. These are emotionally charged scenes especially when enacted by a skilled priest. The audience gets into what Christ went through on that day starting from the Gethsemane. In Catholic church there is depiction of the "way of cross" or stations of the cross, talking about what Jesus experienced on Good Friday. The believers, by living through the events, are challenged to understand what Jesus did for the salvation of the faithful. The whole philosophy behind the New Testament is that Jesus changed the Mosaic laws of salvation based on deed (Karma) to one based on love and faith (Bhakthi). Mel Gibson's film offers a rare opportunity for us to experience the magnitude of what Christ had to do for our salvation. Taken in this context, it is a very effective and powerful movie.

Mel Gibson's objective of making the film was to truthfully depict the final hours of Jesus as given in the gospels. He has accomplished that.

The film opens with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane praying to God the father. He is in great agony, as He knew that the hour has come for him to face the passion. Christians believe that Jesus had two natures while he was in this world - a human nature and a divine nature. In the opening scene, the human nature of Jesus is depicted asking God whether He can spare Jesus of the agony of passion and take "the cup" away. But immediately, the divine nature of Jesus manifests. Jesus' human will, though distinct from his divine will, is always united to the divine, and submissive to the will of the Father Jesus accepts the fact that He has to face the passion and has to carry out what God, the father, wants him to do. It is God's plan for the salvation of mankind.
The scene in the Garden indicates that there is redemptive value in the sufferings we experience in our own lives. In doing His Father's will, Jesus "drinks the cup" thus undergoing His Passion for our salvation. With God's grace, we too must seek to do His will always, even if this causes us pain and suffering.

Mel Gibson introduces the Satan in this scene. It is one of the artistic liberties within the movie. It is done very cleverly. Satan tempts Jesus by suggesting that Jesus cannot carry the sins of all the people in the world. It is too much for anyone to do it alone, she taunts. Jesus falls down to the ground in agony. A snake comes out of Satan and move towards Jesus, no doubt depicting the original sin of mankind as depicted in the bible when Satan uses a snake to coax Adam and Eve to commit the first sin. Jesus' passion is to wipe out that sin and the sins of all the humanity from that point on. When the snake triumphantly approaches Jesus, Jesus gets up from his meditation and steps on the snake and kills it; he triumphs over the temptation.

The next touching scene in the movie is when the temple guards come to arrest Jesus. Simon Peter draws his sword and severs the ear of a guard. Blood oozes from the ear. Jesus sees this. He asks Peter to drop the sword. He heals the ear of the person who comes to arrest him. The guard was dumb-founded. Jesus lives by his commandment to love one's enemies.

The next emotionally charged scene is when Peter denies Jesus three times before the rooster crows three times as Jesus predicted earlier in the day. Although Peter at that time vowed that he will never deny Jesus, even if it means death, Peter did deny Jesus three times. Jesus looked at Peter on the third denial; Peter remembers what Jesus told him earlier. He is completely grief-stricken and goes and confesses to St. Mary and Mary Magdalene that he has denied Jesus. We learn a very valuable lesson here. We, as human beings, do make mistakes; but when we recognize it, we need to repent and ask God for forgiveness and for mercy. There are no sins that God cannot forgive.

Compare and contrast this to what Judas did. Judas never thought that Jesus would agree to be arrested. He was trying to make a "fast buck." When he realized that Jesus is determined to go through the passion without any resistance; perhaps he recalls what Jesus told them earlier. A remorseful Judas goes back to the High Priests and asked them to take the money they gave him earlier for betraying Jesus and to set Jesus free. When this was refused, Judas goes absolutely "nuts." He starts seeing images of kids and others tormenting him. He commits suicide by hanging himself from a tree rather than face the consequences. Although he was sorry for what he did to Jesus, he never asked God for forgiveness before his death and none was given.

Mel Gibson uses the flashbacks very effectively to give meaning to what is going on. It makes the message much more powerful compared top a chronological depiction of the events. For example, when Mary sees Jesus falling down carrying the cross, a flash of Jesus' childhood is recalled where Mary is shown running after Jesus to prevent him from falling down and hurting himself. A picture of Golgotha with the crosses under construction is followed immediately by Jesus' sermon on the mount with the same setting. The jeering crowd is contrasted with the cheering crowd on palm Sunday. When Jesus has been brutally tormented, the flashback of Jesus teaching the people to love their enemies and forgive those that do them harm is shown. The words take an extra dimension when presented in that context. In the midst of the cruel punishments, the film recalls Jesus' prediction to his disciples that their fate would be the same. It is difficult for anyone to think of going through this type of torment. Perhaps, one of the most spiritually inspiring moment is when the film recalls the last supper of Jesus. For the faithful, it conveys the meaning of the Eucharist that is celebrated in churches around the world recalling the supreme sacrifice undertaken by Jesus.

Without doubt, the most difficult part of the movie to watch is the tormenting of Jesus in the hands of Roman soldiers with the Sanhedrin looking on approvingly. The Roman soldiers scourge Jesus with implements of torture that rend chunks of flesh. Blood pours from the wounds caused by the crown of thorns. It is difficult to keep the eyes dry when St. Mary kneels down and wipes the blood splattered on the floor after Jesus had been cruelly beaten down. We may wonder what is the point in doing it. Probably because that is all she can do; she was helpless to do anything else. May be she want to divert her attention from watching Jesus as it is breaking her heart. Or, she does not want anyone to step on her son's precious blood. Whatever the underlying reason, it is a poignant scene indeed. Mary Magdalene recalls her first encounter with Jesus in that scene while kneeling with Mary to clean the floor.

There are virtually hundreds of such scenes in the movie that makes this movie very special. For example, it depicts the Stations of the Cross accurately.

1. Jesus is condemned to death 
2. Jesus takes up his cross
3. Jesus falls the first time
4. Jesus meets his mother
5. Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross
6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
7. Jesus falls the second time
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
9. Jesus falls the third time
10. Jesus is stripped his garments
11. Jesus is nailed to the cross
12. Jesus dies on the cross
13. Jesus is laid in the arms of his blessed mother

The final station of the cross, viz, Jesus is laid in the tomb, is not directly portrayed but is implied.

One of the questions raised by early critics of the movie was whether it is necessary to show so much violence in the movie. It has been pointed out that gospels do not dwell on that aspect of Jesus' passion; instead they move quickly forward from the crucifixion to the resurrection. There was even some suggestion that Mel Gibson did this to direct anger at Jews.

Frankly, the depiction of violence directed at Jesus was overwhelming. But I believe that it had a purpose. It shows what Jesus had to undergo to pay back for the sins of us. He had paid the ultimate price. No sin is large that was not paid for by Jesus. Mary Hatella of St. Paul described it perfectly: "I didn't realize before just how much he suffered so we could live in eternity," she said. "It just makes you realize how much he endured." Jesus' suffering also puts the sufferings we face in our lives in perspective. In our own way, we think these are big things. But after seeing what Jesus had to undergo, I do not think there is anything we can experience that comes even close to that. So, I believe the violence certainly had a place in this movie from a religious perspective. It was not cheap trick.

Another question that has been raised by several Jewish groups was whether this would incite the age-old hatred towards Jews. I do not see how. Most of the cruelty to Jesus was shown as being done by Roman soldiers. They have done all the mocking and even say at one point "you Jews.." Sure the high priests were the one who incited the whole event. But they look like any high priests today doing illegal and/or immoral deeds, and trying to protect their "territory," and business interests. It is corrupt individuals, not the whole community, that is shown as perpetrating this cruelty. Many Christians, with their actions, continue to crucify Christ today. I didn't feel that the movie would incite Christians to hate Jews.

The film uses Aramaic and Latin, the language spoken by Jesus, with English subtitles. It certainly gave authenticity to the movie. Unfortunately, our attention is diverted to reading the subtitles than watching the pictures. I personally would have preferred to see the movie in English and avoid the distraction.

I did observe one episode in the movie that is inconsistent with the traditional beliefs and folklore. The Orthodox Church teaches that it was the thief who was on the right hand side of Jesus that has asked for His mercy and received the forgiveness and promise from Jesus that "you will be with me in paradise today." The gospels do not specify which side of Jesus the "good guy" was on the cross. The movie shows it as the thief on the left side of Jesus - right side of us when we look at the scene.

Another disappointing fact was the depiction of St. John, the disciple of Jesus. He was depicted as following Jesus at a distance with St. Mary. Very little expressions and no actions. I doubt anyone under these circumstances can do that. It felt very unnatural.

On the other hand, the depiction and acting of Maia Morgenstern as St. Mary was just superb. The pain of Jesus' mother Mary was genuine. Bible does not say much of Mary; but there is an aura of patient saintliness depicted around Mary. For the first time, Mary here acts and feels like exactly what she is: A mother watching her son literally torn to pieces. The maternal terror on the face of Morgenstern is genuine and people can identify with her the agony she is undergoing. It comes to a climax when Mary tells her dying son, "I'm here." . The heart-wrenching scene near the end of the film of Mary at the foot of the cross staring straight at us while holding her dead Son is very moving.

Another highlight, in my opinion, is when the Satan meets Mary in the crowd on the way to Calvary. At one point, their eyes each meet in an amazingly powerful silent exchange. The theological significance of this brief encounter is enormous. Satan tempted Adam and Eve to rebel against God and caused the first sin. Mary, as the Mother of Jesus, is the "new Eve." Mary is the devils chief enemy. She brought forth from her womb the means of restoring what Eve lost through the first sin-the God-Man, Jesus who will ultimately triumph over evil and destroy the Satan. In the end, evil was defeated. Jesus broke the back of evil. Mel Gibson has portrayed this scene magnificently.

I can go on and on about this movie. It is so powerful. But let me close with a prediction. People will be talking about this movie for a long time to come. It will become an epic traditionally shown before Easter on TVs for years to come. I recommend that you see this movie. It is well worth it. If the violence seems overbearing, close your eyes and meditate on what is going on. The theater will be dead quiet.

Related Articles:

The Passion of The Christ: Another Review
When I sat down this evening to write a review of The Passion of The Christ, you must imagine how profound it is for me that I am struggling with words and with the very idea of having to write about this movie. To say I am at a loss doesn't begin to express how inadequate I feel to even attempt to convey all that this movie is.

The Medical view of His suffering
Here is a look at the conditions Jesus underwent during his passion from a medical point of view. 

The Meaning of the Cross
Although the cross reveals the ugliness of human heart, it also reveals God's grace and forgiveness. It was on the cross God himself laid upon our sins upon His own dear Son, Jesus Christ. On that cross, Jesus paid the penalty of our sins.

The Point of the Passion
Iíve been thinking a lot about The Passion of the Christ the past few weeks and have heard mixed reviews and comments regarding much of the information presented in the film.

Who Killed Jesus
Who killed Jesus? You and I did. Jews, Christians, and every person who has been born or will be born.

Why Mel Owes One To The Jews
Today, peril threatens all Americans, both Jews and Christians. Many of the men and women in the front lines find great support in their Christian faith. It is strange that Jewish organizations, purporting to protect Jews, think that insulting allies is the preferred way to carry out that mandate.

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