The Curmudgeon


Friday, August 02, 2019

The Passion of the Christ

Mel Gibson 2004

Though its fidelity to the Gospels is somewhat compromised, notably with the omission of the blood-curse at Matthew 27 xxv, Mel Gibson's comic-book rendition of his Saviour's trial and execution remains just as interesting an oddity as the films he has directed since. It has neither the headlong drive of Apocalypto nor the emotional power of Hacksaw Ridge, but it's brutally direct, handsomely shot and its use of Aramaic and Latin dialogue serves to mitigate the less convincing touches.

Jesus has a few flashbacks to His ministry and His domestic life as a carpenter; and while nothing in The Passion quite equals the testicle-gulping buffooneries of Apocalypto, a comic scene about a dining-room innovation showcases the subtleties of the Gibson sense of humour.

There are also hints of the Father's own, scarcely less astringent, taste in practical jokes. At an early stage in the beating one of Jesus' eyes is blackened by a haemorrhage: a metaphor of the narrowed focus and flattened perspectives necessary to the coming church of Rome. During the crucifixion one of the thieves laughs at Jesus and is apparently (the sequence is coyly edited) punished by having his own eye plucked out: a metaphor of God's forgiveness which hardly needs belabouring. After the betrayal, having been used up in heaven's machinations and then thrown to Satan like an old bone, Judas hangs himself with a rope taken from a dead and decayed beast of burden, provided by God as a final insult.

Otherwise, the film's focus is relentless: Jesus is betrayed, suffers under Pontius Pilate, is crucified, dies and is buried, and rises again. The scourging is carried out at considerable length, by sniggering dentitionally-challenged thugs armed with instruments worthy of the Christ's later friends in the Inquisition; and there is much wailing among the womenfolk. Some critics objected to the near-total omission of Jesus' preaching, although precisely the same approach is taken by St Paul and by the formulators of the Apostolic Creed.

While the common soldiers epitomise Rome's moral decline and fall, the aristocracy has more compassion. Pilate's wife is refined and charitable; Pilate himself is the best-drawn and most humanly sympathetic character, and Jesus demonstrates His heavenly family's political acumen in seeking an alliance with Rome, exonerating the governor of guilt by reminding him that he is, after all, only obeying orders.

The final scene in the tomb is admirably concise, and the final image is of the Christ's hand: once an instrument of healing and power, now mutilated and seen through.


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