The Passion of the Christ (2004)
New Market Films
Analysis by Dennis Kwiatkowski
The Passion of the Christ has had one of the biggest openings in box office history. One must give its director, Mel Gibson, credit where credit is due. Gibson had various studios turn down financing his film, citing that a film about Jesus with Aramaic dialogue
would be a hard sell. Gibson decided to put up his own money and stay true to his vision of filming a realistic depiction
of the last twelve hours of Jesus’ life.
fame, and the fact that he was also an Oscar-winning director, compelled public interest in his project. But controversy also swirled. Gibson’s being part of a traditionalist
faction within the Catholic Church—so conservative that it rejected the Churches Vatican II teaching that the Jews were
not responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus-- caused many to fear that his film would be anti-Semitic. Select advance screenings
of the film for various religious leaders did nothing to allay these concerns. Neither
did controversial comments made by Gibson’s father about the Holocaust from which Gibson would not distance himself.
of the film at the Vatican brought an endorsement from the pope which was quickly dropped.
When the film’s distributor pulled out, Gibson had to employ marketing among evangelical groups. A detailed well- researched cover story about the film in Newsweek helped to build further excitement and also
social events, such as anti-Semitism in Europe, separation of church and state issues in the United States, and religious
discussion of gay marriage, only added resonance and publicity to the release of a controversially traditionalist religious
about anti-Semitism were so great that, just prior to its release, Roman Catholic Bishop Patrick McGrath pointed out that
the four gospels upon which the film is based were not historical accounts of events but theological reflections written for
particular people at a particular time and within a particular context. The perceptions
of the Biblical writers could be misunderstood or distorted if viewed through attitudes and prejudices which have taken place
in the intervening millennia.
also restated Vatican II teachings which deplore all hatreds, persecutions, and anti-Semitism leveled against the Jews
Mr. Gibson’s film has finally come out. It is obviously the work of a veteran director guiding a first-rate production
team and a handsome cast; a film meticulously crafted and exquisitely executed, employing all the powerful tools of modern
cinema; a film which depicts the suffering of Jesus with a brutal, realistic, unrelenting detail which occupies most of the
film’s focus—a work which is the opposite of a holy-card type depiction of Christ—a deliberate approach
that Gibson reasoned would be fresh and different and fill seats in the theatre.
reaction to the film has been divided with some praising and others condemning the film.
of anti-Semitism have not been quieted. The addition of scenes written specifically
for the film which give sympathetic depth and motivation to the characters of Pontius Pilate and his wife are offset by the
lack of similar scenes of depth or sympathy in regard to the High Priest Caiaphas, the Temple priests or the angry mob. In response, Gibson counters that his depiction of Simon of Cyrene is one of the balancing
factors in the film.
have stated that the film has moved them deeply and re-affirmed their religious faith. Other viewers have found the film’s
emphasis on violence to be numbing and offensive, and the decision to essentially leave out the content and context of Christ’s
teachings to have produced a film that is spiritually empty.
has stated that he hopes the film will stimulate serious thought and reflection among diverse audiences—something that
is already occurring in printed reviews, in chat rooms and discussions, and in often-heated exchanges on television. One such question, no doubt the result of anti-Semitism, involves traditionalist approaches
to filming or interpreting the Bible literally. The question is: Is such literalism
valid if it ignores original context, meaning and intent and serves to foment hate?
way, and relating the same question to the current social debate of gay marriage, and Biblical references to homosexuality,
for example, the question might be: When were such biblical references written, with what intent, and for what audience, and
within what context, and what is their meaning in light of today’s knowledge and understanding?
expansive message and guiding principles of Jesus, and the universal truths inherent in the Christian scriptures withstand
such scrutiny of literal traditions and their misuse? The questions and reflections
occurring now will certainly continue, whatever the final assessment of Gibson’s film, and one expects that such a powerful
spiritual philosophy,which has lasted so long, can indeed illuminate such questions, and that the answers, when found, relating
to an entire host of social issues, will be, not about hate, but about love.