Gibson’s “Passion” is a Polarizing Masterpiece
By Doug Patton
March 1, 2004
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
– Matthew 10:34
After watching director Franco Zefferelli’s beautiful but bland 1977 made-for-television miniseries, “Jesus of Nazareth,” I remember thinking that if anyone ever depicted on screen the actual torture and brutality of the crucifixion, the film would have to receive an “R” rating. Nearly three decades later, Mel Gibson has made that film.
“The Passion of the Christ” cannot simply be viewed. The film demands to be experienced. My wife and I could not speak as we sat through the entire closing credits and through most of the drive home from the theater. For us, as believers, this film had served as a hauntingly brutal reminder of the price that had to be paid to redeem us from our own depravity, and there were no words that seemed appropriate.
Actor Jim Caviezel becomes Jesus Christ on the screen. As Gibson has said, Caviezel does not act, he just is. During filming, the actor dislocated a shoulder, caught pneumonia, was struck by lightning and received a 14-inch-long gash in his back during a graphic flogging scene. As an actor and a devout Christian, he says he would not have had it any other way.
Gibson’s vision of Satan is chilling: a woman’s face combined with a man’s voice, oddly seductive and unsettling. The image draws us in, and then repulses us with a maggot crawling in and out of a nostril, just to remind us that what lies beneath the comely facade is, in reality, vile and corrupt.
“The Passion of the Christ” may well be the most important film of our time. Christian revival in American society has always come at times of great upheaval, and this film comes at a time when our nation – and the world – is at a cultural and spiritual crossroads.
As the critics spew forth their hatred for this film, the public is in the process of making it one of the most successful in Hollywood history. Aside from the canard about the film stirring up anti-Semitism, the primary excuse being offered by the media elites for their vitriol toward Gibson and his vision of this story is that it is “too bloody.” This from the same critics who rave that Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaking genius for churning out such gratuitous, blood-soaked rubbish as “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill.”
There is a reason why the blood depicted in “The Passion” is so “controversial.” According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (the main eyewitness accounts we have to the crucifixion and the inspiration for Gibson’s script), the blood of Jesus Christ was shed for the atonement of sin – the individual sin of us all – and that is what the media elites cannot stand about this film. As long as cinematic depictions of Jesus are restricted to images of a peaceful teacher standing on a hillside preaching the Sermon on the Mount, the story is no threat to their secular worldview. And as long as the story of his death is a sanitized version of the truth, wherein an innocent man utters a few words and then falls asleep on the cross, like some sort of first century lethal injection, then there is no outrage.
But when the public is allowed to see the full measure of God’s wrath poured out upon His own Son as the price to redeem fallen humanity, the story becomes “controversial.” At that point, the notion that human beings are basically good is threatened, as is all the other secular nonsense about man’s autonomy.
By being faithful to what society used to call “Biblical truth,” Mel Gibson has brought a polarizing masterpiece to the screen. May it sharpen the sword that will bring about a spiritual revolution.