by Mel Gibson.

Comments after seeing the movie.
John Covert

The movie opens with the frame:




A clear statement that OUR SINS crucified Jesus, and that it is through his passion that we are healed from sin. But it seems that so many of the people who have written about this movie must have seen a very different movie than what I saw.

I was resigned to the "fact" that I was going to see a horrible, bloody, gory movie like nothing I had ever seen before. The truth is, the movie was less than 1/10th as bloody as I was expecting, and nowhere near as bloody as Braveheart, The Patriot, Schindler's List, Jabberwocky, Damien: Omen II, Bladerunner, The Gangs of New York, or many other movies I have seen.

Consistent with the teachings of Vatican II, not all the Jews present at the time are shown as responsible for what happened. Herod (a Jew himself) sends Jesus back, finding no fault in him (other than saying that he's a bit crazy). A member of the Sanhedrin objects to the way Caiaphas runs the trial "We've heard no evidence. These witnesses bring only mindless contradiction." Jesus convicts himself by stating clearly, as the Gospel records, "I AM", in response to Caiaphas's question "are you the Son of God." The movie is not anti-semitic, and only those predisposed to finding it so can possibly come away with that impression. Yes, a Roman soldier spits the word "Jew" into the face of Simon of Cyrene, but he is an example of the kind of person who does such things. And yes, the mob screams "Crucify him", but this is a mob, and mobs are ugly.

Critics told us that the scourging was half an hour long. Not true. It began 00:53 into the movie, with switches (like what the kid in Singapore was beaten with). During well over half of the scourging, we were watching the crowd, or seeing scenes from other parts of the Gospel.

After about two and a half minutes, there was a pause for a short while, during which time the sadistic Romans debate about which instrument to use next. At 00:56, they start in with a cat-o-nine-tails (or something like that, with metal balls). We only see two strokes with it, and then we again spend most of the next four minutes surveying the crowd. Then we get a few minutes of seeing the beating, but all we see of Christ are his hands chained to the pillar; we can't see the actual impact of the blows nor the rest of his body. Satan paces through the crowd. Even the Jewish priests are noticeably disturbed by what they are watching. At 1:03 a soldier arrives and screams for them to stop, and Jesus is dragged back to appear before Pilate again.

That's ten minutes of scourging, not the thirty we were told to expect. And, again in stark contrast to the stories in the press, and even though this is a passion play, the Good News of Christ shows through as well.

While Jesus is being beaten, there are flashbacks to the Sermon on the Mount, and to Jesus teaching "It is said that you should love your neighbor. But I say, 'Love your enemies' for if you love only those who love you, what reward have you."

While the soldiers are capturing him, he is shown healing the severed ear of one of the men who had come to take him away.

He is shown writing in the sand, opposing the mob stoning the woman caught in adultery, and comforting her afterwards. The traditional (though unproven) correspondence between that woman and Mary of Magdala is shown, although you'd probably have to know about it to notice.

And there's more that we were told by the critics that just isn't so. The timber for the crosses is roughly hewn. Stories that it was perfectly squared off are false. Jesus' eyes are brown. Stories that they are blue are false. It is Satan who has blue-gray eyes. The "child" Satan is holding while he circulates through the crowd is some sort of ugly youngster, not a fetus as one critic claimed. Probably intended to be a demon. There are no "boils" all over Judas. When he goes to return the money, he scratches his face, weeping, with the moneybag before tossing it on the ground. Afterwards, he begins to go mad, and some pre-teen children behave in the manner of children everywhere, taunting him because he looks bad, biting him, and then with the instigation of Satan, chasing him out of the city. They disappear before he hangs himself.

The rest of the movie "is as it was." Gibson's cinematography is not stunningly brilliant, but is apropos to the story.

Satan again wends his way through the city among the crowd as the procession winds through Jerusalem's Way of Sorrows.

As Jesus is placed on the cross, the bread is brought to the table of the Last Supper.

As the nails are being hammered into Jesus' hands, even the chief priests flinch at the sight.

The cross is lifted up at 1:42 into the movie, and there is a flashback to the words spoken by Jesus at the last supper. We are not forced to stare any longer than necessary at his wounded body. True to the accounts in the Gospel, Mary and John are at the foot of the cross, and Jesus commends John (and all of us) to the care of his mother. At 1:52 he yields up his spirit. A single teardrop falls from heaven and causes the ground to quake and the temple to be rent in twain from the top to the bottom. And then Our Lord is resurrected, and at 1:58 the credits begin to roll, finishing at 2:06.

25 February 2004