The Passion of the Christ, Mar 2004
by Graham Kings
Date added: 31/07/2020
The Passion of the Christ
Graham Kings The Guardian 19 Mar 2004
Mel Gibson doesn't do reticence. The face of Christ is in your face. In the New Testament, the gospel writers narrate the crucifixion with admirable restraint and economy of words - what is surprising, in their accounts, is the very lack of gory detail. Here, however, we have the confluence of traditions of medieval Catholic piety, and a postmodern fascination with close up, technicolour, unremitting, surround-sound, voyeuristic violence.
Most who see this film will be shaken. At the end, I was so stirred I had to wait in silence as people slipped out around me and I was left with the cleaners. "He did that for me," I thought. It made me rethink my priorities.
In seeing only the last 12 hours of Jesus's life, we miss the human context and radical content of his teaching about the kingdom of God. There are some wonderful flash-backs: Jesus laughing with his mother about his carpentry mistakes; the power of "love your enemies" in the sermon on the mount; Pilate calling for a bowl and then the washed hands turning out to be those of the disciples at the Last Supper. We would have benefited from more flashbacks and less flagellation. The subtitles reminded me of how this story is foreign to all of us. Too often Christians in the west have domesticated Jesus: we have made him too much one of us. He comes to us here as a stranger who questions us.
Which brings us to the issue of anti-semitism. This devil is in the detail of the subliminal. Under pressure, Gibson rightly took the curse - "His blood be on us and on our children" - out of the subtitles; but in leaving it in the Aramaic soundtrack, he is open to the criticism of being lazy or disingenuous.