For some reason, a Roger Ebert review of the film “Backbeat,” the film about the formative years of The Beatles, has always stuck with me. In it he starts with the old story of the actor who plays the gravedigger in Hamlet, describing the play’s plot as the story of “a gravedigger who meets a prince.” He uses this analogy to explain that the character of Stu Sutcliff, in “Backbeat,” is like this gravedigger, reasoning that the band depicted in the film could be any band and that the focus and flushing out of Sutcliff’s character doesn’t give the viewer any insight into what made The Beatles so great. That if one was to remove the idea that The Beatles is the band being portrayed in the film it leaves us with a not-that-interesting story.
In the grand tradition of comparing the Beatles to Jesus, I was shocked that Ebert’s review of “The Passion of the Christ” didn’t use the same logic.
“The Passion of the Christ” is not a good movie. Sure it looks great, but so did Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography in the Vanilla Ice film “Cools as Ice.”
This is the ultimate “preaching to the choir” film. If one doesn’t know the story of Jesus (James Caviezel), have a self realized character for him or understanding of the idea of “The Passion” going in to the theatre, then there will be no more understanding or enlightenment for a viewer coming out.
To the “unsaved eye”, “The Passion” is a tedious two-hour film about the brutal torture and death of a man who, for some reason or another, is hated by Jewish people. They say that he blasphemed, but we get no real idea of exactly what it was that he said to piss these people off so much. Neither does the character of Pontius Pilate (Hristo Maumov Shopov) – our “gravedigger” of the story and the only character with any depth.
As a result, Pilate sends these men, along with Jesus, away to King Herod to make a decision. Unfortunately, the foppish King Herod doesn’t see any reason to kill Jesus either. This makes the Jewish people even angrier and they go back to Pilot to threaten a riot if he doesn’t do something. Pilate says that he will order Jesus to be punished and then let him go.
We then get to see twenty minutes or so of flogging, torture and flesh ripping in all its H. G. Lewis glory.
When this is complete, the Jewish people STILL want Jesus dead and Pilate orders him to be crucified. There is more blood, gore, torture, spit, yelling, etc. leading to the final graphic nailing, spear piercing and death.
So what? Director Mel Gibson chooses the most unenlightened and mundane elements of Jesus’ life to show us. He chooses the least effective of the “Beatitudes”, the least inspiring talks to his disciples and the most ridiculous moments in Jesus’ life to show us. Did you know that Jesus invented the dinette set? According to Gibson he did. Perhaps the Jews were angry because now they had to sit in chairs at a high table rather than on the floor with a short table.
The fact is, like in “Backbeat,” this could be any guy hated by the Jews and nailed to a cross. There is nothing in the film that shows any great deed or knowledge possessed by the condemned.
Who is this film for? It’s for the Christian followers who haven’t really read their scripture. It’s for those who have been preached to and forced to memorize verse out of context.
Anyone who has actually read the Gospels will find glaring inaccuracies such as Mary Magdalene (in a bafflingly uninteresting performance by Monica Bellucci) being portrayed as a w***e (She wasn’t. Look it up.), the destruction of the Jewish temple from the earthquake caused by Jesus’ death and the resulting repentance of the Jewish priests, and the creation of the infamous “dinette set” amongst others.
The movie is also for lovers of cheesy horror films and gorehounds. There are five “Friday the 13th” style shock / jumps that don’t seem to have any reason other than to scare the audience. There is also enough blood and gore to make the most veracious Giallo fan happy.
The movie isn’t for anyone else. If you are Jewish you will walk out horrified by the depiction of the religion.
If you are a historian you will find nothing but inaccuracy after inaccuracy from Pilate being depicted as just and benevolent (he wasn’t) to the dialogue being spoken in Latin and Aramaic (the people of the time spoke Greek and Hebrew), to all the Jews covering their heads per Jewish law except for Jesus, a devout Jew, and his followers to Gibson’s cowardly casting of a white non-Jew in the role of a Semitic. Oddly enough, everyone else is Italian which leads to the old Hollywood idea that only an Italian can play Jews and only Jews can play American Indians.
Finally, the movie isn’t for anyone who likes movies. As a film it is nothing but a long third act with no story and, most importantly, NO character development for anyone other than Pilate. Even lovers of the cinematography of the lauded Caleb Deschanel will be disappointed that views of sweeping landscape and detailed imagery is third to close-ups and extreme close-ups of gore and body parts.
Many in the audience I saw the film with, clutching Bibles with ash marks on their foreheads, cried throughout the film. That’s fine. These are the people this film was made for. Everyone else will be angered or simply bored by this film that – not to be cruel – is about a gravedigger who meets a corpse.
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