February 28, 2004

IT DRAINS YOU. That we can say of "The Passion of the Christ." It drains you physically and emotionally and spiritually and leaves you sitting in the theatre soaked in cold sweat as the credits flash at the end. It crumbles the walls you have built around your soul. It hulls out your pride like one scoops out the innards of a melon. And in the end, at least for us, we felt ... we felt broken by this film. It hit that deep, and that hard, and it did so over, and over, and over again.

We will give it our utmost here to give an accurate rendition of what happened in the hours preceding, during and following our viewing of the film. It may not be our top form; we do not think we have fully regained our composure; but this may be the way for us to give our truest and best account of the matter. We must warn you that we have to spoil the movie in writing about it; we simply must in order to explain its full effect on us. So we've put much of this review in the extended entry box. If you've seen the movie, feel free to click on the link below; if you haven't, please don't. Go see the movie, and then read it.

For those readers unfamiliar with The Rant, we should clarify that when we say we throughout our work here, it is the same as writing in the singular. Normally that is not a concern when we write -- but we did not go to "The Passion" alone this afternoon.

Indeed, we can assure you that we went with our friend and blogging colleague Andre Vladimir Sebastian, who for a few months ran the now-defunct "Curveball" blog. Mr Sebastian had picked out an excellent theatre some miles south of here, and so this afternoon, we went.

After being pleasantly surprised at the ticket prices -- just $4.75! -- we eagerly sprang for both tickets, leaving Mr Sebastian to pay for the goods at the concession stand. After a bit of scrounging about for some change -- Mr Sebastian found that even the small order had drained him of his ready cash -- we proceeded through the hallways of the multiplex to the theatre in which "The Passion" was showing. Perhaps it was here that we first noticed something was different.

Actually, it was Mr Sebastian who did so. For as we both looked up the rows of seats, looking for two seats that were together, people waved to us and invited us to sit near them. As we sat down, Mr Sebastian remarked that had never before happened to him at a theatre, and we had to agree that our experience had been the same. Mr Sebastian also noted the audience: it was largely older, although there was a girl sitting two seats away from Mr Sebastian who was quite young -- say thirteen or fourteen years old. Later, we and Mr Sebastian both wondered how she reacted to the film; certainly we personally thought it not a movie for children -- in any respect.

IT SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE TO KNOW where to begin discussing "The Passion." It is an immensely moving work in every respect of the word. There were times when we recoiled in horror; times when our heart bled; times when we felt truly and utterly anguished. We have no doubt that this was Mel Gibson's intent when he created the film, and in that respect Mr Gibson succeeded beyond all our expectations.

We cannot say whether "The Passion" will serve as an evangelical tool; as Mr Sebastian noted following the film, its violence is so extreme that it may repel non-Christian viewers who might otherwise be open to the message. But we can say that for believing Christians -- as we are -- "The Passion" will be an intensely moving and haunting experience. It is not a movie that one would want to watch immediately again; indeed, as Mr Sebastian noted, one does not need to watch it more than once. For the message will stick, and it will keep a viewer thinking about it for a very long time afterwards.

We believed the narrative generally stuck to how it was written in the New Testament; but we enjoyed Mr Gibson's use of artistic license throughout the film, and thought it was pretty well done. Mr Sebastian pointed out that Mr Gibson makes use of some old tried-and-true tactics; the sudden-entry into the room, for instance. But he also noted that they work -- and they do. It may have been old hat, but by Jove, we jumped in our seats when Mr Gibson intended us to do so.

We also enjoyed the little flourishes: for instance, when Satan sent forth the snake towards Christ, as the Devil taunted Christ at the Mount of Olives. The overt use of Satan -- perhaps the most notable aspect of artistic license to appear in the movie -- was well-done. We especially thought that of the scene where Satan and Mary stare at each other as they make their way through the crowds on opposite sides of the crucifixtion route. If one had to point out a subtle theological message from Mr Gibson in this movie, perhaps that was it. For there you had Mary, for so brief an instant, take on the role of Michael.

The violence is perhaps the most striking feature about the film; we can only describe it as a continual escalation of pain, both for Christ in the film and for a viewer in the audience. We were shaken enough when the Roman soldiers started to beat Him with canes; and we were doubly shaken when they progressed to using the horrible flagellum. We counted along in anguish as the soldiers screamed in Latin ... twenty-one! twenty-two! twenty-three! But at the end of it, when they unlocked the chains -- only to turn Him over to flay His front!

But the most horrible part was the crucifixion, and there, it hovered at and then went over the top for us. It was bad enough to see Christ so beaten and bloody that his flesh was worn away to the bone at points. But watching as the nails were driven home -- that was almost too much. Hearing the crunch of the bones as the soldiers broke the thieves' legs to ensure their demise was gruesome. But what really got to us was the crow. We did not need to see the evil thief's eyes being plucked out.

However, now that it has been a few hours since we left the theatre, we must say we felt that almost all of the violence was justified -- to get the point across about just what Christ suffered, and how much.

Another point "The Passion" made very well was the chaos that accompanied Christ's crucifixion. It's not something that we ever thought about before, but it made sense when we thought about it afterwards. And what chaos! People lining the streets, wailing and struggling with the escort taking Christ to Golgotha; the people watching in horror as Christ was flayed; the conflict as Pilate stood before the crowd. It was chaos, smouldering and rebellious, and something that a few men turned to their advantage.

For after seeing "The Passion," we must say we did not find it anti-Semitic. We watched with a critical eye in that regard, or so we thought, and we just didn't see it. At least to us, the movie stands as a powerful rejection of the blood libel, that is, the hateful and evil doctrine of holding Jews collectively responsible for Christ's death.

We must say when we watched the movie, we thought the script took pains to focus on one man -- Caiaphas -- as the instigator in the matter. Not the priests, not the people -- Caiaphas. Even in the crowd scenes, perhaps the most provocative in terms of this issue, it is Caiaphas who clearly is behind things. Not the people.

Finally, we would note that Christ says in the film that no man on Earth has the power to subdue Him if He had not wished for that to happen. In the end, all of mankind shares the responsibility wholly and equally; and something that should not be overlooked is that He forgave us for it.

We honestly believe that people who see the movie will find it as we did. Furthermore, we cannot see how any thinking, rational person would come away from this movie wanting to "kick in some Jewish and Roman teeth," as Maureen Dowd claims. Ms Dowd's seemingly reflexive hostility to the film was ... well, we don't get it. She watched the film, and took away nothing from it. That is something that we cannot fundamentally understand; we cannot grasp how one could watch this film and not be moved. But her words, if you wish to read them, are available via the above link; and they speak for themselves.

No, one will not want to kick in anyone's teeth when one leaves this movie. One will be too shell-shocked, too distraught, too shaken to feel anything but miserable after watching "The Passion." Mr Sebastian noted at least three people crying during the film, and we can assure you we were very close to openly crying ourselves. For while the film ends with Christ's resurrection, it is too brief to erase the trauma of the proceeding two hours. And so, as the credits rolled, we sat and watched in silence, stunned and scarred.

Then, we got up and we went to the men's room and we threw water over our face. We walked out of the multiplex, past the lines of people, and said nothing. When we were outside, we stopped for a bit, and we paused along with Mr Sebastian and took note of the other releases playing.

It was then that Mr Sebastian made a particularly astute observation.

As we both looked at the listings for "Along Came Polly" and "50 First Dates" and "Cheaper by the Dozen," Mr Sebastian said: after seeing something like that, how could you watch these movies? How could you waste your time watching these?

How indeed? The very idea of watching them seemed silly. Here you had "The Passion," a work that treated the most important of subjects with what we thought was dignity and respect and fairness, and then you had these other movies; all of which looked insipid, mindless, and gauche.

Mr Sebastian's words got us to thinking. Perhaps there are some other things in our life which we focus far too much of our time and energy and thought upon. Perhaps we ought to rebalance our life portfolio, and start focusing more on things that are a bit more important. It will come as no surprise to hear we did a lot of thinking on the drive back. The daze was wearing off. In its place was reflection, and sadness, and most of all, grief.

When we arrived home, we got a Diet Coke out of the fridge, took off our jacket and threw it on the futon. As we walked over to the computer to begin writing, we looked up -- straight at the small crucifix mounted to the wall above our work desk.

And we wept.

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OTHER BLOGGERS' REVIEWS of "The Passion of the Christ" include those from Allison Barnes, Ben Domenech, Sheila O'Malley, Stephen Silver, and Chris Weinkopf. These are certainly not the only reviews out there, so keep top eye out.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at February 28, 2004 11:24 PM | TrackBack