Sadistic, fanatical, controversial in the highest degree, The Passion of the Christ appeals to some of the more vulgar, base strands of thought in American society. It is a film made to exploit evangelicals as well as Catholic schismatic groups. It stands on par with other silly film franchises like the Left Behind series about the apocalyptic notion of the “Rapture.” The Passion was the brainchild of Mel Gibson, an extreme right-wing Catholic who apparently believes the 20th century Vatican II reforms were heretical and that all the appointed popes since then have been illegitimate. Mr. Gibson marketed The Passion as having been based entirely on the Gospels (with Aramaic and Latin spoken throughout) though in truth he omitted some of the more magical elements found in the New Testament (i.e. all the graves in Jerusalem being opened so the dead could commune again with the living is conveniently missing). He also added a handful of odd characters, like a female satanic succubus similar to Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. Of course innumerable historians have diligently noted the many historical inaccuracies and internal contradictions found within the Gospels themselves, questioning their veracity after having likely been written a half century or so after Jesus’s death by people who never met him, and written in a language which he likely never spoke. Thus this poses a problem for the film –what to include from the Gospels since they do not maintain full consistency? And what to leave out? Apparently, the supposed visions of an 18th century Catholic mystic, Anne Catherine Emmerich, was also used as a reference for some reason.
Mr. Gibson wanted The Passion to be extremely shocking in its utter depravity and portrayal of violence and torture. Of course, after the film’s release he loudly touted his own bona fides to American Christians for being an “outsider” in Hollywood and for “proclaiming the Holy Spirit” with this film’s festival of cynicism. At the same time, he was personally descending into alcoholism, divorce, having a child with another woman still technically married to his first wife, accusations of domestic abuse and so on. His vast fortune made from The Passion and other films has since apparently become the subject of scrutiny as he was caught harboring offshore accounts which have allowed for a vast real estate empire stretching from Malibu, and a ranch in Montana, to several homes on acreage in Costa Rica and Australia, as well as a private island he purchased off the coast of Fiji. A far cry from Jesus’s humble message of poverty and compassion indeed.
At any rate, The Passion stars Jim Caviezel, a fundamentalist Christian zealot himself who plays Jesus Christ in a role which he apparently regards as his own personal act of self-righteous martyrdom. Since the movie’s release, he has breathlessly touted his credentials as supposedly sacrificing his own career in order to make this film (which is false). Since then, Caviezel has been outspoken of his support for the deranged QAnon conspiracy theory alongside the ilk of former President Trump. It should be noted that The Passion was accused of being anti-semitic because it portrays the regional Roman leaders (like Pontius Pilate) as merely background characters subject to the overbearing whims of Jewish elders –a most silly and revisionist narrative that nevertheless has had a lengthy history the world over. Who truly killed Jesus? According to The Passion, the true villains are the Jews (a most despicable message considering its legacy in Europe). After the growing outcry, Mr. Gibson excluded a subtitle from the Gospel of Matthew in which the Jewish elders supposedly declared the blood of Jesus would be on their hands forever –the so-called “blood curse” which justified many centuries of persecution of European Jews culminating in the Holocaust. These examples of anti-semitism in the film would be overblown if not for the views of Mr. Gibson and his father who openly trafficked in explicit denial of the holocaust, odd conspiracies about September 11th, and also labeling Vatican II as “a masonic plot backed by the Jews.”
The Passion is a hollow, snuff film rife with bleak, lurid nihilism and which venerates brutality and cruelty. We spend considerable time watching a man’s flesh ripped apart as he is mercilessly flogged and Jesus’s migration to Golgotha takes up nearly a third of the film during which time he is tormented and tortured to death which is portrayed as a sorrowful situation for the Romans but a capricious victory for the Jewish elders. What are we intended to walk away with after watching this film? It leaves its audience with an acidic sense of fear, guilt, and shame. Above all we walk away feeling utterly desensitized. I have no time for such grim, grotesque slog-filled carnivals of sadistic torture rife with falsifications and historical revisionism. Do yourself a favor and avoid this one.