"THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST"
by Stan Griffin
Release of "The Passion of the Christ," a filmed account of the last 12 hours in Jesusí life, was preceded by extensive publicity. It came from the production company and was designed to draw people into the theaters. As details of its content became known, articles of criticism and praise appeared in newspapers and other publicationsĖbefore those doing the criticizing and complimenting had actually seen the movie.
The film previewed on Ash Wednesday (February 25). Once audiences were able to view it for themselves, choruses of "boos" and "cheers" accelerated; it was difficult to determine which was greater.
As "The Passion of the Christ" approaches the $400 million mark in ticket sales, it is moving into very select company. It has passed "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" to become the eighth largest-grossing film of all time, and it is rapidly catching up to "Jurassic Park" which is in seventh place.
When producer/director Mel Gibson tried to interest major film companies in his idea, he had no success. So he put up $25 million of his own money to get "Passion" on film.
For the first three weeks in release, "Passion" finished in first place of all films being shown. For the next three weeks, it dropped to No. 2, then to No. 3, and to No. 6 (in the sixth week). Week Seven was part of the Easter weekend, and "Passion" did something that was "unprecedented": it regained the top spot, an achievement that would " ... rewrite box office history." An observer noted, " ... Itís not just a movie. Itís a religious experience for many people." It draws well among church groups, but " ... itís way beyond that ...(and) ... itís packing in much larger audiences ... large cross-section of America ... (they) cross Christian denominational lines ..."
"Passion" opened in 300 theaters, unusual for a religious film, one that has subtitles translating Latin and Aramaic It eventually will be shown in over 3,200 theaters, and itís on track to reach between $450 million and a half-billion dollars worldwide.
The film begins with Jesusí arrest in Gethsemane and concludes with His body being lowered from the cross. An epilog shows Him emerging from the tomb: Resurrection. A reviewer described this scene as " ... spare, simple ... with purity ..." (and it) relieves the preceding brutality ..."
Scenes from His earlier life are shown in flashbacks: a little boy being consoled by His mother Mary; her grown son building a table; rescuing Mary Magdalene from a stoning, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Last Supper.
There is a ten-minute sequence of "scourging" with Roman soldiers using barbed flails (whips) tipped in jagged pieces of metal designed to dig into Jesusí flesh. This is one series of scenes which has drawn a lot of criticism. It is very graphic, and very bloodyĖa word used often in reviews: "excessively bloody," "drenched in blood," "a bloody, bloody film," and "the blood is the point." The word "passion" came from the Latin word for "suffer"; there is much of that seen in this film.
The movie shows His death by slow torture from arrest to deathĖthe "major topic" of the film. By the time He expires, Jesus is " ... so battered and bloody He is hardly recognizable as human ..."
Another element of "The Passion of the Christ" which comes in for negative commentary is its portrayal of the Jews as actively encouraging Jesusí death. It is feared by some that the film will encourage anti-Semitism. Jewish religious leaders are shown as the driving force behind the crucifixion, pressuring the Romans to execute Him. Roman soldiers do the "scourging": mentioned earlier.
However, some critics point out that the film shows dissension among the Sanhedrin (Jewish ruling group) and portrays many at Jesusí trial who expressed disapproval. Others express the view that Jesus was anti-establishment, a threat to "an uneasy political balance between the Sanhedrin and the Roman overlords " It was feared He would "shake up the status quo." He broke laws such as healing on the Sabbath, defying the Pharisees to stone adulterers, and overturning the moneychangersí tables in the Temple because they were defiling the House of God.
It is true that crowds of Jews are seen encouraging the Roman soldiers, but itís also a fact other Jews were His major followers.
In March, Jim Caviezel who plays Jesus in the film had a brief conversation with Pope John Paul II in Rome. The pontiff blessed the actor who is a devout Roman Catholic. Several Vatican prelates have endorsed "The Passion," insisting it is not anti-Semitic.
Some Christians are uncomfortable with the merchandising of licensed "Passion" products. This has become standard procedure for high-profile films today. Here is a partial list of those articles:
(1) a 160-page book selling for $24.99; it has sold nearly Ĺ million copies
(2) cross pendant necklaces
(3) nail-leather necklaces
(4) photographs from the movie
(5) key chains
(6) lapel pins
(8) CDs of its sound track
Church officials report "Passion" has helped boost attendance, has "bolstered peopleís faith," and increased public interest in religious issues. It also "sparked conversations about Christís sacrifices, ... puts extra energy into discussions about them ... (and) encourages people to talk to others about their faith as never before ..."