Ebert: Rolling Stone: TV Guide:

Warning, MAJOR plot points revealed!  (In Case You Don't Know How it Ends)

I was excited to see this film and I had to be there opening night (Ash Wednesday), not because I have any religious fervor, but because I wanted to take part in what was destined to be a National spectacle.  I wanted to witness first hand as the news cameras captured the angry cries of Jewish protesters and the obsessive weeping of Christian fanatics.  I wanted to sit in a theater full of true believers and experience their rapture.  And finally, I wanted to see for myself what Roger Ebert called "the most violent film I have ever seen.

For the most part I got to see almost everything I had hoped for.  The news cameras were there and despite my attempts to be singled out for an interview I was not approached.   I was disappointed that none of the Jewish protesters had arrived yet.  I assume this was because I went to a twilight show and the Jews were still eating dinner and/or fashioning their signs and banners for display at the already sold out evening shows.  My huge theater did eventually sell out as well and due to the fact that I loitered around the lobby until the last minute hoping to be interviewed, I was forced to survey The Passion from second row center.  The Christ was huge!  

The best part of the experience was being surrounded by the zealots.  I have never been part of a collective sobbing of this magnitude.   I was literally surrounded by a thousand people who wept out loud non-stop for 2 hours.  I do not believe however, that they all bawled for the sacrifice of The Christ.  I'm pretty sure that the four year old sitting next to me was crying because his mother was subjecting him to the R-rated horrors of a man being savagely flayed, viciously impaled with huge nails and beaten, crowned with thorns and whipped with razor sharp barbed metal for 90 minutes.  Since the kid could not read the subtitles or comprehend what was going on I suppose his were tears similar to that of a recent victim of child abuse.  As I left the theatre I actually saw one woman present her little tear stained traumatized daughter to another proudly saying "Look at my baby's eyes!" 

The Passion of the Christ is basically a remake of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar without the songs.  It is a violent bloody two hours of horrific torture, but definitely not the most violent movie I have ever seen.  It's not even the most violent movie I've seen in the last year!  That award would probably go to the French film Irréversible.  

The movie basically covers the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus with a few flashbacks to "happier" times.  It begins with His temptation by Satan in the gardens of Gethsemane and His eventual surrender to and capture by the soldiers of the Jewish Priests.  The Priests then condemn Him and offer Him to the Roman governor Pilate.  Pilate is not keen on implementing the death sentence requested by the Jewish Priests and their idiot followers so he tries to hand Jesus over to mincing King Herod.  Herod rejects this duty and sends Him back to Pilate who is reminded that Caesar is already displeased with his stewardship.  Pilate agrees to scourge Jesus.  After beating and rending nearly every inch of His flesh, Jesus is once again brought before the Priests and their rabble.  Pilate again offers the chance to stop the proceedings but they insist that He be crucified.  With no choice left Pilate allows the crucifixion and Jesus is put to death.

I am not a Christian.  I do not necessarily believe anything written in The Bible.  But I can say that I have seen, heard and read this story countless times and this film seems to be a pretty accurate, if graphic, portrayal of the events.  I'm not sure what the Jewish community is so upset about.  The Jewish priest Caiaphas and his followers are directly responsible for the death of Christ.  That's always been the basis of the story.  Additionally, every version of the story that I know also claimed that Pilate was a very hesitant participant.  The treatment at the hands of the Roman soldiers has always been described as brutal but the Romans were merely used as enforcers carrying out the insistences of the Jewish Priests.  The movie does not seem to claim that all Jews, now and forever, are culpable.  If that were the case then we would still have to hold all Germans responsible for the Holocaust or all Americans responsible for Hiroshima.

The film, separated from the controversies, is very good.  I loved that it uses the Latin and Aramaic of the time.  Originally the film was not even going to be subtitled.  Since most people watching the movie are already very familiar with the story this might have been an interesting idea.  The sets, costumes and special effects are all excellent.  I have no idea how they accomplished the hyper-realistic scourging of Jesus but it was an impressive combination of effects and make-up.  

The actors all do a great job too.  James Caviezel gives a brave and heartbreaking performance as Jesus.  Maia Morgenstern as Mary, Mother of the Christ, is equally tragic.  The absolutely beautiful Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene spends the entire movie weeping and attending to Mother Mary.  I'm glad she was cloaked and smeared with dirt because she is so stunning that her presence could have been a distraction.  Hristo Shopov does a fine job as the conflicted Pilate.  Luca Lionello is great at the beginning of the film as the remorseful Judas.  And finally Rosalinda Celentano is super creepy as the always lurking androgynous Satan.  

If I had gone to see The Passion of the Christ a few weeks after it's release on a Saturday afternoon when I was one of the only people in the theater I might not have liked it as much.  Seeing the film at the height of it's controversy, surrounded by fanatics and skeptics, gave it the carnival atmosphere I was hoping for.