Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Passion of the Christ (Definitive Edition) (2004)

The Passion of the ChristOne of the most talked about films in decades; thought I would add my 2 cents as a late entry.

I think the root controversy about the film has to do with the question of whether or not it has artistic merit for a viewer without faith. I think this is a fair question, as I never really understood the idea that religion offers, so to speak, an excuse for ugly artwork. Arguably there is no such excuse, unless one of the points of religious art is to repel people who don't already share the faith.

The film has been labeled violent, which it is; but unfair here has been the label that it is in some sense unusually violent. It is not. There are hundreds of films that are far more violent. Perhaps this film is even less violent than average. It is perhaps even less violent than the blockbuster version of Gandhi of some years back, billing Candice Bergen and Ben Kingsley, of which the Passion has reminded me somewhat; at any rate they are at least in the same ball park. Rather, the distinctive mark of the Passion is that it invites us to keep the humanity of the victim of violence in full view; not to distance ourselves by, say, feeling contempt or anger towards the victim as a bump-off-able bad guy, or seeing the victim as a replaceable curiosity, a dispensable nitwit. In the Gandhi movie, for example, the majority of the acts of violence are against victims who are more or less, cinematically speaking, dispensable nitwits. All we see Gandhi suffer is being shot at the end (and even that, at the beginning also, setting up a flashback)-and a few blows to the head (from which he recovers).

Yet the character to suffer the violence in this film is not only the main character, it is a character who is anything but a dispensable nitwit. He is unambiguously portrayed as is in the Gospels--a perfect human being-and more: a Divine Person. No doubt faith is helpful here, but if the viewer can so much as entertain the premise as a possibility, then I would say that the movie is as beautiful as it is emotionally powerful. Yet even apart from that premise, the film also powerfully portrays deep love and friendships between human beings, which has surely a beauty of its own even under heart wrenching circumstances. Moreover, in what is surely one of, if not the most violent sequences in the film-the scourging (the soldiers carrying out the order, one in particular, wind up going over the top in enthusiasm)-we only see the victim about half the time; the rest of the time we see shots of peoples' faces, notably his friends, mostly of the face of his mother. The film does show us the anatomical side of the violence enough so that we really understand what is happening-but no more; the point is what it MEANS for it to be happening. In this film suffering is given a human face.

It is quite a unique experience. First, breaking out of the package of being "mere cinema," there are two points of honesty of the film even apart from any faith claim. (1) by all serious accounts, Jesus of Nazareth was at the least an exceptional human being; yet death by crucifixion was no walk in the park. (2) by all serious reflections, in one way or another-regardless of how you slice it (whether from the point of view of any religion or from the point of view of atheism)-humanity really hasn't treated God any better than the main character gets treated in this film. This is a film which portrays God as staying with humanity despite the way it has treated him (and the way human beings have treated each other). The violence is not for it own sake; still less is it for the sake either of sadism--or of a narrator stepping off the screen to address the audience with guilt trips (shaming and flagellating the viewer)--; it is for the sake of thoughtfully presenting this possibility in an artistic way. Second, rather that allowing the audience the space to distance themselves from characters undergoing violence, this film actually does the opposite: it prods the audience to see NONE of the characters as dispensable nitwits, not even those who are committing the violence. The anti-Semitism charge is simply a non-sequitur. It's not anti-anybody.

The film visually portrays what I have described without being artificial or saccharine, invoking a remarkable depth for symbolism and a good sense of timing; it plainly succeeds in telling a story blending sight and sound. I will give two examples which I found especially powerful; they are even related. One is where the film shifts back and forth from shots of the feet of the roman soldiers standing in pools of his blood as they scourge him, to shots of the feet of the Apostles as he was symbolically washing them. The other is a subtle, nonverbal portrayal of the conversion of a roman soldier which spans in a sense the entire film. This conversion story is visually framed from the film's opening scenes when a temple guard has his ear miraculously restored after it is sliced off in a struggle by one of the Apostles. The guard remains for some time on his knees, as if so overcome by the experience he cannot move. The roman solider to be converted is subtly introduced in the next scenes (he is one of the soldiers Mary Magdalene complains to about the arrest), but we see him from time to time throughout the movie, witnessing and being influenced by various events; in a final scene, blood and water falls upon his eyes, flowing from the side of the deceased victim that he pierces with a lance (though first non-verbally apologizing to the mother; he does it merely to confirm he is dead), and he falls to his knees in a way which resonates with the action of the temple guard. The temple guard, so to speak, had his hearing restored; the roman soldier, so to speak, his sight. On the side of deep friendships, notable are the relationships between Jesus, his mother, Mary Magdalene and the youngest Apostle, John. One moment uniting this dimension to the above examples is when John stumbles and falls on his knees before the two Marys (running to them to tell them of Jesus' arrest)-to be followed by John later seeing Mary's agony as she watches her son fall to his knees as he carries the cross. The kneeling image in general is itself also framed by beautiful opening and closing scenes invoking a folding together of earth and sky (the first providing the backdrop of Jesus falling to his knees in his agony in the garden; the second entailing powerful from-the-ground-up and from-the-sky-down shots of the moment of his death on the cross). Here resonating throughout is the film's awesome musical score. I would add that the use of Aramaic in the film punctuated with subtitles was nothing less than masterful; I am not even aware of the film being in a "foreign language."

Acting was good but special mention needs to go to Maia Morgenstern, who played the mother. In interviews she said she played the character from the point of view of a mother who loved her son; the result is one of the most moving and beautiful character portrayals in all of cinema.

If you are looking for popcorn-eating entertainment, this is not the film to watch. (Even during gladiatorial times at the Colosseum this movie would have gotten thumbs down.) But if you are in the mood for a thought-provoking treatment of religious themes in a serious, sensitive and artistic way, then by all means see the film.

*Note: This review is not based on the Definitive Edition (or its commentary).

When you start the movie you have the hype that has surrounded it. At the end you have the feeling that this individual loved, believed, and gave everything for his beliefs. You understand that the Jews of that society show they were like us today where a few acted as if they were the voice of the many. It is a movie that pulls at the fabric of your understanding of this horrible and painful death allowing you to understand it and what it must have been like.

In summary it is a movie that made me reflect. It made me sad, and based on my beliefs made me proud that this individual cared for me and gave his life to set me free. It was a well done and flowed well from beginning to end. It built on itself the way a great movie should. The editing and story through the lens was exceptional. It was a great technical movie regardless of beliefs.

Buy The Passion of the Christ (Definitive Edition) (2004) Now

I purchased this version after I saw it in the store the week it came out. I already owned the original DVD release, but I heard this had lots of special features and the re-cut version. Therefore I purchased this edition. However, I was a bit disappointed.

I really enjoyed the movie in the theater. It tells the story of the last 12 hours of the life of christ. It was very gory and I wouldn't want to show it to children. However, for older people (12 yrs. and up)this does a good job of depicting the trials and tribulations of Christ's crucifiction.

My biggest complaint about this movie was the subtitles. However, if you are familiar with the Biblical story, you can pretty much ignore the dialogue and focus on the picture.

Now for this "Definitive Edition" Special feature wise this is a great edition to have. It has loads of extra features.

My biggest complaint about this edition was that if you are a person like me who sometimes has to take several different times (starting and stopping) to watch a movie in it's entirety, the chapter selections are a wonderful thing. You can stop where you need to and start back just by selecting the scene you were on. However, with the definitive edition the scene selection is done with approximately 10 chapters. The chapters are set up to coincide with the "stations of the cross." Although a good idea if you are Catholic and want to see those stages but for a normal viewer of this movie it was terribly frustrating. The first chapter runs for over an hour. I usually don't have that long to watch so I have to start all over each time and use fast forward to get to where I was. It was just very irritating.

I really liked the fact that they included the re-cut version of the film as well as the original. If you are unfamiliar with the re-cut version, it essentially is a "less graphic" version of the film (although it is still very violent). This version may be better for a church library or a family with younger children.

If you like special features and want the less gory version of the Passion then by all means purchase this edition. However, if you prefer to be able to stop and start or jump to a certain scene of the movie then go with the original release (it has approx. 32 scene chapters).

Read Best Reviews of The Passion of the Christ (Definitive Edition) (2004) Here

First of all, let me start this effort by saying how amazed I was by the movie, and by its sheer emotional power. It is superbly shot, the cinematography literally breath-taking in its intensity and ability to add muscular heft to the familiar story of how Jesus came to fulfill the prophecy through his divine sacrifice on behalf of all mankind. The movie-goer is sure to be transformed by the magnitude of the oft-told and retold tale of how the events of the final twelve hours focused on the ways in which Jesus deliberately serves himself up as the sacrificial lamb for the manifest sins of the world, offering all humans the opportunity to re-establish their contact with the divine from whom they had been estranged.

Indeed, I found myself almost speechless after viewing the film, and was not quite sure to what extent it was a result of the power of the film's message as opposed to the graphically violent context in which the tale is told. Herein lies the single criticism one can level against the film, which despite many worries from bystanders that it was laced with virulent anti-Semitism, seems to clearly blame all sinners (ergo, all of us) for the sacrifice of God's son on the cross. Yet Mel Gibson's sure hand is both able and accurate, and the violence shows how carnal man greets the divine, and how we react to the message of hope and salvation; through unspeakable cruelty and gratuitous violence. So, while this is indeed a very violent movie, the murderous acts depicted quite graphically have to be taken in the context of the supernatural events transpiring, as a kind of carnal counterpoint to the ethereal repose with which Jesus bears all of the acts visited upon him. At one point He tells Mary (After he has stumbled under the burden of the cross) "Behold, mother, I make all thing anew!" This was, for me at least, a quite stunning reminder of the godly forces at work amidst all the violence and carnage.

This is a very personal interpretation of the final twelve hours of Christ's life on earth leading to His crucifixition. From the moment it opens in the solitude of the Garden at Gethsemane, one is immediately aware of the battle ongoing between good and evil, as the devil (cleverly presented as a stunning if malevolent woman with a masculine voice) attempts to dissuade Jesus from attempting what he about to undertake. From this it is obvious He is doing this for all mankind, Jews and Gentiles alike, and that we are all to blame, through our unremitting addiction to carnality and sinfulness, for the evil manifested in the world. This is a fantastic film, one that is definitely not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, and definitely not something I would suggest subjecting a child to. Still, it is a remarkable work, and one that deserves the very wide distribution it is about to encounter.

Want The Passion of the Christ (Definitive Edition) (2004) Discount?

Let me preface this by saying that I am not the most religious person out there. I actually went with the intention of being thoroughly disappointed and wanting my money back. HOWEVER, this is an artistic masterpiece. Regardless of your religious preferences, you should see this movie. Gibson relates the 12 hours leading to the death of Christ in a series of flashbacks, beatings, and stunning cinematography. His choice of doing this movie in Latin and Aramaic was correct; it would not be nearly as powerful if performed in English. The lead actor has little match with the intensity that his eyes convey. Gibson also adds nuances and flourishes to the story (the Satan character and the demons that hound Judas) that add so much to this movie.

A lot has been written concerning the anti-semitism this movie conveys, and I'd strongly recommend that you see the movie and reserve your opinions on that until you've actually seen the movie. I don't really blame the Jews for the crucifiction, and I think Gibson utilizes the mob as a tool of Satan, and that really shows in the movie. Also, the gore is definitely present, and you should not see this if you have a weak stomach. However, it is dispersed throughout the movie, and after that first horrible whipping, you don't notice it as much. I definitely think that everyone should see this once. I don't think it has much repeat viewing value, as I was thoroughly impressed with it, but like a Schindler's List, have no desire to see it again.

But definitely worth the price of admission. Definitely.

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