Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ”: Movie Review

Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ”

By Craig A. Smith (A Review)


Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of Christ” was released this past week. Undoubtedly, many of you have already seen it and are wondering what other Christians think about it. Others of you are planning to see it soon and are wondering what to expect. Still others are trying to decide whether or not to see it…or to allow your children to see it.

I have just seen the movie and thought some of you might find a brief review helpful. To be perfectly honest, I am still finding it difficult to collect my thoughts. The movie is, to say the least, powerful. If you have heard anecdotes about viewers leaving the theater in dumbfounded silence, I can assure you that such reports are true. The fact is, anything that could have been said seemed insignificant in the looming shadow of this cinematic experience.

Although I had heard Christian leaders praise the movie’s biblical integrity, I was still pleasantly surprised by the degree to which it stayed faithful to the text of the gospels. To be sure, there is some artistic license, but none of it detracts from the authenticity of the film’s depiction of the hours leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. And yes, there were a few details thrown in here and there that you won’t find in the Bible, but they were minor and offered no theological obstacles for believing Christians. There were a small number of rather puzzling omissions as well, but again, these present no opening for serious criticism. All things considered, it is difficult to imagine a more faithful and accurate treatment of the Gospel’s report of these events.

You may have heard some criticism that the movie is excessively violent and there may be some validity to this critique. Though I would not characterize the violence as either gratuitous or sensationalistic, it may go beyond the boundaries of necessity at times. The movie deserves its ‘R’ rating and parents are well-advised to see the movie themselves before determining if their young children are ready to see it.

My biggest hesitation about this movie is the fact that it is…a movie. The medium through which a story is told invariably affects the message itself in some ways. The pre-crucifixion hours of Christ, shown in full color with surround sound, will undoubtedly leave viewers shaken. There will be tears. It will surely cause many to open their Bibles and Christians will -and should- be forced to consider the cost Jesus paid in a new light. These are all good things, but it is also true that people will critique the acting, the actors, the additions and omissions, the dialogue and the camera angles. Case in point: many people seem to be fascinated by the fact that it is apparently Mel Gibson’s hand that holds one of the nails in place against Christ’s bloody palm. Gibson’s purpose there was ostensibly to make a statement that it was his own sin that nailed Christ to the cross. Certainly this is a powerful statement, and some will hear it loud and clear. But, many will never get past that the fascination of “…did you see Gibson’s hand?” It’s unavoidable. Movies are like that.

How a mass-media driven culture will respond to a motion picture about the passion of Christ is unclear to me, in part because I’m not certain what they will receive from it. There’s a certain cognitive disconnect in the whole affair. As we waited in the theater lobby before the movie, friends and I discussed whether or not it was appropriate to buy popcorn to eat while watching the show. Snacking seemed somehow sacrilegious…but that’s what you do at the movies! This cognitive disconnect was exacerbated by movie trailers and commercials that preceded the film. One trailer was for a monster movie! Popcorn and monster flicks put us in the entertainment mindset…and whatever else the passion might be, it is not entertaining. But when you put it on a big screen in a movie theater, how can we completely escape the predisposition to see it as such?

To be fair, of course, the movie is not entertaining in the traditional sense. It’s uncomfortable. It’s painful. It’s unpleasant. And oddly, these facts may be the film’s redemption. The movie pulls no punches. It tells the truth and doesn’t sugar-coat it. Concerns about the medium’s effect on the message aside, no one will leave the theater thinking about what a good time they’ve just had…but they will be thinking. That’s not bad for a movie.

So, do I endorse Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ”? I suppose I do, though not without the reservations I’ve already voiced. If nothing else, Christians who see it should be reminded of the depths of Christ’s love for us in a way that cannot soon be forgotten. Moreover, it can provide Christians with a tremendous tool for engaging our culture. But ultimately, that will happen because God’s people step forward and seize the opportunity, not because our culture samples Gibson’s fare in between snacking on monster movies and romantic comedies.

Mel Gibson is to be commended. More than that, he is to be thanked. He has done a remarkable-one might almost say miraculous – job of authentically bringing the Passion of Christ to life on the silver screen. It’s not just that he kept it from looking wooden or amateurish, which is no small accomplishment, judging by past Bible-movie efforts. More than producing a work of considerable artistic merit…he got the story right! And for that reason alone, “The Passion of Christ” deserves whatever support we as Christians can give it.