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Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ'

Review by Jeff Mayfield          Send a link to a friend

[FEB. 25, 2004]  On Jan. 20 of this year I was invited by a friend from Southern California, a former central Illinois resident, to attend a preview of Mel Gibson's new movie. He had met Gibson through a mutual friend, and they discussed the movie and the potential effect it might have on viewers. My friend told me about their conversations but really wanted me to see it to get further feedback.

So, on a cold winter's day I grabbed a friend and made the drive to Barrington. I was scheduled to view the film with over 4,000 church leaders representing all 50 states. Even though I knew the setup, I really had no idea what to expect. I mean I know the story of Christ and the drama of his final hours, but no amount of knowledge could ever have prepared me for what I was about to experience -- save going back into time and actually being there.

The movie begins by taking you into the Garden of Gethsemane and thrusts you right in the middle of Christ's anguish regarding God's plan. Having visited the garden myself back in 1978 in broad daylight, it was hard to capture the imposing environment it must have been for Christ and his followers. Gibson nails it, as he does throughout this film.

Another example is the use of original languages like Aramaic and Latin subtitled in English for American audiences. Early on there was some discussion about not going this route. I am so glad that Gibson and others held out for this because it makes the movie. In much the same way that Kevin Costner's "Dances with Wolves" was made by Indians speaking in their native tongues, this movie captures a realistic edge by giving your senses a fuller and richer experience by the many nuances of the language.

Gibson uses a compelling technique of layering throughout the film. These flashbacks provide the filler information that gives meaning and direction to the scene at hand. To those of you viewers who are familiar with the story, you will have no trouble understanding where things are going. For those of you who don't know the story very well, a quick read through the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) might enhance your viewing experience before you take this film in.

Critics have alleged that the film needed many more layers to give filmgoers an idea of why Jesus was such a threat to the religious leaders and possibly to Rome. I am not a film critic, but I humbly disagree with those allegations.

Gibson seems to have one major theme he wanted to get across: the amazing, incredible, overwhelming price that Christ actually paid to redeem sinners, once for all time! You will leave the theater fully convinced that Gibson hit his mark!

Make no mistake. This is a very hard film to watch. I saw it over a month ago, and I am still troubled by it and I might be for the rest of my life. This is a brutal picture, but once again, it is not gratuitous violence. Gibson simply held true to the Scriptures and put on the screen what he and you and I can read in the Scriptures. What they did to Jesus was not pretty, and it is not covered up in this movie. Gibson felt it was important for the viewer to experience the pain -- physical, emotional, mental and spiritual -- every step of the way.

As I watched this film, I felt much the same way I did while I watched the first 20 minutes of "Saving Private Ryan," the World War II epic. I just wanted the scene to go away or hurry up and get over with. Christ probably wished the same thing, but the torture continued almost endlessly.

You not only witness the film as an onlooker, you also see it through the eyes of Christ's mother, Mary. If you are a nurturing personality type or someone with a deeply honed motherly intuition, this movie will touch you deeply. Some of the layering scenes regarding Christ's relationship with his mother are so richly conceived that I came away with a much more real understanding of Christ's earthly existence. I also could not and cannot imagine what this whole experience was like for her. Perhaps no one in history has gone through a more hellish experience than what she went through watching her son die.


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The movie takes you through the final 12 hours of Christ's life on earth. It demonstrates the attitudes of the Sanhedrin, the religious leaders of that time, and of Roman government officials who disdained serving a motley rabble on the extreme periphery of the Roman Empire. The casting of this film was outstanding and nothing short of amazing. Those picked to play the parts of Pontius Pilate and his wife were extremely compelling characters. You got a real sense of the tensions and anguish they were going through during this whole experience. And even though many have called Pilate a monster for not standing up to the pressure and to the crowd, you almost felt sorry for him in this depiction.

Those who played Peter, John and Mary Magdalene were also top-drawer. They did not try to be bigger than the characters; they simply let the holy words dictate the direction. They have an ability to draw you into their roles and keep you interested as you delve deeper.

But, you may not know that Jim Caviezel, who plays the role of Jesus, is the one who totally captivates your attention. You are drawn to him. He does nothing to distract your attention from Christ as the central character. His commanding performance is surreal and has other-dimension power behind it. He is captivating beyond the direction and production of the film. He makes this film powerful and gives it a truly gripping encounter with the message.

This movie is not for the faint of heart. It is not for those with weak stomachs or constitutions. It is so horrific at times, I couldn't even watch. It is said that with more knowledge comes more responsibility. I didn't want any more knowledge. I can't even live up to the responsibility I have now.

This film helps us grasp the enormity of God's plan for the universe. It helps us to understand that ever since man separated himself from God, God has wanted to reconcile us back to him. As difficult as the movie is to watch, it demonstrates a hope that we can get right with the Messiah. That as unworthy as we are, our God cares for us, loves us and wants to have a close relationship with us. Isn't it strange that God would use Mr. Lethal Weapon, Mel Gibson, to get that message across?

[Jeff Mayfield]


1. The LDN does NOT pay me to see movies or to write reviews on them. I just felt like I had to write this one. Whether you are a churchgoer or not, whether you are a Christian or not, I hope you will see this film. It helps answer life's fundamental question, "Is there a God and is he mindful of me?" I think you will find what I and millions of others have foundů a resounding YES!

2. If you would like to see this film and don't have the means to, please send an e-mail to LDN, and we'll try to make it happen for you.

"The Passion of the Christ" opens in Lincoln today. It is rated R and is 125 minutes long. Starring: James Caviezel, Monica Bellucci, Rosalinda Celentano, Sergio Rubini, Maia Morgenstern. This film tells the story of the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus (portrayed by Caviezel), on the day of his crucifixion in Jerusalem.

This film's script is based upon several sources, including the diaries of St. Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824) as collected in the book "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ," "The Mystical City of God" by St. Mary of Agreda and the New Testament books of John, Luke, Mark and Matthew.


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