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FIRST-PERSON: ‘The Passion’: a work of art

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (BP)–Ever since Cecil B. DeMille’s 1927 version of “King of Kings,” Hollywood has relied on the greatest story ever told to add to studio coffers. But films that placed the camera on the faces of those who came into His presence (“Ben Hur,” “The Robe,” “The Fourth Wiseman”), rather than focusing on an actor attempting to portray the Son of God, have best allowed our imaginations to connect with the impact Jesus has had on mankind. After all, there has never been a more difficult role to undertake. How does an actor portray a personage that is both man and God? It hasn’t been successfully done.

That is, until Mel Gibson came forth. Director Gibson and actor Jim Caviezel, as Jesus, have given moviegoers a work of art in “The Passion of The Christ,” which opens nationwide Feb. 25.

Perhaps the reason for the success of this production is that the film examines what Jesus as man undertook on our behalf. Make no mistake, Gibson’s Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world. But Gibson’s purpose here is to detail the final 12 hours of Christ’s life, when mankind was allowed to destroy His human life in order that we might have an eternal one.

It is certainly a director’s film, and Mel Gibson manages the behind-the-camera job impeccably. He orchestrates the proceedings with a deliberate slow pace in order to add tension. Aided by Caleb Deschannel’s superb Baroque-like cinematography, a potent score by John Debney and Jim Caviezel’s sincere and muted performance, Gibson brings a mood and sensitivity never before captured when telling the story of Christ.

One scene stands out as not only technically impressive, but emotionally electrifying. I will merely give you a heads-up. The end of Christ’s journey at Golgotha is seen from above, the camera pulling back, revealing the momentary bleakness of earth, when suddenly … well, what happens just before the earthquake is artistically original and spiritually truthful. It is a great movie moment.

The Passion is justly rated R for its graphic depiction of beatings, the crucifixion and perhaps the most believable death scene ever to be placed on screen. But Gibson wisely cuts to past moments in Christ’s life to help us cope with the brutality. The Passion of The Christ is meant to shock, unnerve and clarify the ordeal of Christ’s sacrifice. It is not a movie one sees, then goes out for pizza. And it is unsuitable for children or immature teens.

Gibson retells the event, one most historians believe to be factual, with a breathtaking realism that is wisely used to reveal Christ’s purpose. For surely no man would go through this ordeal unless armed with the strength of love and the knowledge of who He is.

Years ago, while I viewed a short film on the work of Michelangelo, suddenly, there was the Pieta of St. Peter’s, a marble figure of the Madonna embracing her crucified Son. It literally took my breath away. Somehow, I understood that I was looking upon a masterpiece. I have three fortunate friends who have beheld the Pieta while in Rome. Each confirmed my impression, asserting that it was even more powerful standing in its presence. Mel Gibson uses the medium of film as Michelangelo did with stone, chiseling away superficiality and carving out a cinematic masterpiece. (At film’s end, homage is paid to the Pieta.)

I expect that ever since man first drew etchings on cave walls, every artistic endeavor has been debated. Since ancient times, artists have used their craft to entertain, motivate, educate and persuade. But ultimately, the purpose of art is to uplift the spirit of man. Mr. Gibson has used his art form to help those who only know the name Jesus as an expletive to understand the nobility of Christ and the passion of God. This Passion stirs the soul.

It’s difficult to review this film without addressing the concerns of the Jewish community. By now, everyone knows that certain Jewish leaders have accused Mr. Gibson of being insensitive, creating a movie that may further the ugliness of anti-Semitism. I want to empathize, but I keep coming back to Gibson’s body of work. By viewing his most recent films (“Braveheart,” “The Patriot,” “Signs,” “We Were Soldiers”), it’s impossible to see him as a filmmaker bent on belittling his fellow man. Rather, each of these films shows that he’s about uplifting the spirit of man, not attacking it.

The New Testament makes it clear that Christ came to die for the entire world and that all men placed Him on that cross. He, who was without sin, made the ultimate sacrifice by taking on the sins of all people. Gibson’s film, while showing the physical horrors Christ endured, is not really about what mankind did to Him, but about what He did for us.
Phil Boatwright reviews films from a Christian perspective; he is on the Web at www.moviereporter.com. For information on using The Passion in outreach, resources are available on the Web from LifeWay Christian Resources at www.lifeway.com/passion.

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  • Phil Boatwright