Friday, March 26, 2004


It is the dead of night, and the man on the screen is agonizing over something. It is an agony that has a physical manifestation and it is clear that he is weakened. This is Mel Gibson's version of the Agony in the Garden, and Jim Caviezel plays Jesus Christ, his blue eyes digitally altered to brown in each scene to match the more probable eye color of the Judaean Christ. The resulting color is a strange red-brown, which also makes for an ethereal effect for the Son of Man.

The movie intersperses the last hours of Jesus' life--the Passion--and scattered flashbacks about his life. There are many poignant memories, from the happy moments during Jesus' carpenter years, to Mary's memories of Jesus as a child, and Mary Magdalene's flashback of Jesus' saving her from the angry mob. Although these are touching, the centerpiece of the movie is the trek from Gethsemane to Golgotha and how Gibson did not pull any punches in depicting what I believe is a more accurate rendition of Jesus' agony than the Lenten passion plays that I have seen in the past.

Caviezel gives what seems to be a more fitting portrayal of the Christ in His last hours on earth--tormented, physically tortured, bloody, on the verge of passing out. The actor went through something befitting Lenten pentitent rites rather than the filming of a movie. He was accidently struck twice during the scourging at the pillar and he experienced tremendous pain, making him appreciate all that Jesus went through, which, historians and mystics say, was anything between 100 to 5,000 beatings. He also was struck by lightning and experienced hypothermia while shooting the Crucifixion. I'm glad that the producers chose relatively non-Hollywood actors to portray these characters--thereby adding a little solemnity and also showcasing that it's a global effort, since Christianity and Catholicism are in fact global religions. (Of course it could all be a marketing ploy for worldwide box office, to cast local celebrities.) Monica Bellucci is great as Mary Magdalene, as is Claudia Gerini, who plays Pilate's wife. Hristo Jivkov's John is young and emotional, someone whom we can easily believe was Jesus' beloved disciple. However, it is Maia Morgenstern's soulful eyes and expressive face that take us from the mirth of Jesus' carpentering days (a wonderful mother-son vignette) to her hesitation to look upon her son carrying His cross until He stumbles and her mother's instinct kicks in. Aside from the brutailty of the punishment inflicted on Jesus, her motherly reactions were what caused me to be in tears through about half of the movie. And of course my lachrymal-challenged eyes are tearing up just now while remembering the scenes from the movie.

Other comments have been about how Satan looks like a woman, anti-Semitism, and the extreme gore and violence. The portrayal of Satan as androgynous is not cause for concern (Satan is actually played by a woman, Rosalinda Celentano, who is made to look like Sean Patrick Flannery's Powder)--this seems to be only reflective of the true, non-gender-specific nature, not only of Satan, but of his ultimate sire, God. After all, Satan was once an angel, made in the image and likeness of God. The anti-Semitism is simply not there: after all, Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalene, his disciples--they were all Jews. It was pre-ordained, after all, that He was to die. If anything, Pontius Pilate was treated almost sympathetically in the picture when otherwise he is depicted as a monstrous man. Herod, meanwhile, doesn't stray very far from the 'Jesus Christ Superstar' portrayal of Herod, with a rotund figure surrounded by hedonistic images.

As for the extreme gore and violence, I think that it was not uncalled-for. Obviously, times were more brutal then, especially to people who could be considered rabble-rousers and threats to Roman domination and general "pax". Furthermore, remembering the staunch Catholic that Mel Gibson is, I think he figured he had artistic license to show the intense physical and mental anguish that Jesus went through for what was supposedly our salvation.

This movie makes you think, and cry. I've held on to the notion that for a movie to be good, it simply has to entertain. This film did not entertain me in the least bit--it was gory, it was a story that I already knew by heart since I was a child--but this was not an ordinary movie. I know I said previously that if fantasy were your religion, LoTR would have been High Mass. This is High Mass in itself, a moving journey through the Stations of the Cross that serves as our reminder of our faith. I will not, however, step down from my convictions that it is entirely possible that there was another side to the Bible story--that Jesus could have been married to Mary Magdalene, that Mary may have had other children aside from Jesus--and one of them could have been John, that the Holy Grail legends linked to Jesus' bloodline may be true. That does not diminish my faith in any way.

I cannot say that I liked this movie because I was a Christian, or Catholic. What I do know is that I have a different outlook on the sufferings that Jesus went through because I had always kept in the back of my mind that he was the Son of God--nurtured, without a doubt, by all those previous depictions of the Passion, wherein Jesus was pristine and serene throughout the last few hours of his life. This could not have been true, because although He was the Son of God, He was also human; and seriously, no human could go through all the tortures listed in the Bible without tremendous willpower, and maybe a touch of the divine. Gnu said something about Monica Belucci and Claudia Gerini's looks. I, meanwhile, am more concerned with the person behind the camera. Mel Gibson has succeeded, if only to make Jesus the gist of talk shows and the news once more. He has made a pretty damn good film in the process.

[Shout-out to JojoBee who provided the free tickets and thanks to Ch. and the nameless girl who turned down Gnu's date requests. I still maintain that contrary to Bespren D's jabs, that was not a date.]

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