THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST REVIEW - ALL "TOO REAL"
Many of us are familiar with the concept of “method acting.” It is when an actor takes his craft to a whole other level, and he becomes the character that he is portraying. Many of the top actors are said to practice this technique, and some might even say that they take it too far. For instance, when Jim Carrey was playing Andy Kaufman in the movie Man on the Moon, “Jim” for all intents and purposes was never around during production. Both on screen and behind the scenes, it was only “Andy” that was present. As you might guess, this led to a lot of turmoil on set. Some even blame “method acting” for the death of Heath Ledger. During the filming of the movie Dark Knight, internet theories abound say Ledger actually became the Joker in his mind, and it was too much for him to handle.
I begin this review by discussing method acting, so that you can understand my take on The Passion of the Christ. Method acting is when one actor (as close to “literally”as possible) becomes a character so fully that you have no other choice than to believe that they are actually who they are portraying. The Passion of the Christ is as if an entire production is “method acting.” In other words, if you will indulge me the phrase, it is a “method production” so to speak. That is to say, this movie as a whole is a fully realized portrayal of the end of the life of Jesus. It was excessively brutal, and like an actor who won’t stop being the character, the realistic the all too real portrayal of the torture can seem relentless at times, bordering on the gratuitous.
The Passion of the Christ is discussed differently than other films of Jesus. One critique of the film is that it is simply “too real.” This is particularly interesting critique since most critics of Jesus films usually claim the exact opposite. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to see their meaning; The Passion of the Christ is indeed a bit too real at times. And no, I am not referring to the authenticity of the language used in the movie. [That is, the entire script is in Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic to keep it as true to the real Jesus as possible. The subtitles -- which I forgot I was reading almost instantly -- were almost left out of the movie entirely, and although that sounds like a drastic move, the acting is so visceral and expressive
that you hardly need them to fully experience what is depicted in the movie.] The Passion of the Christ is “too real” because the suffering of this man is truly overwhelming. It is grotesque and gruesome. Just when you think he cannot take any more abuse, when there is not a clean patch of flesh left on his battered bones, his abusers up the stakes exponentially. It is Simon – the man who begrudgingly helps Jesus carry the cross – who expresses what the empathetic audience member is feeling burning inside of them. As Jesus falls for a second time, and he is kicked, whipped, and ridiculed, Simon snaps at the crowd that was torturing Jesus, and risking his own life, he tell them all to STOP! Even the despicable Roman guards momentarily accept Simon’s reproof and agree that Jesus needs to be helped back up if he is ever going to make it to the top of the hill – that is how brutally treated Jesus had been up to that point -- even his abusers got tired of abusing him. What is more, keep in mind at this point of pure exhaustion, we have yet to see him nailed to the cross. In other words, this movie is a sympathetic experience of agony that just
keeps getting more agonizing by the minute.
While watching this, I remember thinking to myself that this movie needed to be watched alongside other movies about Jesus, because up until a certain point in the movie, it felt as though the glory of Jesus’s love was lacking – The film starts out in the garden of Gethsemane with the agony of Jesus, and it gets even more heart wrenching as the movie continues. Although attempts were made, we don’t truly see the glory of Jesus’s love in the first half of this film. The movie uses flashback scenes in order to portray Jesus prior to his arrest, trial and death, and although these scenes do a good job capturing valuable pieces of the Gospel storyline, it was not until the flashback of the Sermon on the Mount (nearly 75 percent of the way through the movie) where we were given the loving emotion that was needed to counterbalance the violence we were witnessing.
In the Sermon on the Mount flashback, Jesus tells his disciples to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. As Jesus lay dying on the cross, he says, “Forgive them Father.” Hearing these words, the High Priest ~ the man who sent Jesus to his death ~ stops in his tracks at the feet of the thief crucified beside Jesus. The thief tells the High Priest what he was already thinking. “He prays for you.”
Even after all the torture and violence, Jesus was still the man he preached to be – loving of all, even his enemies. This is one of the major points of The Passion of the Christ. The film begins with Jesus healing one of the guards who came to arrest him after Peter slices his ear off, and ends with a Roman guard falling to his knees beside the cross to catch the blood from Jesus’s side on his face like a Christening. It takes watching the full movie to experience and understand the full magnitude of Jesus’s love hidden beneath the torture. He loved his enemies, and through his overpowering love, some even loved him back.
When an actor partakes in “method acting” many will say that it is a bit excessive. Is it worth destroying your body and/or mental state in order to play a character? Many actors devoted to their craft would answer with “yes” unequivocally. The Passion of the Christ, likewise answers yes unequivocally. The line between what’s real and what’s not gets blurred. Interesting to note here, Jim Caviezel literally suffered to play the role of Jesus. That is to say, this role of Jesus was shocking in more ways than one, for you see Jim Caviezel was literally struck by lighting during the filming of this movie. And once again the critique that this film is a bit “too real”seems quite accurate.
The violence and torture depicted against Jesus is definitely excessive, but that is what it takes to appropriately capture what this movie is trying to portray. The brutality that is unleashed upon the body of Jesus is representative of the magnitude of his love for us. So if the violence is “too real” which is to say excessive, it is only matched by Jesus’s love for us which is likewise “too real” and excessive. In other words, the level of brutality shows us the degree to which he loves us, and for this film to not be as brutal as possible -- i.e. as real as possible – would be to sell the unconditional love of Jesus short. In fact, upon looking at the film’s torture through this lens, one might question whether they went far enough.