For a film that has courted so much controversy, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ left me strangely unmoved.
Now, I know if you gathered everything ever written about this film and dropped it from a great height it would probably smother a continent.
Nevertheless, I do feel compelled to add a comment or two.
Let me begin by saying that I was predisposed to dislike this movie from the outset.
I had vowed – vehemently vowed – that I would never again give my hard earned cash to Mad Mel (he of the glaring Christ complex) after the stomach churning self-indulgence of Braveheart.
Mel is not well known for his subtlety, but the glee with which he threw himself into the role of tortured martyr left me cold. The obvious relish with which he both filmed and acted the (lengthy) climactic death scene seemed a bit … well, unhealthy, really. Braveheart made me feel unclean. As if I’d paid to watch someone masturbate.
In retrospect, of course, Braveheart was merely a warming up exercise for the main event: the calisthenics before the marathon, if you will.
I always maintained it would be a cold day in Hades before I ever set foot in a theatre screening The Passion. But then, you know, movies come out on DVD and you think, well, hell, let’s see what all the fuss is about.
The sustained and gruesome torture of The Passion is now legendary and in this respect, the movie very much lives up to the hype. It is, in reality, a gruelling 127 minutes of blood and gore.
We watch Jesus stumble meekly from one beating to the next, a ready made whipping boy, victim to all manner of senseless degradations.
The problem is, however, there’s no context for the violence.
The movie glorifies Christ’s agony, focuses exclusively on his humiliation and pain, while offering no real reason for why he suffered as he did.
There is no sense of Christ as a man of quiet but immense power whom the authorities might have cause to fear.
It might be useful at this point to make a contrast between The Passion and Richard Attenborough’s Ghandi. Ben Kingsley embodies Ghandi to such an extent that he is utterly convincing: it is entirely possible to believe that millions followed, respected and worshipped this man. And that he was a very real thorn in the backside of the British.
Jim Caviezel as Jesus on the other hand, lacks charisma or any real depth. He becomes simply a body upon whom various depredations are enacted.
In the rare flashbacks of him preaching or speaking with his apostles, Caviezel’s Jesus seems arrogant, distant. Hardly a man to inspire worship. Or wrath, for that matter. His command of Aramaic seems laughable, making his line readings stilted and dull. His eyes are lifeless, without warmth or spark.
The Passion of the Christ, therefore, suffers from a yawning absence of emotional weight. There is a disturbing emptiness at its core.
It becomes a morose paean to torment, a blunt instrument, bludgeoning the viewer with gratuitous and relentless violence.
Ultimately, though, The Passion of the Christ is intensely, mind numbingly boring.
As a dramatic piece of cinema, it is tedious beyond belief.
As a social comment, however, it is far more sinister.
I can’t even begin to contemplate the implications of this film: its morbid fascination with acts of torture, its themes of punishment and retribution, and the not insignificant fact that it was an enormous success.
There is something sick at the heart of this film.
But what it all means I will have to leave to the sociologists and psychiatrists of this world.
And whether or not it’s a sign of the times, who can say?