A lot has been said about the violence in The Passion of the Christ, with many critics comically stumbling over themselves in describing their revulsion to the acts of torture depicted in the film. I find this odd, as Passion follows the traditional American belief in the redemptive power of violence. It's a theme woven throughout our Westerns and our culture. For example, Saving Private Ryan (a far more gory film) followed a squad of American G.I.'s who are killed in hyper-realistic fashion by anonymous Germans. At the end of the movie, Private Ryan, and indeed the world, is saved through their violent sacrifice on his (and our) behalf. In Schindler's List (a far more psychologically disturbing film), we follow a group of Jews who are marginalized, terrorized and brutalized by Germans. As they are cast-out of their ghetto, they walk a gauntlet of taunting Poles who throw stones and mock them mercilessly. Only one non-Jew in this movie is depicted in a sympathetic light: Oscar Schindler, who's actions on their behalf save them from annihilation. For what purpose, I ask, would someone pay money to watch American servicemen and innocent Jews mocked, beaten, broken, and murdered? And why are those films rightly praised, while The Passion of the Christ seems to be judged by a different standard? For the answer, we have to turn to The Empire Strikes Back. When Yoda instructs Luke to enter the Cave, Skywalker asks, "What's in there?" Yoda replies, "Only what you take with you." What you bring into the theater will largely determine how you view this film.
The Passion of the Christ is indeed a violent movie. In fact, I would urge parents to leave their children at home should they decide to watch it. I know it's a bizarre thing to say about an R-Rated movie-- it should be self-evident. But we live in a world where the momentary exposure of a single breast threatens the moral fiber of our youth, while exposing them to two hours of relentless brutality is considered appropriate, if not necessary. I do not share this view.
The Passion of the Christ begins with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, apparently fearing what lies ahead and asking God to let him off the hook. The full moon, blue light, and mist set the ominous mood, and you would be forgiven for believing you'd mistakenly entered a Werewolf movie. After he gives three of his sleeping disciples a kick in the pants and a rebuke, he goes off by himself again to pray. Satan appears and poses questions of doubt, but Jesus ignores them and re-affirms his faith in God, made manifest in both word and deed, for he stamps-out a snake that managed to slither its way out of Satan's robe. I don't remember reading anything about Satan in Gethsemane, so I'll chock it up to a Catholic tradition unknown to me. The entire Gethsemane sequence is very powerful, however, as is the rest of the Act leading up to Jesus' presentation before the Sanhedrin. With only a couple of exceptions, this is the only part of the movie where Jim Caviezel shines, as he is merely a cipher to be beaten and whipped throughout the rest of the movie.