The Passion Of The Christ

Last night was the first time that I saw this movie. Usually, I am the first one in the queue for any movie, but circumstance said it was not to be for this one. I went into the cinema with months of talk about it stashed in my head, although I try not to think about that at all when watching films, it is hard to avoid.

Being very interested in films in general I was most intrigued when quite a while go I began to read little things about Mel Gibson wanting to make a movie about Jesus, about him wanting to film it entirely in the ancient languages and make it as real as possible. Interesting, thought I. Sounds like something that could be pretty special, but I don’t think anything will come of it, too unconventional. But then the articles got longer, the whispers louder and people were cast. I read about it when I came across it, but it didn’t seem like it was going to be the next big thing or anything.

I was impressed though, in terms of a piece of filmmaking I thought it was a brave move. Okay, so it’s not like the story was anything new nor the ideas, no revolutionary technical wizardry was at play. But I have a lot of respect for someone who is willing to put so much of their own time, money, effort and reputation into something – even when they are being backed by no one else. That is the kind of Passion that impresses me most.

My experience with religion, Catholicism in particular, is pretty limited. The only thing I am familiar with on a deep level in Buddhism, that’s how I was brought up. Of the rest of my family scattered around the globe, some are Jewish the others somewhere between Christian and atheist. In terms of academics I have spent a few years in its company whilst doing Sociology, in the first two years I brushed with it on many occasions and in the third year I chose it as my specific field. Thus I could tell you many theories about religion and its causes and effects, yet I often find myself having a strange lack of knowledge about its history and the beliefs associated with each form. This is my state as I watch the movie.

Before going into the movie I kept thinking what the audience would be like. This is not something I normally wonder, but I kept thinking that they may be somehow different, not just going to the movies, this was A Very Important topic. Why? I was there and I just wanted to see. For a brief moment I even wanted my boyfriend not to buy popcorn because he’d make popcorn eating noises and that just didn’t seem right. Why I had this strange feeling of respect or reverence I have no idea, but it pretty much disappeared as soon as we walked into the cinema and it felt just like any other time – everyone else was talking and eating popcorn. Now see, I said to myself, stop being silly. It’s a movie!

I’d heard that in some theatres they didn’t even show trailers or anything before the movie, I knew it wouldn’t be like that here, my country is never like that. Being such an avid film watcher, there is pretty much never a case where a go see a movie that I haven’t seen the trailer for, seen pictures of and read lots about. This somewhat prepares you for what you are going to see, you know who the actors are, you know the story arc, you know the look of the cinematography and the type of dialog. Sure trailers can be misleading, but it’s a taste. For this I had seen no trailers, nothing but the poster, which looked very much like any painting or picture I’d seen before.

I found myself very taken with the way it looked, and as it progressed, the way it sounded. The sound of the metal rings clanging against the cross when the Roman’s pulled the rope out, the shuffle of the sandals on the rough floor. It was so beautifully captured. The sparse but well placed use of slow motion, the way each frame was shot through with a certain clarity, nothing out of focus in the background or dark and half hidden. Nothing except the Satan. Admittedly I found myself rather scared as I felt myself being tempted by him, he had those beautiful androgynous features and flickering eyes, it was only after that I found out he was a girl, that explained it somewhat. And as for James Caviezel I was most impressed, I have never really like any of his movies before, but aside from that it really didn’t feel like I was watching an actor. This was the dude. He had a perfect look of serenity, and the way they had made his eyes gold when normally they are a very bright blue. I straight away accepted that this was he, and that lack of particularly obvious faces kept this feeling throughout.

As the scenes in the garden unfolded I found myself intrigued, I knew what was going to happen in the end, but I didn’t know how it all played out. I felt it entice me although it assumed knowledge I knew I didn’t posses, it made me what to know more. Indeed, had it been an ordinary blockbuster movie, the ending would have certainly called for a sequel.

As Jesus was taken, but before the blood began to run, I felt like the next night I would definitly need to go and rent Monty Pythons Life Of Brian – this was all taking its self very seriously, I wanted that other side of the coin too. But as the events took place and the pure cruelty kept on coming it began to dawn on me that this really was a serious story, no matter whether you believe it actually happened, or that he really was the Son of God or not, the themes that ran rife where all to pertinent and real. By the end I could sort of understand why some people might be upset by movies such as Life Of Brian, not that I’m saying any banning or other such nonsense is justified, but the strength of peoples convictions is very powerful, and to be shown something that you believe in so deeply in such a light is difficult. When one gets even a glimpse of the full horror of something it becomes much easier to appreciate other people’s passions.

It hurt to watch it. The story felt so personal and human, not like something that was on a grand scale nor something that involved higher powers. It was about people, about a man. It was something that the more I realized it, the more I felt that that feeling is lost today. As I watched the scenes throughout the movie with Jesus and his disciples, the ones where he spoke the words of his beliefs, I felt very much at peace with it. Not for one moment did I feel I was being preached to, that I was being told my way was wrong or that I should change. Rather it made me feel that regardless of what I think about Christianity as a religion now, or about Christians in general, those words, the simple ideas contained within them were things I agreed with. They were compassionate and kind and they made a lot of sense.

This surprised me, because I know myself and I would never think that I ever even agreed with Christian morals or anything like that, I admit I think that in ignorance because I don’t know much about it, but from that impression which I get daily, it’s not something I care for. And I wondered, what is it that makes someone a Christian? What is the defining criterion?

I often hear my mother argue with people who say things along the lines of ‘I am a Christian, just because I don’t believe all that stuff in the bible about Creation or Noah’s Ark doesn’t mean I’m not. I can still believe in evolution and the big bang while being a good and true Christian.’ And she’d always say, no you are not – to be a Christian you must believe that Jesus was the Son of God, that God created the world and all in it, that if you do not sin your soul will go to heaven. I always thought I agreed with her, that if one was going to claim to be a Christian (or anything else for that matter) one should believe it whole-heartedly and live by that, but people don’t. Thus one could say, I believe in being good to others, I believe in life after death, I even believe in basic Christian moral principles, yet I am not a Christian.

As Jesus was carrying his cross and he fell, when the skirmish broke out between the soldiers and the people and he lay on the floor in the middle – there was a lady who came to him with a cup of water. It was slow motion, and it felt as many things in life sometimes do. You stay still, shocked and helpless in the middle of life, as chaos reigns around you. But as she came toward him, wanting to reach out and help, I was taken by this overwhelming sense of what can I do? What can I do? It’s nothing big, it’s something that made zero discernable difference in the end, something unnoticed by any but the two involved – yet it rang with such truth and love that I could not help but wish that I was there, that I could reach out with a cup of water to one who needed that. And that feeling of humanities utter carelessness and cruelty, that if only everyone would make just the tiniest of efforts that things could be so different. Now of course this is nothing new, but that’s the whole point. Those basic morals, not even right or wrong, just love for fellow man and compassion for others no matter if smaller or different from you are things that should not be new to anyone, they existed before Jesus, others have said them since and lived by them. Yet at the same time they seem to be totally forgotten.

Not usually being squeamish at all in movies, I found myself unable to watch as the spikes where driven through his hands and feet. It was too much, after all that had come before it, it was so utterly painful. I do not think that the violence was gratuitous or over the top or unnecessary – yes, it was uncomfortable to watch - but that’s what happened. I’ve heard many people say, ‘I know, but I’m fine as I am. I’d rather not know.’ Well, if that’s the way you feel…

After the movie, not a word was spoken by either of us until we were halfway home. Partly because I didn’t know what to say, but also because I felt stunned, somewhat drained. The only thing that has kept us quieter for longer was 21 Grams. The Passion had been a long, hard journey, but one that I felt was more than worthwhile. When the film was over I did feel a sense of relief, but I also felt challenged, I felt inspired. Not through guilt or preaching, but through a feeling that one person can do something. That those random acts of kindness or the care given to something else in the world do make a difference.

I went to bed humming 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life...'