As it’s Halloween, we take a look at The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson’s 2004 retelling of the crucifixion story.
This Christian propaganda horror movie consists 30 minutes of set-up, including this scene in which Jesus (Jim Caviezel) invents the table, followed by 90 minutes of gruelling torture. Opening with his arrest and culminating in his death (spoiler alert!), this film is one very long torture sequence shot in slow-motion. The result is more Hostel than Gospel, and raises a number of questions, mostly about Gibson’s social and historical beliefs.
The first question: who is this for? In the Venn diagram of Christians and fans of ultra-violent cinema, the intersection is presumably narrow (though it does include Mark Kermode and entire swathes of the USA). With its protracted scenes of violence and strange deviations from scripture, it seems likely to only appeal to the most bloodthirsty religious types with a great deal of anger in their hearts and marbles in their heads.
In the hit book on which this film is based, Jesus never seemed particularly interested in disproving or punishing his naysayers; Mel Gibson seems hell-bent on it. Nowhere is this more apparent than his portrayal of the Jewish characters. He appears to be going out of his way to blame the Jews for Jesus’ suffering, which he shoots with alarming levels of fascination and fetishisation. It becomes difficult to separate a film like this from certain off-screen comments made by the director.
To his credit, Gibson’s decision to shoot entirely in Latin and Aramaic is a bold one (see also Apocalypto), and the film is well made; Kermode called it “an exploitation movie par excellence.” But Gibson makes many creative choices of a more questionable nature, including invoking the Devil and showing none of Jesus’ greatest hits (carpentry innovation notwithstanding). This makes it hard to care about the cruel fate that befell the inventor of the table, resulting in a repetitive slog that’s distasteful as hell and tedious as sin.
Don’t let the title fool you; this is a straight-up torture movie. With its slow-motion, ultraviolence and ahistoricism, The Passion of the Christ is basically Zack Snyder’s 300 with biblical levels of hatred. This is the Gospel according to Gibson: an anti-semitic, anti-intellectual bloodbath. He’s actually currently developing a sequel called The Resurrection. Jesus christ…