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The Passion of the Christ is a movie directed by Mel Gibson in 2004. It is both an artistic and historical film about the last twelve hours of Jesus Christ. It created a huge hit in the movie industry at that time. It earned $370.2M in the US Box Office alone (The Passion of the Christ, n.d.). The film basically depicts the last hours of Jesus Christ - his capture from the garden of Gethsemane to his crucifixion - according to four different gospels in the New Testament of the Bible. It is a very controversial film that sparked a lot of debates across different fields such as history, art, and religion. Personally, I have watched the film twice. As a Christian who has read the scriptures from where it came from, I thought that it was a very moving religious experience. However, there are also many thoughts of the film that came out from different areas in the society: (1) Some Christians think that it was a very moving religious experience; (2) Some non-Christians think that there was nothing to be appreciated in the film; (3) Most people think that it was just a compilation of bloody violent scenes that are not religious at all; Lastly, (4) Some Jewish people think that it would stir up anti-Semitic feelings and aura among the audience. In this paper, these topics of debate will be discussed further for wider view and analysis of the film.
Movie reviews are very important in terms of the personal or academic analysis of the film. In this paper, movie reviews - (positive and negative) - will be briefly enumerated and discussed. All movie reviews will be referenced from the rottentomatoes website, which is the most popular compilation of movie reviews in the internet. (1) A review of an ordinary audience (i.e. critics from rottentomatoes.com); (2) a review of a movie critic (i.e. New York Times, CNN news); Lastly, (3) a review of a religious group (i.e. ChristianAnswers.net). A viewer suggests that whether you are a Christian or not, this film is a very well-made film. "The impressionistic acting, the attention to the time period, the language of the time is all done with "passion"" (Wayne, 2010) Furthermore, even though violent scenes are abundant in the movie, it still is undeniably a very stunning movie (Wayne, 2010). On the other hand, another viewer suggests that even though there are historical evidences of the story, it was a numbing experience for a person to watch an extremely violent film (VanSnug, 2010). Another point of view that is very interesting is that of the movie-critic community. Paul Clinton reviewed that it is a powerful and a masterful movie created by an extremely talented filmmaker. The pacing, timing and cutting of the film was perfect. The actors acted genuinely as they can and did it excellently. The production was extremely visual and accurate in depicting ancient times. Furthermore, it is a brutal and violent film that requires parent discretion. Most importantly, he believed that it is not an anti-Semitic propaganda and he does not felt that the director even wanted to portray that kind of aura and message (Clinton, 2004). On the other hand, another movie critic reviewed that the film was no doubt a religious portrayal of Gibson's love towards Jesus Christ. However, the violence of the film made it R-rated which limits the amount of audience who can watch the film. Furthermore, he added that the anti-Semitism message is not the issue in the movies. The issue that haunts the film is the sadism of the movie. It was "Gibson's fury" - not his faith - that is the majority of the aura depicted in the film (Ansen, 2004). Finally, a Christian review reports that the film has been subjected to negative opinions from people who do not know and do not believe the Bible. It is a masterpiece that depicts excellently how Jesus suffered; it was a very religious experience that is as accurate as possible in reference to the Biblical scriptures (Willis, 2004). These reviews can be summed up to the way how different sectors of the society viewed and interpreted the film. Summing up the viewers reviews, ordinary people who watched the film felt that it was a very moving film, the visual effects and productions are very realistic and helps the motives of the film. For movie critics, the film was more of a violent film that depicts the sufferings of Jesus. For Christian viewers, the film was a religious experience that moved every Christian. Everyone who has read the Bible will attest to the fact that the film is accurate and creates excellent graphical representations of the scriptures in the Bible. Further research on the religion, art, history and violence of the film will give a very successful analysis of the debates that the film aroused.
There are four main points that are very important to be discussed in this paper: (1) the religious comparisons and analyses of the film, (2) the historical comparisons and analyses, (3) the artistic analyses of the film, and (4) the portrayals of violence in the film.
(1) Religious comparisons and analyses: the religious analysis of the film is a basic discussion of biblical interpretations and representations of the film. Basically, the movie came from different scriptures in the Bible. Brief points of the references in the scriptures will be discussed: (1) the opening of the film started with Luke 22:44: Jesus was tormented by the devil in the Garden of Gethsemane after the last supper. (2) Genesis 3:15 is a symbolic reference of how Jesus crushes Satan by his death on the cross. (3) Matthew 26:74 depict Peter's denial of Jesus. (4) John 2: 19-22 describes how Jesus predicted his impending death. (5) Matthew 27:51 is an account of the events after Jesus' death: the earthquake and tearing of the veil in the temple. It is believed that this account is a representation of how Jesus saved man. It is the representation of Jesus as being a bridge between God and the sin of man (Willis, 2004). There are also negative points that the Christian community considers: (1) the extreme violence of the film is clearly depicted in the film. The visual effects was very abundant than what it is enough. Some scenes were inspired by Roman Catholic concepts and ideas such as that of Mary carrying Jesus after his death on the cross (Willis, 2004). It is the same as the famous Catholic symbol, Pieta. (2) Details such as "not emphasizing asphyxiation, or omitting a Greek version of the title "King of the Jews" fastened to the Cross, are incorrect, but tolerable." (Willis, 2004). Another say of the religious Christian community towards the film is the anti-Semitism issue that is also debated in the film. According to them, the anti-Semitism issue is a groundless issue that does not have any basis. Furthermore, scriptures show that Jesus really was not a threat to Rome. The most important message in the story is that "WE ARE ALL AT FAULT" (Willis, 2004). The main theme for Christians is that Jesus sacrificed himself to save man from eternal death.
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(2) Historical accounts, comparisons and analyses include: (1) accounts of biblical historians namely Carolyn Osiek, a Catholic professor at Texas Christian University's Brite Divinity School, Dr. Brian Schmisek, director of the University of Dallas' Institute for Religious and Pastoral Studies in Irving; and Dr. Mark A. Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University with a specialization in the historical Jesus and archeology. According to the scholars, Gibson's historical research is good but missed important points about the true historical points. Points about how the Romans torture a prisoner is accurate enough. The way the whips were designed and other vicious devices that were used are probably what the Romans actually possess. They suggested that the film was an artistic personal interpretation of the story. Summing up the accounts of the three scholars, "I give it a thumbs up. I think it's a good, artistic film. It is violent, but it brought to me and a lot of people the brutality of that time," (Schmisek, cited by Howard, 2005). Furthermore, another scholar said "I had a hard time through all of it. There was always this mixture of seeming reality with error the whole way through. It probably captures the sense of how scandalous it was to see Christ on the cross. I'm hoping people go back to the Gospels and read them themselves" (Chancey cited by Howard, 2005). Lastly, the scholar reviewed that "Artistically, it gets an 'A,' historically a 'B+' and theologically a 'C.' I recommend it, as long as one keeps a balanced theological mind. If one has never taken seriously the brutality of a Roman crucifixion, this is a good learning experience....If the film will help us understand Jesus' great act of love and his solidarity with the victims of torture, it is well worthwhile." (Osiek cited by Howard, 2005). Another account is (2) the review of two archeologists regarding the film and its depiction of historical data. Dr. Andrea Berlin and Dr. Jodi Magness examined the movie in relation to the historical facts and data it included in the story. Its accurateness and precision was examined also. According to the reports, one of the main inaccuracies in the film was the use of Greek language instead of Latin. Greek was the language of local government officials and higher-ups. Regarding the costumes, there are also many inconsistencies such as Jews at that time did not have long hair. Also the costumes were much simple. Another important point in the movie is the torture methods used in the film. According to the scholars, empire-wide regulations do not exist at that time. Furthermore, there were no historical evidences of how brutal the torture was performed. According to them, Gibson is more of wanting to portray a theological account of the story rather than a historical one (Berlin and Magness, 2004). Lastly, an important historical idea is the anti-Semitism stir-up of emotions that was argued to be conveyed in the story. An observant Jew and a movie critic named Michael Medved reported that the film was free from Anti-Semitic intentions and that Gibson's intentions were strengthened by his efforts to recut the film, as it was showed theatrically in 2005 (Willis, 2004).
(3) Artistic analysis of the film shows that the film is a very artistic masterpiece and that there is a diverse range of fields that tickle the imagination of believers and non-believers of Jesus Christ. The film is high art unlike other religious movies that is boring. This movie is very entertaining in terms of the artistic interpretations of the film (Kirkwood cited by Smith, n.d.). Personally, the artistic interpretations of the film are very excellent. Without knowing the historical facts and data behind the scenes and plot, I believe that the production, costumes, and visual effects were very entertaining and artistic. It is like a painting in every scene. It was very graphic and takes us back to the ancient times every second, every minute. However, it is not just a beautiful film in terms of its aesthetics. It combines art with a very powerful idea, thought and knowledge about the story. Comparing the artistic depiction of martyrdom in the film and an artist's depiction of martyrdom is important to further the understanding regarding issues and ideas that are supposed to be known to a wider range of audiences. Starting from medieval art, suffering and death of saints and early Christians are frequently represented. Martyrdom is commonly represented as stonings, decapitations, crucifixion, flaying, grilling, and eviscerations (Martyrdom, n.d.). It is very comparable to how martyrdom is portrayed in art through the evolution of time. The visualization of the audience regarding the sacrifice of Jesus is very effective in portraying martyrdom of Jesus.
(4) The portrayals of violence are extremely visual and emotional. According to many writers and critics, the portrayal of violence in the movie is the "flagellant's dream": full of torture and torment, blood and gore. However, the portrayals of violence are associated with the excellent plot and visual effects. Personally, I cried a lot watching this movie, the way people brutally executed an innocent victim. It is well-arranged, the way it tickles the viewers' imagination and senses (Deats and Hyman, 2004). According to St. Augustine, violence can be defined through the intentions of war. He says that there is nothing wrong with being a soldier. The point is that the intentions and motives are what are the important in the idea of fighting and war. Furthermore, he believed that war is a necessity to gain peace and that soldiers are peacemakers. He believed that wars have to have laws and that there should be authorities. The only motive that is acceptable in waging wars is to gain peace, other than that, war is not acceptable (Nicholson, n.d.). On the other hand, Pearson defined violence as something that is associated with racism and discrimination. He believed that the motives and ideas of racism creates a break-down of social order and contributes to violence (Stanley, et al. 2002). I believe that society today follows the Pearson definition of violence. In the story, the Pharisees condemned Jesus Christ because they discriminated the fact that he is only the son of a carpenter. This brought the violence and hate that was brought upon Jesus. Furthermore, more historical events leading to violence is because of racism and discrimination; such events are the holocaust and the racism of black people in America.
Analysis and research of the existing debate topics regarding the movie, The Passion of the Christ brought fascinating discoveries, understanding and knowledge towards the subject. Different cultures, traditions, and societies have different views on points of the film such as anti-Semitism, religion, art, history, and violence. The entire findings sum up to what the film is really worth. It is an excellently artistic film that portrays many historical facts and data, also portrays many theological data. Furthermore, the violence in the film is undeniably abundant and extreme. However, for a Christian like me, it created a sense of reality that made me appreciate what Christ did for the salvation of man. Many other interpretations haunt the film. However, one thing is certain. It is a masterpiece that combines all elements of art, history, and religion into one neat, violent, entertaining package. The Passion of the Christ is one of the masterpieces in human history.