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ISSUE 117 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 3/5/2004

Critic's Corner

By Molly Bayrd
Executive Editor

Friday, March 5, 2004

All of the rumors you've heard about Mel Gibson's latest endeavor, "The Passion of the Christ," are true. Well, most of them, anyway. Yes, the film -- which opened on Ash Wednesday -- is extremely violent, the actors all speak in Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin, and most of its production fees were paid directly from Gibson's own pocket. Twenty-five million dollars' worth of fees, to be exact.

What gives the much-hyped, intensely controversial film a defense against its opposition, however, is that it doesn't really come off as the blatantly anti-Semitic piece of propaganda that many critics have labeled it. Sure, the film depicts the Pharisees (Jewish high priests) as having the final word on Christ's (Jim Caviezel) terrible fate, but it is the Roman flagellators who savagely beat him to within an inch of his life before driving him with leather whips to Golgotha.

Essentially, no one group is singled out as being solely responsible for Christ's death. Truly, the film seems to imply that everyone -- not just the Romans or the Jews -- is responsible for Christ's suffering.

Indeed, mankind's responsibility for Jesus' death is thoroughly implied in Gibson's film. A devout Catholic who still attends Latin mass, Gibson focuses on Christ's suffering so obsessively in "The Passion" that he seems to be saying, "Look what you have done to Jesus. It's time to repent."

Onlookers to the crucifixion in "The Passion" do not suffer alongside Jesus; they watch him die, or look away (as in the case of Pharisees, who cast their eyes to the ground while Jesus is beaten by the Romans). Perhaps Gibson believes that it's time to stop celebrating Christ's resurrection and begin lamenting his awful death.

The cinematography of the film is provocative and delicately handled, with a mixture of slow and fast-paced camera movement; Gibson does a fine job of interspersing relevant and poignant flashbacks of Christ's happier days. Triggered by unexpected cues, the flashbacks include Christ's memories from the Last Supper and his early undertakings as a carpenter. Each one provides a needed break in the two-hour long torture session that is "The Passion."

Certainly Gibson took considerable artistic license with the film, as do most directors. He chose to combine aspects of all four of the New Testament Gospels (which he calls "rock solid," but incidentally, give few details on Christ's actual torture), and angled the movie so that it adhered to what must constitute his own traditionalist Catholic beliefs. His Satan (portrayed by a woman -- a choice of Gibson's that has raised gender issues among viewers) is depicted as a constant presence throughout Jesus' entire crucifixion process, from Gethsemane to Golgotha; such is not implied in the Bible.

Gibson refuses to make any excuses concerning "The Passion"; he takes full responsibility for the film -- his hands make a cameo on the hammer that nails Christ to the cross -- yet his true intentions with the project remain ambiguous.

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