I thought there was a chance that I might have found something to like about this film, after all I quite like Biblical epics like Ben Hur and The Robe; I loved Braveheart and even liked Mel Gibson’s first directorial outing, The Man Without A Face. I did like Caleb Deschanel’s photography; some shots of the scenery (filmed in the Italian hilltop town of Matera) were stunning. The acting for the most part is neither good nor bad, mainly because with the exception of Hirsto Shipov as Pilate, the actors are given little to do or say (although Luca De Dominicis must be singled out for an outrageously hammy performance as a camp King Herod). As a director, subtlety is not one of Mel Gibson’s talents – two-dimensional villains, a thundering score and endless gore – it’s all so heavy-handed. He’s done it before with Braveheart, but at least Braveheart was entertaining. Although in fairness I don’t think Gibson intended to entertain us with The Passion Of The Christ, he really wanted to 'engender thought amongst audiences’. My only thought was of how awful the film was.
When I left the cinema, I tried to imagine what somebody who’d never heard of the story of Jesus Christ might get from it. Very little, I’d imagine. The viewer isn’t given any details about the life or teachings of this man who suffers such a brutal demise. There are a couple of flashbacks: the Sermon On The Mount, scenes of Jesus with His disciples imploring them to love one another and one bizarre scene with His mother where he invents the dining table. These scenes, in the context of the Grand Guignol nature of the rest of the film, seem strangely insipid and ironically lacking any real passion.
I was prepared for the violence; it had been remarked upon on ad nauseam in the media, which I found surprising – anyone familiar with Mel Gibson films, whether he is in front of the camera or behind it, will know that his movies are famous for scenes of beatings, burnings, beheadings, whippings, gougings, and disembowellings. Mel Gibson is positively obsessed with torture, so it comes as no shock that he decided to depict (or exploit) Jesus’ violent death so graphically.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the dreadful computer generated imagery: mostly demons, a vision of Hell, and God weeping a big CGI tear at the end. What annoyed me the most about the CGI jiggery-pokery was what they’d done to Jesus’ eyes. Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus, has blue eyes, but instead of giving him brown contacts, his eyes were digitally altered to give them a kind of other-worldly amber-brown colour. This had the effect of making him seem not-quite human, which may be what Gibson was aiming to achieve – to emphasise Christ’s divinity. Unfortunately all this film achieves is a complete depersonalisation, making Jesus nothing but a brutalized and bloody victim. This is neither a film about Jesus’ message of love, mercy or justice, nor an examination of His radicalism. This is simply a self-indulgent exercise in sado-masochism, anti-Semitism and medieval Catholic guilt.