Thoughts on The Passion
A powerful film.
Gibson's film is a tour de force. Certainly the film of 2004. To film what Mr. Handel's opus was opera? Not quite. The film will inevitably have signficance and impact quite beyond its artistic merits.
Stylistically . . . well, that's the easiest for me to assess . . . Stylistically, the film owes a LOT to Gladiator and to Braveheart. The Satan figure was clever, but reminded me ever so much of the figure of Death reappearing in Bergman's The Seventh Seal. The flashbacks to John 15 and the Last Supper worked very well.
This is a film that no Eastern Orthodox, and probably also no Protestant, could have made. It is distinctively RC, and medieval-purgatorial, and chiefly in its singleminded focus on suffering and death of the Saviour.
For me, as a sometime student of both Arabic and Latin, the use of Aramaic and Latin was very transparent. Most of the time, I really didn't need the subtitles. I couldn't follow very many verbs, but I *got* all the pronouns and particles, and a lot of nouns. Although I know this isn't true of 99+% of the people watching the film, the use of the original languages made it very real for me.
Gibson has done a great service in providing us with a film version of the Passion that has integrity, authority, and good craftsmanship. Beyond this, in making the film, he borne witness to the Truth that a lot of people in Hollywood and Manhattan would like to deny, avoid, or at least ignore.
In a way, this film is more Romantic in the sense of creative will than most of what usually for "artistic self-expression" in our culture. Ebert's comments are very much to the point:
Is the film "good" or "great?" I imagine each person's reaction (visceral, theological, artistic) will differ. I was moved by the depth of feeling, by the skill of the actors and technicians, by their desire to see this project through no matter what. To discuss individual performances, such as James Caviezel's heroic depiction of the ordeal, is almost beside the point. This isn't a movie about performances, although it has powerful ones, or about technique, although it is awesome, or about cinematography (although Caleb Deschanel paints with an artist's eye), or music (although John Debney supports the content without distracting from it).
It is a film about an idea. An idea that it is necessary to fully comprehend the Passion if Christianity is to make any sense. Gibson has communicated his idea with a singleminded urgency. Many will disagree. Some will agree, but be horrified by the graphic treatment.