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The Passion of the Christ

Yes, I actually sat through this. No, I did not pay to see it. No way am I giving that fundamentalist nutjob Gibson any of my money.

I shall not dance about or tiptoe here; this film is terribly dull. Were it not for the constant screaming, it would make a nice sleeping aid. And any film which consists largely of endless torture scenes seriously begs the question, "Why in hell would I possibly enjoy watching this?"

What we have here is one whopping huge case of preaching to the chior, the most expensive Jack T. Chick religious tract ever made (aside from the fact that Chick thinks Catholics like Gibson are all hellbound). By choosing to focus soley on the last days of Jesus, which were filled with interrogations and beatings, Gibson has committed the-shall I make a pun and say "sin?" No, I think I'll just go with "clunky-ass screwup"-of giving us a story with virtually no characterization. It's quite plain that he thinks his audience will be compelled to care what happens to his protagonist for no other reason than the fact that he's Jesus, who apparently is supposed to evoke sympathy without question. While I'd feel sympathy for anyone being treated in such a preposterously brutal manner (Gibson has opted to show the rather Chick-esque spoon-sized shredded Jesus), it's no greater sympathy than I'd feel for any of the thousands of other people the Romans killed via crucifixion. The job of the storyteller is to involve me, and this film decidedly didn't. Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ actually made an interesting character out of Jesus. Gibson opts instead to show a seemingly endless succession of shots of Jesus falling to the ground in sloooow moooootion, with the ever-implied "See? It's Jesus. Isn't that sad?" substituting for actual writing. And I'll tell ya, after Jesus flops to the ground for about the fourth time while carrying the cross (never mind that it would've only been the crossbar, which they got right for the other two criminals but left as the whole, overblown hunk of wood in the case of our hero), I can't imagine that even die-hard Christians wouldn't be glancing at their watches and mumbling "get to freakin' Golgotha, already."

Okay, maybe not. But I sure as hell did.

So what do we get besides a lot of ugly scenes of man's inhumanity to man? Well, there's some new bits about the evil dead donkey of the apocalypse, which drives Judas to hang himself (at least he didn't "burst asunder") after being chased by a pack of demon kids into the field he would've bought with the thirty pieces of silver had he not returned them to the temple he also supposedly hung himself in. Conflicting Biblical accounts are always fun. There's another amusing scene of Satan carrying Mini-Satan through a crowd as Jesus is being whipped one of many times (and what the hell that's supposed to mean, I couldn't begin to tell you), and then there's the absolutely ludicrous part where the entire Temple of Solomon splits in half after Jesus gives up the ghost; I guess merely having the rending of the veil was too anticlimactic. Other than this, it's mostly parroting the Gospels and showing various other snatches of blatant disregard for history such as Jesus being sent by Pilate before King Herod, who had died in 4 B.C. and yet was somehow still around. Pilate himself is a big pussycat who just wishes those silly Hebrews would see reason, even though every non-Biblical account of the man depicted him as a brutal, Jew-hating bastard of a governor, a longstanding bit of historical revisionism akin to the uncorroborated and frankly absurd "custom" of releasing a condemmed criminal in honor of the Passover. If I were a religious guy, maybe I'd find this stuff more captivating, but as it stands, it's simply dullsville extreme with some decent cinematography. This isn't in any way attenuated by the decision to have the whole thing in Aramaic and Latin with subtitles. All that does is put up another wall between film and audience, which is, I think, a dumb thing to do in a film that's supposed to exist for the sole purpose of getting people to empathize with Jesus.

It was almost worth it, however, for that one quick scene at the end featuring Satan down in Hell screaming "Noooooooooooooo!! Curse you, Jesus!" (Okay, he actually just screams "AAARRRRGH! RRRAAAAARRRGGGHH! BLAAAUUUGGH!") and looking seriously like he belongs in a Tool video.

Much was made of the whole issue of Jewish culpability in the death of Jesus and the message the film was sending by stressing it so strongly. Almost nothing was made of the fact that it almost definitely didn't happen that way at all. Jesus was tried by a Roman court and sentenced to death by same, and specifically, via the mode of execution reserved soley for the crime of sedition against Rome. No one would've been crucified for annoying the Temple elders, though they might've been stoned (and not in the fun way). However, the most important point to address in our modern times is, "Who cares who did it?" The guilty parties have been dead for millennia, and no one would consider blaming the modern-day descendants of those responsible to be an even remotely intelligent position to least, no one smarter than the Judeo-Christian god, anyway. Besides, if the whole point of Jesus's life was to die for mankind, how does helping that to happen make one worthy of scorn? There's a wee bit of a problem in attempting to assign guilt while working through a doctrine that says all things work towards God's intentions regardless of appearance.

If you really believe that God was born as a man and got himself filleted in order to save man from, well, from God's own intolerance of the imperfections he had himself deliberately instilled in men, then this film won't be telling you anything new (except perhaps for that bit about the donkey). If you think Jesus was a mythical figure, or, if nothing else, just some itinerant philosopher who met a bad end, then this will be pretty pointless for you. But I can't imagine anyone who, regardless of what religious beliefs or non-beliefs they might hold, wouldn't find the whole affair to be butt-numbingly tedious.

-review by Matt Murray

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