The Passion of the Christ ★★★★

I am not a Christian. If I had to describe my spirituality I would say that I'm an optimistic agnostic. I have been known to call out Christian filmmakers for making some of the worst pieces of trash of all time. One of my most used tags on letterboxd is "Christianity is the Uwe Boll of religions" because of how many horrendous Christian films have come out in recent years. That being said, I really respected this film.

I use the word respected because I got absolutely no enjoyment out of this film. It is a harrowing experience that shocked me, disturbed me, and even brought me to tears. The Passion is often called a horror film and torture porn and while I agree with the first comparison I wholeheartedly disagree with the second. Like the best horror films The Passion uses its visceral violence as a storytelling device to express the entire emotional spectrum but it is never exploited for cheap thrills like torture porn.

Another factor that elevates The Passion above mere torture porn is the focus on performances and production values. Aside from The Thin Red Line I've never really been impressed by Jim Caviezel but here he is great. He is able to humanize a larger than life figure while at the same time appearing as he constantly has the weight of the world on his shoulders. The rest of the cast is filled with fairly unknown actors who do a good job at sinking into the characters. While the acting was good, the true standouts of the film are the cinematography and costume design which do a fantastic job at establishing place and time.

I feel like I have to address the giant Anti-Semitic, racist, misogynist elephant in the room known as Mel Gibson. I think he's a good actor and an even better director but also a shitty person. Like Roman Polanski or Woody Allen I am able to separate his personal life from his professional career (totally understand anyone who can't/won't though). While many believe that Gibson's personal antisemitism leaked into the film, I am of the Roger Ebert persuasion that the Jewish leaders' actions are more political than religious, focusing more on the dangers of theocracy and government oppression in general. Religion aside, I thought Gibson made stylistic decisions that perfect for this film. How many other directors are there who shoot this film in Aramaic and Hebrew? How many other directors would refuse to pull any punches when it came to the gruesome violence? I can't think of anyone off the top of my head.

I'm not going to lie and say this film inspired me to convert back to Christianity. It didn't. However, it did tell me a horrifying yet also beautiful story that made me care for characters I previously had no connection with. That to me is good film making.

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