Film / The Passion of the Christ

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There is no greater love than for a man to lay down his life for his friends.
"This is not a sermon or a homily, but a visualization of the central event in the Christian religion. Take it or leave it."

A 2004 film produced and directed by Mel Gibson, dramatizing the Passion of the Christ — the last hours of Jesus Christ's life. All the dialogue is in the ancient languages of Aramaic and Latin, although some cuts of the film include subtitles to assist the audio-centric viewer.

Infamous because it portrays the sheer horror of what happened to Jesus in unbearably prolonged, bloody and gory detail. Gorn doesn't even begin to describe the content of the film. Once things start getting bloody an hour in, they don't stop until near the very end. Besides the brutality, the film separates it from other Jesus films with its focus on Christ's relationship with his mother and the centrality of his Last Supper.

Obviously, the film is based on The Four Gospels, but some scenes take from other sources; some aspects of the film are based on Catholic devotions like the 14 Stations of the Cross and the Five Sorrows of Mary, while other parts derive from the the visions of a nun named Anne Catherine Emmerich. The film also includes wholly original scenes that flesh out the roles of the Virgin Mary and the Devil.

This was rated R, presumably because it had only violence and deeply disturbing imagery. (Roger Ebert and many others called the ratings board out on this.) Mel Gibson recommended it to people 13 and up. Some Christian parents and even youth pastors chose to take advantage of the "accompanied by someone over 17" clause to get children under that age into the movie. In the UK, where film ratings aren't advisory, under 18s weren't even allowed in the cinema, although some Christians have been known to recommend the DVD to under 18s.

Stars Jim Caviezel as Jesus Christ and Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene. The rest of the cast is mostly unknown theater actors from Italy and the Middle-East.


Tropes:

  • Adaptation Distillation: Many additional details not in the Gospels themselves were taken from Catholic tradition and literature (Emmerich). For instance, Jesus having bloody face wiped by a Jewish woman and meeting his mother Mary on the way is straight from the Catholic "Way of the Cross" (Via Crucis) also known as the "Stations of the Cross". Meanwhile, Judas's encounter with a horde of demons is derived from Emmerich's writings.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Half-blind children biting Judas's flesh mentioned by Luke or Mark, but Gibson thought it was important to include in his film. His other additions are less demonic, especially the flashback showing the Mother of God making fun of God the Son's wonky homemade table and Mary's memory of picking up the infant Jesus as she watches her son fall under the weight of his bloody cross.
  • Adaptational Heroism: A few details added to the Biblical accounts fall into this.
    • Simon of Cyrene confronts the Romans who are whipping Jesus nonstop while he carries his cross, even after Jesus falls to the ground.
    • Pilate's wife sympathizes with Jesus' mother Mary and Mary Magdalene, and gives them cloths to mop up Jesus's blood at the scene of his scourging.
  • Adrenaline Time: When Peter attacks the men arrested Jesus, the speed of the action shifts from normal to slow with every punch landed by one of the Apostles or their opponents, giving a sense of chaos and inconsistency while emphasizing the pain of those in the struggle.
  • Antagonistic Governor: Pontius Pilate, the Roman in charge of keeping the peace in Jerusalem, condemns Christ to his Passion. Unlike other portrayals of him, which show him to be a brutal dictator, he is only interested in maintaining the peace in Judea, even if that means sentencing an innocent man to death. This article discusses it in a detailed fashion.
  • Anti-Villain: Pontius Pilate, neither the first nor the last politician ever to wimp out in the face of death.
    • While the film touches on this fact only very briefly, Emperor Tiberius had recently sent him a threatening letter over complaints he'd received from the Jewish priests, and was busy purging the Roman administration of anyone connected with the traitor Sejanus (the former consul), who happened to have been Pontius Pilate's sponsor for his position as governor of Judea. The priests complaining to Tiberius that he was no Amicus Caesaris—friend of Caesar—would have gotten Pilate sent to the chopping block.
    • This is also why he tried to pass the buck to Herod when it came to handing down sentences.
  • Artistic License Linguistics:
    • While credited for being "authentic" in using Aramaic to tell Jesus' story in his language, there's a great deal of guesswork involved. As a dead languagenote , the pronunciations and intonations are lost to time and no linguist has a real idea of how it sounded like beyond educated guesses and conjecture, which are still guesses nonetheless.

      Related to this is the fact that the oldest manuscript of the New Testament is written in Athenian Greek and with one specific exceptionnote , contains no transcriptions or transliterations of Jesus' sayings in Aramaic. Even if the film translated from Greek (assuming they didn't use English translations as source) back into Aramaic, that would still involve a lot of guesswork at best and would not in any way be authentic in a historical sense.
    • Pilate speaks to Jesus in Latin in the film, when it is more likely that an educated Roman would speak in Greek (the international language in the Eastern Mediterranean at that time). This was a deliberate choice - Aramaic and Latin are easy to distinguish from each other, and making the Judeans speak the former and the Romans the latter helps create a bigger gap.
  • Artistic License History: Given that Gibson is focused on the Biblical narrative, there are a few scene that is in line with Catholic/Orthodox/Protestant tradition (no artistic license in terms of religion) but questioned by historians:
    • One of the more obvious is in regard to Jewish laws and traditions, which utilized an Orthodox understanding, in that the Seder he is eating have leaven bread instead of matza, which is one of the reason why Orthodox utilized leaven host too. Also Christ makes them eat while sitting upright despite a Seder is supposed to be eaten while reclining, one of the 4 questions makes this perfectly clear. (There is considerable dispute among Catholic theologians as to whether the Last Supper actually started out as a Seder meal or not. It may well be that Gibson had not intended to depict a Seder at all.)
    • Unlike biblical canon, some historians believe that nails were driven through the bones of the wrist rather than through the palms, given that the soft tissue of the hand couldn't support the weight of the victim. After all, Gibson is telling a biblical story, not a historical film, so any difference that originate from Bible and Traditions will carry over (as acknowledged by Gibson himself, who knew of this, but decided the power of imagery won out over accuracy).
    • Similarly, unlike artistic canon, some historians argued that victims of crucifixion only carried the cross-beam, not a whole cross. Places of crucifixion like Golgotha would have had permanent standing posts where the beam would be attached as necessary. A few earlier Biblical films like From the Manger to the Cross, Jesus of Nazareth, and The Last Temptation of Christ already had depicted Jesus carrying only the beam. But again, Gibson decide to accurately depict the Passion according to artistic tradition. The two men crucified besides Jesus, however, carry only the beams.
    • The only point where artistic license is taken regarding history AND religion is during the scourging of Christ. The Bible states Jesus had received "forty minus one" (39) strokes when Pilate ordered him to be flogged, five separate times, in line with Deuteronomy chapter 25 which states that criminals may not receive more than 40 strokes, so the Jewish authorities tended to stop at 39 in order not to break the law accidentally — again, showing Gibson is accurate in terms of bible. In terms of history, however, this brought about a question: Jesus was flogged by Romans not Jews, so this might be irrelevant. Needless to say, the film goes way beyond 39 strokes (with a soldier counting in Latin all the while), and both rods and scourges are used on Jesus. The beating is only halted due to an officer pointing out that they weren't ordered to flog the prisoner to death.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • Satan is made into a visible antagonist figure throughout the film. The Passion narratives in the Gospels only mention Satan as entering into Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrays Jesus.
    • Pilate's wife has a larger though still minor part than in the Gospels where she has a single mention.
    • Depend on denomination, Mary the mother of Jesus is considered as such. Of the four Gospels, only the Gospel of John mentions Mary the mother of Jesus being present, and only after Jesus has been crucified. However, in the Catholic tradition, Mary is present during Jesus' passion, which is reflect as the 4th Station of the Cross and all 5 Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Thus, being a Traditional Catholic, Gibson reflect these in his film and have her witnesses the events throughout.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • The original plan was to have the entire film in Aramaic with no subtitles at all. As it stands, only lines central to the plot are subtitled, leaving a lot of lines from bystanders and Romans which someone who knows the language can translate themselves. (As a side note a few of the languages are actually wrong, for instance the Roman characters all speak with the modern Ecclesiastic pronunciation, not the historical Classic pronunciation. A few important lines are also left untranslated, including the infamous one where the Jews take responsibility on themselves and their descendants.
    • Pilate starts talking with Jesus in Aramaic... and gets a response in Latin, proving to Pilate that this supposed Messiah is too well-learned to be a delusional hermit.
  • Call-Forward: In a flashback to his Last Supper, Jesus offers bread and wine to his disciples, speaking about how he is the bread and the fact that he's sacrificing the bread for them. This parallels the death and pain Jesus suffers during the rest of the movie depicts for the sake of all men.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The caning, scourging, public humiliation, and then crucifixion of Christ is depicted for over an hour with bruises, bones, open flesh, and blood in plain view of the camera. Gibson himself said that the REAL Passion was EVEN WORSE.
  • Composite Character: The film equates Mary Magdalene with the unnamed adulterous woman who Jesus saves from stoning in the Gospel of John. This is in keeping with medieval Western Christian tradition which made Mary a loose woman or even a prostitute before becoming a follower of Jesus. Since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, the Catholic Church has officially discouraged this identification. But Gibson's brand of Catholicism is a particularly Traditionalist one. (This tradition is also reflected in The Last Temptation of Christ.)
  • Creator Cameo: Gibson plays Jesus during the flashback with Mary Magdalene, hence why he's only seen from the back in that scene. It's also his hands nailing Jesus to the cross.
  • Creepy Child: We have Satan's demonic baby, and we have the horribly wrinkled demonic children that drive Judas over the edge. Take your pick.
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to a normal passion play, which started out as traveling French medieval theater.
  • Depraved Homosexual: King Herod, who is portrayed as a giggling, mincing, gay-ish libertine in a wig.
    • This was how he was portrayed in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical "Jesus Christ Superstar". Guess Gibson liked that one.
    • While various people throughout history have accused the Herod of all kinds of depravity, this particular ruler had more of a reputation with his detractors as a notorious womanizer; make of that what you will. The original reason for Herod being portrayed as a libertine is because the Jews didn't like their Hellenized royalty, who were seen as sell-outs who'd abandoned their Jewishness in favor of decadent Greek high culture.
  • The Ditz: The centurion who impales Jesus with a spear, here named Cassius, is depicted as "not all there" and the frequent butt of his comrades taunts.
  • Dramatic Irony: The procession through the streets towards the place of crucifixion is contrasted with brief flashbacks of Jesus's entry into Jerusalem a few days before where he was welcomed by crowds waving palm branches (known as Palm Sunday to Christians).
  • Driven to Suicide: In an account borrowed from The Four Gospels, Judas's guilt over his betrayal of Christ leads him to throw away his money and hang himself. In order to make it clear that this isn't a redemptive moment for Judas, several scenes are added between his disposal of the money and his suicide where demonic children chase him while reminding him that he is cursed and condemned, culminating in Judas staring at a rotten donkey corpse with it's rein still attached to the neck. Unable to handle his own sufferings at the hands of the demons, Judas hangs himself, as the camera focuses on the corpse of the rotten donkey, which now appears to be smiling.
  • Evil Albino: One of Satan's traits that separates him from a normal human is his skin, which is white as chalk and slicker than a serpent, not unlike that of Dracula or Lord Voldemort. His almost-humanity serves to better show that he's a distortion of something that was good and how he operates by the same method of corruption.
  • Evil Counterpart: Satan is portrayed as an androgynous figure who wears a hooded robe and frequently carries an eerily adult-looking baby—sickly parodying the classic image of the Virgin Mary cradling an infant Jesus. The parallel between the two figures is made clear as Jesus first begins to carry his cross, because the camera cuts between Mary and Satan staring at each other from opposite sides of the crowds in opposition, making Mary the only character besides Christ himself to face the Devil.
  • Eye Scream: One of the thieves crucified with Jesus gets his eye pecked out by a raven.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Don't tell anyone! Jesus dies. And is then resurrected.
  • From Bad to Worse: Although the whole plot is a Foregone Conclusion for the viewer, the characters in universe (except Christ, of course) don't know how far it will go or what will happen next. Mary in particular wonders aloud in one scene how much Jesus will endure.
  • Good Eyes, Evil Eyes: Subverted. Jesus has yellow eyes like a few desert-dwelling people do (mutations due to the hot climate), while Satan's eyes are pale and almost colorless.
  • Gorn: Real crucifixions and scourgings were very messy.
  • He's Dead, Jim: Enforced. When an experienced Roman soldier (who's doubtless seen a few deaths in his time) assures his boss that Jesus is gone, his boss tosses him a spear and tells him to make sure of it. A quick lancing confirms his analysis.
  • Insert Cameo: Gibson's hands are the ones nailing Christ to the cross.
  • It Will Never Catch On: A humorous flashback has Jesus build a modern, long-legged table, only for his mother to mock the idea and wonder how in the world someone is supposed to eat dinner on such a device. No, it's not Monty Python.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Judas gets tormented by children who mock him for his appearance, and then begin saying he's cursed. Veers right into Nightmare Fuel territory after that, when despite Judas running from them, they still follow him to throw more insults and rocks. It's also implied the children killed Judas's mule. Oh! And those kids may or may not be demons.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • The thief who calls Jesus a fool for not saving himself earns an Eye Scream a little later.
    • Just about anyone and everyone who contributed to Jesus's suffering freaks out when the thunder and earthquakes start.
  • Mood Whiplash: While Jesus is carrying his cross, there is a touching scene where Veronica wipes his face, only to be jerked away by a Roman soldier who angrily demands who the hell she thinks she is ("the hell" is more or less implied).
    • On a less serious note, Jesus, shortly after his capture, observes a carpenter. Cue flashback when Jesus invents the modern dinner table.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus defies Satan and steps on a snake. This is a reference to Genesis 3:15, long interpreted by Christians as a prophecy about Jesus:
    And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.
    • Jesus quotes Revelation 21:5 to his mother Mary:
    Behold, [mother,] I make all things new.
  • Naked on Revival: The first sign of Jesus's Resurrection is his empty burial shroud, which lies right next to the healed and very much alive Christ in his tomb.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The film gives names to people left nameless in the Bible.
    • The centurion at the Crucifixion is named "Abenader". This comes from the writings of Anne Catherine Emmerich. (It's also historically unattested.)
    • The soldier who stabs Jesus with a spear to make sure he's dead is named Cassius. He is better known in Christian tradition as Longinus (thus the spear is The Lance of Longinus); it's not exactly impossible for his name to have been Cassius Longinus, like Brutus's BFF.
    • The two thieves are called Dismas and Gesmas. "Dismas" is attested in ancient Christian writings while "Gesmas" comes from the medieval Golden Legend (though it is a variant of the ancient "Gestas") and is the form used by Anne Catherine Emmerich.
  • No Name Given: A woman wipes Jesus's face with a cloth on the way to his crucifixion. She's not named in dialogue but is readily identifiable as the "Veronica" of Christian tradition.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The beatdowns of Jesus last for more than half the movie, and at times are unbearable to watch.
  • One-Woman Wail: They almost had Lisa Gerrard scoring the film.
  • Otherworldly and Sexually Ambiguous: Satan is portrayed by a woman with a shaved head and a voice altered to sound more masculine in post-production.
  • Out, Damned Spot!: After trying his best to convince the crowds of Jesus's innocence and hearing the opinion of Jesus, Pontius Pilate allows Christ to be executed while literally washing his hands of the matter.
  • Overdrawn at the Blood Bank: Jesus bleeds up more than the entire adult blood supply when he's flogged, then bleeds out three or four people's worth of blood when he's crucified.
  • Passion Play: The Passion of the Christ separates itself from most tellings of the Passion by the sheer brutality of its visuals and the emphasis on the excruciating pain the Christ went through leading up to his execution.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The Roman commander overseeing the crucifixion. He is obviously disgusted by the gruesome state of Jesus and the behavior of his cruel soldiers, but does his job anyway.
  • Queer People Are Funny: Apparently, judging from the way King Herod and his consorts are portrayed.
  • Race Lift: While we can't know what Jesus looked like, he was a Middle-Eastern Jew. James Caviezel's father is of Slovak (maternal) and Swiss (paternal) descent, while his mother's ancestry is Irish. However, it is beyond unlikely that Jesus was at all Slovak / Swiss / Irish. Hence, the makeup crew did what they could to make Caviezel look more Middle-Eastern, such as giving him contacts and dying his hair darker. Something of an inversion given the classic (inaccurate) depiction of Jesus as extremely pale.
  • Rasputinian Death: Jesus is whipped, first with canes then with flagellum (whips that have sharp objects on the end), at one point having skin visibly ripped from his side. Then he is given a crown of thorns and a cross to carry, and heaves it up through the streets while being whipped, kicked, beaten, and hit by thrown objects. At one point, he falls and is beaten to the point where he can barely move, and another man is forced to carry the cross for him. Then he finally gets to the top of the mountain where he has nails driven into his hands and feet, and still manages to survive for several hours on the cross.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Pontius Pilate, who orders the execution of a man he has no reason to believe is anything other than an instigator of dissent with delusions of grandeur.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Jesus's ordeal is intercut with a few flashbacks to the Last Supper where he gives his Apostles bread and wine and speaks of his body and blood being offered up. (Pertinently, some denominations of Christians including Catholics take "this is my body" and "this is my blood" literally.)
  • Satan: The Devil appears in the form of a creepy androgynous woman with a harsh male voice, an uncanny parody of humanity that shows the fiend's penchant for corruption. He spends the movie slithering through the crowds persecuting and torturing Christ unnoticed by anyone but Big J and his mother, the two people who are most responsible for the Passion that ultimately undoes the corruption brought on by the Devil. By the very end, he is too powerless to do anything but scream at the heavens.
  • Shown Their Work: Crucifixion was so agonizing and brutal that the word "excruciating" was coined to describe the kind of pain it caused. There is nothing pretty about Roman execution methods, then or now, and you get to see it.
  • Single Tear: After Jesus dies on the cross, a single drop of rain falls from the sky.
  • Surreal Horror: Take a gorn movie with a fairly straightforward tone, then throw into the mix an androgynous pale being carrying around a terrifying, leering man-baby.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Boy howdy! Jesus gets this in spades.
  • Torture Porn: Much time is spent on showing the copious amounts of graphic violence against Jesus in excruciating detail, so that the audience can fully know what it was like when Christ was crucified on his, how you say, crux.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: After scene after scene of Jesus having every single action cause more pain for him, he's being crucified and a guard recommends flipping the cross over so they can bend the nails' points so they don't slip out. The cross is flipped and Jesus about to be crushed underneath it... but suddenly it stops a foot from the ground. Nobody seems to notice aside from Mary Magdalene and Jesus, so it's not clear if the cross was stopped physically or if God intervened to give His Son a little mercy.
  • True Companions: Averted with Jesus's Twelve Apostles who betray, desert or deny knowing him — except for John, who is identified as the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John (following Christian tradition). John alone among the Apostles, together with Jesus's mother Mary and Mary Magdalene, watches Jesus's ordeal including the crucifixion.
  • Truth in Television: While this particular case and film is not without its issues, crucifixion was a common punishment in Ancient Rome. If any of them were less cruel it's still within shades of black.
  • Up to Eleven: The level of Gorn in the film startled even many seasoned moviegoers; Roger Ebert said in his review, "This is the most violent film I have ever seen."
  • Villainous Breakdown: After Jesus endures his ordeal and dies on the cross, there's a brief shot of Satan shrieking in Hell, as it realises it's lost its grip on humanity.
  • You Bastard: The Virgin Mary's unblinking stare (also a Heroic B.S.O.D.) directly into the camera over her son's corpse smacks of this trope. After all, Jesus died for our sins. Minor details such as the fact that Mel's hands are the ones nailing Jesus to the cross are there to add symbolism for this point.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/ThePassionOfTheChrist