Film: The Passion of the Christ
A film directed and produced by Mel Gibson
about the Passion of the Christ — the last hours of Jesus Christ
's life. All the dialogue is in the ancient languages Aramaic and Latin. The initial cut didn't even have subtitles, though they were added to the theatrical cut on the insistence of test audiences.
Much of it is based on The Bible
, but not all of it; some parts are based on Christian or specifically Roman Catholic traditions (as Gibson is a Roman Catholic), while other parts are based on recent mystical literature detailing what happened during Jesus' last hours — specifically, the documentations of the visions of a stigmatic Roman Catholic nun named Anne Catherine Emmerich
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, they don't stop until near the very end.
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.
- Adaptation Distillation: Of the Passion accounts in The Four Gospels in the Bible, and by extension Christian traditions of the Passion.
- Adaptation Expansion: Via the additional details not in the Gospels themselves, which were taken from Christian tradition and literature (Emmerich). For instance, Jesus falling exactly three times while bearing his cross 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". Much of the added violence is taken from Emmerich. And there are Gibson's own additions.
- 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.
- 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.
- Noticeable is the absence of Greek, which would have been the common tongue between Romans (especially of the upper class) and the various peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean.
- Amongst the Romans themselves, Greek was also widely spoken, especially by the learned and the elites, as most of the literature they studied was in Greek.
- Artistic License – Religion: Gibson made several mistakes when it comes to Jewish laws and traditions. Most notable when it showed the Seder he is eating leaven bread instead of matza. Also he 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.)
- No Jew ever gave the order to crucify Jesus—there are only four death penalties permitted according to Jewish law—beheading, strangling, burning and stoning—and crucifixion is not one of them. The Sanhedrin had no authority to execute anyone. Rome took that power away from them in A.D. 8. Only Temple Security had the power to use deadly force, and only on those caught trespassing at the Temple. Any criminals that the Sanhedrin wanted executed had to be turned over to Pilate to be judged by Roman law. Also, the Torah decrees that part of the death penalty was to hang the criminal's corpse on a tree until evening. Since Rome wasn't going to allow them to kill Jesus and then hang Him on a tree, they decided to have Rome kill Him BY hanging Him on a tree. However many theologians do say that the Pharisees needed Jesus to be recognized as a criminal under Roman Law, not their own.
- It's commonly accepted among historians 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. A pretty straightforward case of Artistic License, since Gibson more or less acknowledged that the power of imagery won out over historical accuracy.
- Similarly, historical research shows that victims of crucifixion only carried the cross-beam, not a whole cross - unlike most traditional Christian art of the scene. 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 favored traditional imagery over historical accuracy. (The two men crucified besides Jesus, however, carry only the beams.)
- The Gospels don't say how many strokes Jesus received when Pilate ordered him to be flogged, but it is often assumed to be 39 (as in Jesus Christ Superstar where it gets its own song). This comes from 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. Thus, the Apostle Paul wrote in his letters that he had received "forty minus one" strokes five separate times. However, 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.
- Of the four Gospels, only the Gospel of John mentions Mary the mother of Jesus being present, and only after Jesus has been crucified, but she debuts early on in the film and witnesses the events throughout.
- Back from the Dead: At the very end.
- The Bible: You were expecting, maybe, Dianetics?
- Bible Times: Of course.
- Big Bad: Satan.
- 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. Furthermore, a Roman and Judean would most likely speak Koine Greek to each other, being the lingua franca of the Mediterranean at the time)
- A few important lines are also left untranslated, including the infamous one where the Jews take responsibility on themselves and their descendants.
- Bolt of Divine Retribution: A Real Life example. During the filming, Jim Caviezel was struck by lightning, and assistant director Jan Michelini was struck by lightning twice.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: Holy SHIT. Caning, scourging, public humiliation, and then crucifixion. 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 (unless this is a case of see right below).
- 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.
- Downer Ending: Subverted. He gets better.
- 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: Judas.
- Evil Albino: Satan, who is an androgynous figure.
- Evil Counterpart: In an interesting bit of creative license, Satan is portrayed as an androgynous figure who wears a hooded robe and frequently carries an eerily adult-looking baby—invoking the classic image of the Virgin Mary cradling an infant Jesus.
- 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.
- 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.
- Though the scourging scene in particular is criticized for being exaggerated because it is much gorier and longer than most other depictions.
- 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.
- Historical Hero/Villain Upgrade The exact events are lost to history outside religious tradition, however Pontius Pilate and the Sanhedrin both existed in historical record. Pilate moves up and the Sanhedrin down in classic Biblical accounts, and it is, of course seen here.
- Insert Cameo: Gibson's hands are the ones nailing Christ to the cross.
- It Will Never Catch On: A humorous flashback with Jesus building a modern, long-legged table. No, it's not Monty Python.
- 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).
- My God, What Have I Done?: Judas and Peter.
- 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: Jesus, once he comes Back from the Dead.
- 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).
- 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.
- Nightmare Sequence
- 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!: Pontius Pilate.
- 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: Naturally. One of the more famous modern examples.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: Appears as a creepy androgynous woman with a harsh male voice.
- Shown Their Work: 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
- 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."
- You Bastard: The Virgin Mary's unblinking stare (also a Heroic BSOD) directly into the camera over her son's corpse smacks of this trope. After all, Jesus died for our sins. Minor Easter eggs such as the fact that Mel's hands are the ones nailing Jesus to the cross are there to add symbolism for this point.