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Last Updated: Friday, 27 February, 2004, 12:51 GMT
Review: Gibson's The Passion of the Christ
By Victoria Lindrea
BBC News Online

The anti-Semitic charges laid at the door of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ threaten to distort a powerful and challenging piece of cinema.

Gibson's depiction of the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ is, as the director has maintained, firmly based on the gospels of the New Testament.

The Passion of the Christ
Jim Caviezel (Jesus) dislocated his shoulder while shooting in Italy

Granted, the story is given cinematic flourishes - a wholly realistic depiction of the crucifixion in the original languages Latin and Aramaic would be unwatchable, not to say uncommercial.

The film was originally planned without subtitles - but such ambiguity would only have obscured the courage and sacrifice singled out by Gibson's adaptation.

It opens in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus of Nazareth is struggling to accept that his ultimate sacrifice of death is looming.

The battle of good and evil is laid bare. In the shadows lurks Satan, an androgynous, hollow-eyed demon, snakes slithering at his feet.

Throughout the film we will return to him, lurking amid the baying crowds. It leaves us in no doubt as to the hellfire and damnation that faces those non-believers.

The Passion of the Christ
Romanian actress Maia Morgenstern beautifully illustrates Mary's grief

The fate of Judas Iscariot is one of the many areas where Gibson adds colour to the story of Christ's final hours, but not necessarily truth.

The handing over of the 30 silver pieces is pure theatre - but nothing compared with the demonic street children who later hound the traitor to his death amid a sea of flies and maggots.

Still, were it not for dramatic back stories like those of Judas, and the merest sprinkling of humour, The Passion might prove too relentless in its brutality.

From the moment Jesus is seized by the temple guards, we are immersed in a world of bloody violence. Violence that is initiated by the Jewish high priests.

These Jewish leaders stand condemned in Gibson's film. We are given no clues to their motivation, only their desire for bloodletting.

But the Pharisees' ignorance is tempered by other enlightened Jewish characters peppered throughout Gibson's film, who show support and sympathy to Jesus in his final hours.

And let us not forget that Jesus himself - the man who preached love and forgiveness in the face of his own violent death, was himself Jewish.

The Passion of the Christ
Gibson hopes his story will inspire "tolerance, love and forgiveness"

Elsewhere, characterisation is thin too. King Herod and his followers are drawn in camp, pantomime terms and the Roman soldiers are portrayed as vicious, bone-headed thugs.

Of all those who judge Jesus, only Pontius Pilate and his wife Claudia show compassion or reason.

As to the violence itself, it is appropriately excruciating. Gibson offers moments of relief with flashbacks to Jesus' earlier life.

The moments are aptly chosen to show his capacity for love, yet also demonstrates how arrogant - how dangerous - his self-belief must have appeared.

Above all, the film's power derives from the visceral depiction of Christ's suffering. Gibson has used modern film-making technology to fashion a film that is at once a work of art and a study of mankind.


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