I made a habit of watching The Passion Of The Christ each Easter.
It’s a custom for some time now that every television station (in Romania at least), around Easter (and Christmas), broadcasts religious films, especially the ones regarding Jesus.
Since 2004, not many of them had the courage to broadcast Mel Gibson’s masterpiece. It’s violent, it’s real, and yes, The Passion Of The Christ it’s full of spirituality.
Maybe because of all of the reasons above, or just one. No matter what your beliefs are, you can still watch it as a movie. It makes an impact on everyone, like this gentleman who bought 6000 tickets for the cinema screening.
Besides the spiritual part, it shows how we are, us, human beings. You may think oh wait, that was 2000 years ago. Yes, it was.
But when you see what’s happening nowadays in Syria, Palestine, Ukraine, Turkey, and (to) many more other places on earth, you will change your mind. Unfortunately.
It’s a delicate subject that I’m not trying to get too deep into it but still, I cannot remain silent. It’s not about religion. It never was. It’s just an excuse to manifest the evil in us.
Lack of education does that. And by education, I mean cultural (like reading, writing, say hello etc.), but also spiritual.
It’s funny how you see some documentary on tv about an isolated tribe somewhere in the jungle that never had any interactions with the outside (us?) and sense on how they react to the new.
How they raise their children and how they live peacefully.
Sometimes, you see that in their eyes. Of course, there are some other tribes, violent ones, but still, they tend to do those things to others, not to their own.
It’s about power and the need to overtake the people around us. It’s, again, human nature (I guess). And that is the main thing we need to have in mind when finishing watching this movie.
Maybe it’s not so spiritual for you, but it is an example of how we should behave.
This will be the longest article so far. I’ve been planning it for 3 years now but was only a draft with no words in it and now, I’m trying to write about it while watching it again on a different computer.
I like it this way because I keep on forgetting important stuff I want to share, and by doing this I can pause and put it down on paper (keyboard). I’m not sure where should I start from.
The movie itself, or what it represents?
I think I’ll go with a few words about the movie – but it’s difficult to talk just about the movie without the spiritual context.
It’s ok if I talk about the scenes in it (you already know by now I’m trying as much as I can not spoil anything but I don’t think that’s the case here, as you know already what is it about and how the events occurred).
And for full disclosure, I’m a (like to think) practicing orthodox Christian.
There are a couple of things that make The Passion Of The Christ movie special:
It’s in Aramaic. It’s a dead language. There’s one more Syriac tribe that speaks Aramaic and in one interview, one of the members said it’s probably the only movie in their language.
A small note on the progression of the language – it’s not the same Aramaic that we speak today – as we’re not speaking the same English spoken 400 years ago.
It’s said that Aramaic was spoken by the Jewish people in Palestine in that period.
There are rumours and gossip that Mel Gibson didn’t use the appropriate one and it’s a mix between that, the one spoken nowadays, and some other Palestine area languages.
I don’t speak any of that so I cannot say for sure. One thing I can say is that I really appreciate the effort.
First of all, I take myself as an example. I am Romanian, I speak and think in Romanian, and I also speak English since I was a kid.
Cartoon Network Generation here – back when I was young they introduced cable tv after the fall of the communist regime, but they were transmitting its original broadcasting; that meant there were no subtitles or translation whatsoever, so we, as kids, learned English, Italian, German, from all those cartoons we had access to on tv.
But sometimes it’s so hard to transmit exactly what I want to say in English, as it’s not my native language. I do feel like I’m getting better at it (as long as you understand what I’m writing here it’s ok I guess). Still, a long way to go.
Later edit: since the Arrival movie – that one deserves an article on its own – I’ve started researching about language; also I have a theory based on Orson Well’s fictional doublethink – that it might not be that fictional at all. These subjects will hopefully be covered separately. Recently, I have discovered I speak more Romanian using English words, and that’s something I’m working on improving.
Back to the language from the movie, it was a tremendous effort from everybody. The crew was international and probably they spoke English behind the camera but from the director and the actors to the cleaning people, I’m sure there was an effort.
And think about the fact that is so hard to know if you pronounced it correctly because there’s no one there to correct you.
Yet again, it sounds natural and to some extent, even you, the viewer, have the feeling that you understand it (the Aramaic that is, when they speak Latin it comes naturally to me).
When Caiaphas yells at Pilat that he’s not a friend of the Kaiser and the entire auditorium reflects the sound, you can only agree that this was the right choice. It doesn’t have the same power in English.
It was a bald move for Mel Gibson, and from this, we found out that he is way more than an actor, more than Mad Max, or Martin Riggs (Lethal Weapon) – or at least as I knew him before. Believe it or not, I saw Braveheart a couple of years after its release.
Later edit: the name, The Passion, has a totally different meaning in my language. For passions, we use a different word with a totally different meaning (it can actually have 2 meanings, literally and spiritually). English seems limited in some instances.
Another later edit: how many movies in a different language than English are screened in North American theatres? Even today (writing this in 2021).
You can see it from the trailer.
And later on, we saw the influence it had on cinematography.
300 was the first movie that was inspired by that (and by inspired I mean that a movie with an image like that can be made and be successful, as we all know that the inspiration for the movie was the graphic novel).
The Passion Of The Christ creates a spiritual atmosphere from the beginning.
Mel Gibson used an international crew (it might have something to do with the budget, but still was a great approach) and he had people from all over: Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas. I also believe that he used actors from Romania, Bulgaria, Middle-East, etc because of the different facial expressions they have, which could come more naturally to them as opposed to Anglo-Saxons, that we’re used to. Obviously, this is just a theory, and again, Jesus is played by Jim Caviezel, and you don’t get more AS than him.
Italy is the provider for the image, as he told from the beginning to his DOP crew, that what he wanted to transmit must have something inspired by Caravaggio, a famous middle ages Italian painter.
He also had a series of paintings about Christ as a reference, mostly from the passion scenes. If you look at the poster, see the movie and do some Caravaggio search on Google you will understand what I’m talking about.
I’m sure it’s not easy to do it and we have to thank Mr. Gibson for having the courage (and the money) to make this happen.
You can listen to it for free here and yes, you are present from the start.
The movie has music accompanying the image in a proportion of 90%. Something unseen in most movies, and probably something you don’t realize when you’re watching.
It’s traditional music, African – Mediterranean sound (some might think it’s Arabic, and it is because it’s from the same source).
From the beginning, after the credits, the music amplifies the atmosphere. You get caught in the action from the first frames with the first sounds.
It does blend with the image that he wants to transmit and throughout the entire movie, makes the suspension it needs to make you a part of it, adding that the image rolling, for the most part of the film, is in slow motion.
That’s because of a special technique used when shooting, more than the standard 24 frames, that gives the movie the effect.
The Passion Of The Christ is an example, something to be studied in film schools (and it probably is).
And when you think about the fact that Mel Gibson took into consideration not having any music at all…
I wouldn’t say this is not for everyone to watch. Everyone should watch (at one point in their lifetime). The torture reflects perfectly the reality of someone who was accused in those ancient times. Historically, it’s accurate.
In my opinion, the problem stands on not that these were happening back then, but because they still happen today. Quite present, if we look at how some families treat their members.
I can’t get an image out of my mind I’ve seen it not more than 4 or 5 years ago: some Ukrainian soldiers crucifying a Russian one. Then they set the cross on fire and left the scene.
I feel like mentioning here also the rituals that take place in the Philippines each year. Volunteers crucify themselves in order to bring prosperity in their lives or showing gratitude towards God by replicating (some of) his Passions. This is highly debatable. I can understand the process of thinking like that, but every spiritual belief must be within.
The mystery behind some scenes and some elements he used in the movie. Like the Eye colour of Jesus that changes in some moments. Or how well portraying is the Gospel scene when Christ sweated blood. Something that’s human-like and happens under a great amount of stress.
It is a scene, a flashback from the past, where Jesus was making a table for a rich man (he was a carpenter).
The scene stuck with me for some time. It was trying to show how the relationship with His mother was and the human part of Jesus. But I know that Mel Gibson was trying to say more than a flashback about the Mother-Son relationship.
Back then, people used to eat from the ground. That was the habit and it still is today in some cultures. The table was high, and at first, Mary thought you will need to stand on your feet to eat. But Jesus explained that the seats will be taller too. He didn’t make them yet.
But He also Represents the New Law. The old one (represented by the fact that people used to eat from the ground) to the new one, for Rich man, not made yet. Took me some time to figure that out. Or better yet said, only after spiritual discovery and reading and getting more knowledge I came to this conclusion.
This movie is fiction. It is spiritual and it’s based on true facts. But it does let place for the imagination of its director. And he does a wonderful job, event at the trial scene, where he constructs the scenario like in real life, where they do try to give Him the presumption of innocence until He proves His guilt. And they ask questions, but in the end, is only one that needs to be answered to be condemned.
Remember Mersault, in Camus’s The Stranger, trialled for murder but accused of not grieving his mother’s death. Obviously, this is not a comparison, it’s just a reminder since I recently read that Mersault was awarded the most impactful murder “trial” in literature.
And, again, about Peter (us), who is witnessing everything but yet does nothing. Like us I say because we are witnessing wrong things and do nothing about it, starting from the climate change and our habits – use less water, recycle – to the relationship we have with people around us – family, friends, and how we are not giving them the attention needed. And deny it, more than 3 times.
It’s not like we don’t love them.
After the trial began, Judas was almost innocent in his trying to redeem Jesus from the hands of his accusers and return the money. Werry well represented by Mel Gibson, who showed us that once the evil is inside us, we see the evil in everything – in this case, in small kids. Judas hangs himself, as opposed to Peter, who repented himself and asked for forgiveness when he betrayed Jesus when he said he doesn’t know this Man. The exegetes have interpreted Juda’s suicide as a trick for his soul to be redeemed from hell, knowing that Jesus was about to enter shortly to take some souls back into heaven, thus fulfilling the scriptures.
This movie is a masterpiece. One favourite scene is when Christ, carrying his cross, falls to the ground, but shortly takes his cross on the back. Mary comes to attend to her Son, masterfully portrayed by Mel Gibson with a flashback to when Jesus was a child and he fell on some stairs, and His mother came to the rescue.
After the flashback, looking into His mother’s eyes, Jesus says:
Look mother, I’m changing everything.
I’m having goosebumps just from my memory.
It’s close to 20 years already since the movie was released and there’s talk about a sequel from the same production team. I’m probably not the only one looking forward to it.
It’s not easy to make such a movie, that people like myself keep re-watching it every year. Nevertheless, only thinking about the ending, when Christ is Risen, that He came to save our souls. Our souls. He came to save something that we don’t seem to care about that much these days…
Why are we so afraid anymore? When Christ has conquered death for us.