The Passion of the Christ - Passion or Compassion?

Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, Agnostic, Atheist or any other cult, class, creed or persuasion there can be no doubt about the profound effect Jesus of Nazareth has had on the world.   Jesus was of course Jewish a basic fact not commonly know amongst the masses.  His teachings were in the main based on Old Testament (the Jewish bible) principles.  I could go on for many pages on that subject alone but I do not want to dwell on religious theology and in any case I am no expert. 

However I could not attempt to review this movie without some brief explanation of the controversy surrounding it.  The movie has been compared to a passion play and has been criticized as anti-Semitic.  The main difference between Judaism and Christianity is that Jews do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  Jews believe that the Messiah will soon come and Christians believe that he has been and will return.

  Jews were called Christ killers and slaughtered and abused throughout the ages using this as justification.  Despite this there has been much reconciliation between Jew and Christians in the last century.  The Blood Libel one of the worst anti-Semitic myths and slurs, whilst now officially refuted by the Catholic Church, is still widely stated over the Internet and in publications.  

After watching this movie I cannot agree that it is anti-Semitic nor can I see in it, any anti-Semitic agenda.  It closely follows history, as we know it and the Gospel.  Those who would be inclined to be anti-Semitic will not find anything new in this movie to motivate them to

greater anti-Semitism and indeed they need no such encouragement. I also doubt that it will convert anyone to anti-Semitism.  That is not what the movie is about. 

Wednesday night saw the release of "The Passion of the Christ" onto some 4500 screens in more than 3000 theatres across the country, an unusually large release for a religious movie with sub-titles.  $10M! Yes ten million dollars worth of tickets alone were purchased by a Church organization as giveaways and this movie promises to be a huge blockbuster.  The take was $23.6M on the opening day a huge sum for a religious movie.  It is well on its way to take over 100M, almost

double what the 1959 Roman-Christian movie "Ben Hur" and the 1956 movie "The 10 Commandments" returned.

The theater I attended on Wednesday for the opening night was packed to capacity at 10:15 PM and the audience was a very mixed age group.  I even spotted someone wheeling a stroller but I did not see the baby.   I sensed an eerie silence as the movie began but this void was soon filled with the movie's messianic type music.  The languages spoken in the movie are Latin and Aramaic, an ancient Hebrew.  Despite the subtitles I was quickly and easily led into this story and gripped by the graphic scenes depicting the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus in Israel some 2000 years ago.

This movie is all about telling the "greatest story" ever told and portraying it in a historically accurate and authentic manner.  It makes a great statement about movie making in all its facets with engaging scenes amongst the most vivid and riveting I have ever seen.   Indeed I warn the 'faint hearted' that this movie is not for them.   It is without a doubt violent and I grant that this was deliberate and necessary for the movie to be realistic.  There are graphic scenes of Jesus being flogged and flayed by the Romans as depicted by the Gospel and being continuously beaten as he carried his cross along the Via Delarosa.  Mel Gibson's movie emphasized this Roman Barbarism in full Technicolor with ferocious and bloody lengthy scenes.  Some of the audience covered their faces and others turned away from the screen.  Despite this the audience remained calm and virtually silent.  The audience were only

given moments of temporary relief to the almost total indifference to human suffering of the Roman soldiers by the clever interspersing of flash backs and the questioning look on some of the faces of the odd Roman soldier or disciple.  My mind switched momentarily to thoughts of the Nazis treatment of Jews and others in the extermination camps and recent pictures of barbaric acts by Moslem fanatics in the Middle East.  I make a clear distinction here from most Moslems I know who are good compassionate people.  Despite the graphically violent scenes somehow love, compassion and a sense of reverence envelopes the movie making it more palatable. This movie is certainly thought provoking and I've no doubt that you will be mindful of it for quite some time after you leave the theater.

In the main the audience was riveted to the screen.  I myself was totally engrossed right from the beginning.  I could hear one or two people sobbing occasionally but there were relatively few gasps.  I guess everyone else, as with me, was held virtually spellbound.  The audience applauded at the end of the movie something that is not usual save at a Premier although this was an opening night.

Mel Gibson his cast and entire crew are to be congratulated for their first class job in producing this movie.  In general religious movies do not do well.  The foreign languages in this epic movie were spoken effortlessly and naturally by the actors and actresses. This again gave the movie a more real and authentic feel.  I hardly noticed the subtitles after a while and no doubt this was due to their clarity at the bottom of the screen and the colorful scenes which held me in the story.

This movie is powerful, realistic and extremely moving and one is left with a sense of awe at mans inhumanity to man.  Compassion and understanding of each other is the lesson that is clear.  The words of a verse of a poem my mother wrote some years ago about the Holocaust kept resounding in my head as I left the theater in the pouring rain. (What's that they say about the sun shining on the righteous?)

'There's all kind of crazy killing,
In this strife torn World today.
To work at peace all must be willing,
Mankind must strive to find a way.'

This movie is a must for everyone of R - Rated movie going age.  It may well do much more in bringing people together in dialogue, reconciliation and compassion for their fellow beings rather than causing derision. It is a touching portrayal of a slot in time of our ancient past which for ever changed our world.

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