Don't get me wrong. It was well made, well acted, and surprisingly easy to follow for a movie in subtitles. But I didn't find it all that entertaining, as the plot is basically Jesus getting turned into the authorities after the Last Supper and then him being beat for the next hour and a half until he dies on the cross. The point of the movie seems to be nothing more than to graphically show that Jesus took a lot of abuse before he died.
I consulted Ebert to see what he thought.
The movie is 126 minutes long, and I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned specifically and graphically with the details of the torture and death of Jesus. This is the most violent film I have ever seen.Yep.
I prefer to evaluate a film on the basis of what it intends to do, not on what I think it should have done. It is clear that Mel Gibson wanted to make graphic and inescapable the price that Jesus paid (as Christians believe) when he died for our sins.
The point Gibson seems to be making is that "this is what Jesus went through for you." If I set aside my skepticism that Jesus existed (that's a story for another post) and except the story on its face then where does it stand? It stands as a tale of an individual who suffered an unfair injustice for the sake of others. That's admirable, but it's not exceptionable. And besides, the emphasis in the movie is not the sacrifice, but the suffering. To see what I'm futilely trying to express, imagine if someone made a movie about a Jewish father who sacrificed himself to the Nazis so that his daughter might escape and spent 90% of the movie showing the father being tortured to death. The emphasis is in the wrong place.
The one part of the movie that I did find somewhat moving was when Jesus prayed that his tormentors be forgiven because "they know not what they do." But here Jesus is at odds with his belief/endorsement of the idea that unless one believes in him one will spend eternity in Hell.
I just fail to see the spiritual message. I find something like Jean Valjean's death at the end of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables do be far more spiritual, not to mention humanistic.
But let me provide a more religious specific example, an episode of Little House on the Prarie guest starring Johhny Cash. In the episode, Reverend Alden becomes sick while traveling and has to stop at a poor man's house to recover. The house is owned by Johhny Cash's character and his wife (played by June Cash). The Rev. tells them that he is on his way back to Walnut Grove to collect donations to take to another town, but he is so sick that he passes into delerium.
Johhny Cash hatches a plot to take the Rev's clothes and go to Walnut Grove to pose as the Rev's colleague and collect the donations to take to the other town. Once he gets the donations, he plans to steal them.
In the process of posing as a Reverend, Cash is forced to peform the duties of a Reverend. He befriends Mary Ingles, comforts an old widow who has lost the will to live, and councils a young girl whose puppy has just died. Along the way, the kindness of the town, the realization that he finds joy in helping others, and the guilt he feels over the thought of betraying Mary Ingles trust causes him to develop a conscience which won't allow him to pull the trigger on the theft.
At the end, Cash is standing before the town's gathered congregation when Reverend Alden, fully recovered and fully briefed by Cash's remorseful wife about their plan, storms in and announces he has something to say. Cash is afraid the reverend is going to denounce him as a thief, yet he doesn't. He praises him for his efforts to raise the money and for his work in the town.
Cash and his wife leave the town feeling happier than they've ever felt in their life.
That is a message worth emphasizing, and it doesn't require watching someone being beat to death to get it across.