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  • Writer's pictureDon Walker

The Passion of the Christ (Movie Review)

I watched the movie, The Passion of the Christ" once again last evening. I believe this was my third time seeing it. I originally saw it when it was released in the theaters in 2004. Some of the comments in today's blog are from a review I wrote then.

Allow me to begin by making the disclaimer that I am not a film critic. What I am writing is not intended to venture into that realm. I am a student of the Bible, church history, and theology. And I have viewed the movie. On the basis of these qualifications I speak.

At the onset I want to say that I found the film visually stunning and emotionally stirring. It was a cinematic depiction of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, depicting the suffering Messiah as our propitiation for sin. That is the intent of this movie, it is not intended to be a portrayal of the life of Jesus.

To a degree the movie is in my opinion very Roman Catholic. That is not intended so much as a criticism as it is an observation. To many viewers this may not be apparent. You must recognize that this is the work of Mel Gibson, who is a Traditionalist (Pre-Vatican II) Roman Catholic. Though the Gospels form the foundational story line of the movie there are numerous scenes that are outside of the biblical narrative. These are not “Hollywood-manufactured” for the most part. Rather they are based on the visions of the Catholic nun, mystic, and visionary Anne Catherine Emmerich. She was a German nun living in the early 1800’s, who had many visions of the crucifixion. Her book The Dolorous Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ, which details her visions, form the basis for some of the characters such as Pilate’s wife Claudia Procles, Seraphia or Veronica, and the Roman centurion known as Abenadarb. The scene involving the wiping up of the blood by Mary and Mary Magdalene after the flagellation came from these visions, as does the scene with Jesus thrown over the bridge after His arrest in the garden. The depiction of the frenzied beating of Jesus by the Roman soldiers, and the instruments they used, is straight out of Emmerich’s vision of the event. Herod being depicted as effeminate comes from Emmerich. The scene with Veronica comforting Jesus on the way to Calvary, and the cloth placed upon His face, which then bore His image derives from the visions. Numerous other details here and there in the movie can be found in Emmerich’s book and to a lesser degree in the recorded visions of the Spanish nun, Mary of Agreda, who lived, in the 17th century.

Visions are a subjective matter, in contrast to the Bible being objective. I believe that God can, and on occasion does, grant visions today. (Of course, if the people receiving these visions are part of our “group” they are more likely to be from God. If they are from someone outside of our circle they are probably from the devil.) I am not trying to pass judgment here on Anne Catherine Emmerich’s visions; I am simply making you aware of where some of the material in this movie originated.

Another aspect of the film that cannot be overlooked is the role of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is depicted as sharing in the suffering of Christ in a special kind of way. This is rooted in the concept of Mary as "Co-Redemptrix" - meaning that she shares in some way in Christ's redemptive suffering. Though this is not Roman Catholic dogma, it is a concept that has received support within the R.C. Church, in particular during the Middle Ages, but has once again emerged as a issue for debate.

I was impressed with much of the symbolic imagery employed in the movie. I particularly liked the “crushing of the head of the serpent” in the garden (Gen. 3:15).

I must admit that the only thing that was troublesome to me in the movie was the lack of time spent on the Resurrection. It was probably a total of 30 seconds. Again, I see this as a result of the Roman Catholic perspective underlying this film. Protestants place the emphasis on the Resurrection (our crosses are empty), while Catholics place the emphasis on the Passion (deriving from the Latin word “passus” meaning “having suffered”), hence their crucifixes have Jesus still hanging on the cross. (For those of you who have traveled outside of the U.S., in particular to Latin America, and visited a Catholic Church, you know this is a very pronounced emphasis in their brand of Catholicism.) Both of these aspects are important, the suffering of Christ on the cross and the Resurrection. The Resurrection validates the crucifixion, giving Christ’s death the Father’s “stamp of approval.”

It is reported that there is a sequel in the works entitled "The Resurrection of the Christ."

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