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Passion: Intense, Violent, Inspiring
By Sister Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.


THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (A-3, R): In the growing darkness with the moon rising, Jesus (Jim Caviezel) prays in a garden. Judas (Luca Lionello) points Jesus out to the Jewish Temple guards, who then arrest Jesus. Simon Peter (Francesco De Vito) defends Jesus by cutting off the ear of the Jewish high priestís servant (Roberto Bestazzoni). A snake twists through the dirt under the feet of an ethereal, evil-looking creature (Rosalinda Celentano) who looks like a woman and speaks like a man. The soldiers take Jesus away: His passion, his suffering, the last 12 hours of his life have begun.

Jesus is severely beaten by the Jewish guards and brought before the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naomov Shopov), who condemns him to death by crucifixion. Pilateís wife (Claudia Gerini) brings Mary cloths to absorb Jesusí spilled blood. Along the way to Calvary, Jesus is followed by his mother (Maia Morgenstern), Mary Magdalene (Monica Bellucci) and John (Hristo Jivkov).

Controversy surrounds Mel Gibsonís The Passion of the Christ. Charges range from the film being anti-Semitic to the possibility of it causing an anti-Semitic backlash. While viewers need to remember that Jesusí followers were Jews, the brutality of the Jewish guards at the beginning of the film is appalling.

Prior to the filmís formal release on Ash Wednesday, much of the discussion came from people who had not seen the film. Because Jesus generates so much emotion among believers and nonbelievers alike, any depiction of him will generate an intense response.

I believe Gibsonís The Passion belongs to the horror genre, in which a story unfolds about chaos, the absence of personal control and a confrontation with fear and loss. The horror-film formula allows a viewer to work vicariously through an experience of chaos and loss and, ultimately, arrive at some resolution. Gibson uses many cinematic horror elements to convey these emotions, such as the waning moon and the crow that pecks out an eye of the thief who hangs next to Jesus.

Mel Gibson stated at a screening I attended last summer (and recently in an interview with Diane Sawyer on ABCís Primetime) that he made The Passion because ď12 years ago my life was in chaos.Ē Making this film about Jesusí love and sacrifice for all of humanity helped Gibson reorder his life. But I donít think he conveys that same successful reordering enough to give all viewers a satisfying, empathetic experience.

Even within the protocols of the horror-genre formula, The Passion is far too visually brutal and extreme. After almost 110 years of cinema history, the contemporary viewer knows how to read a biblical film. Neither do we need to see a lengthy scourging at the pillar, nor do we need to see Jesus fall six or seven times on the way of the cross to understand what is happening.

The four Gospels are not nearly as intense or graphic as Gibsonís film. Each of the Gospels leaves room to imagine, ponder and reflect on the meaning of Jesusí suffering. But this film leaves nothing to the imagination. After a few moments, Gibsonís depiction becomes so excessive that his artistic vision blurs. It is difficult to integrate a literal reenactment of Christís passion with an artistic vision when the filmís focus is so heavily upon the physical brutality.

I believe Jesus to be both true God and true man. But as a viewer of Gibsonís film, I found it impossible to accept that a true man would have lived through the intense scourging reenacted here.

A believer wants to feel pity and grief over Jesusí suffering, knowing that it reflects his sacrifice for all humankind. Instead, the protracted and atrocious beatings in the film repelled me.

Gibsonís vision does not answer questions about the suffering of Jesus, other than to demonstrate to excess that his suffering was brutal. There is no sense of what Gibson wants us to feel except what he has said in interviews: He wants us to feel the love of Jesusí sacrifice for us. How much suffering does it take for God to show his love for us?

I am grateful for the most realistic, credible and beautiful depiction of Mary that I have ever seen in a movie. I found the flashbacks to Jesusí early life with his mother emotionally engaging.

Gibsonís decision to employ subtitles helped create the impression that we are witnessing something that happened long ago and far away. Unfortunately, the continuity that the film works hard to develop is disrupted in the scene in which Jesus speaks in Latin to Pilate, something a first-century Palestinian Jew would never have done.

As one Protestant minister reminded us at the screening, we are not Christians because of the passion and death of Jesus, but because of the resurrection.

We should talk about the movie to explore what Jesus means to us. Because I have multiple sclerosis, the film challenges me to explore what Jesusí suffering means to me day by day.

This is not a film for young children because it is truly witnessing a graphic execution. I suggest that parents see the film first and then, if appropriate, accompany older children. Another alternative is to wait until the film is on DVD/video and watch it as a family so parents can use the pause button and discuss what is happening.

I believe The Passion will have a unique place in the long tradition of Jesus films produced since cinema was invented. Intense graphic violence.

MIRACLE (A-2, PG): Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) is married to Patty (Patricia Clarkson) and the father of two young children. Herb is selected to coach the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. He remembers when he was cut from the Olympic squad in 1960.

His dream team includes college men from Minnesota, Massachusetts and Wisconsin. When rivalries erupt, Herb shouts, ďThe name on the front of your jersey is more important than the one on your back.Ē

Herbís plan is to keep himself distant from the team emotionally so that through his tough coaching he can unite the players into Team USA. (The film is dedicated to Herb Brooks, who died in a car accident shortly after principal photography was finished.)

The film recreates the game so well you forget you knew that Team USA beat the Soviet team in the semifinal round and went on to win the Olympic gold against Finland at Lake Placid, New York, in 1980.

We can only speculate what Miracle might mean today if this kind of athletic contest were played by a culturally diverse team of Americans and a team, say, from the Middle East. Some sports action; satisfying inspirational story about a determined man who created a great team against the historical backdrop of major world events.

50 FIRST DATES (A-3, PG-13): Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) is a veterinarian in Hawaii who dates a different woman every night and then forgets them. He is attracted to Lucy (Drew Barrymore) when he sees her sitting alone at a diner.

The proprietor, Sue (Amy Hill), and the cook, Nick (Nephi Pomaikai Brown), are protective of Lucy, who was in an accident and lost her short-term memory. Her father, Marlin (Blake Clark), and her steroid-high brother, Doug (Sean Astin), also look after her.

With aspects of Groundhog Day, Henry has to find new ways to make Lucy fall in love with him every day.

Henry explores the ethics of a relationship with a woman who cannot remember him. On the downside are his rather sleazy best friend Ula (Rob Schneider), the typical body-parts jokes and the normalizing of drug use through humor. Though Sandler and Barrymore are appealing, the improbable plot, the usual casual sex and predictable adolescent humor are just not my cup of tea.

REBA (WB, Fridays): Country singer Reba McEntire is Reba Hart, divorced from Brock, her dentist husband of 20 years. He lives nearby with his rather clueless younger second wife, Barbara Jean. Wry, wise and funny McEntire is at the center of this sitcom about suburban dysfunction.

ONE TREE HILL (WB, Tuesdays): This ongoing saga is about two half-brothers (played by Chad Michael Murray and James Lafferty) who end up on the same high school basketball team. In addition, there are three girls who love them and five middle-aged adults in their lives (one played by Moira Kelly). This is formulaic, well-heeled, middle-class, white, soft soap. Nevertheless, it provides many social and moral issues worth talking about.


OSAMA (not rated yet, PG-13): This gritty drama focuses on a young Afghani girl dressed like a boy so she can make money for her family during the reign of the Taliban. How on earth did the U.S. government ever support this regime? Mature themes; brilliant filmmaking that will break your heart.

MONSTER (L, R): Charlize Theron is remarkable as Aileen Carol Wuornos, Americaís first documented female serial killer. The harrowing film, based on her true story, evokes our empathy and charity for abused and abandoned children who grow up trying to fulfill their once-innocent dreams the wrong way. Problematic content; explicit sexuality and violence.

21 GRAMS (L, R): The lives of two men and a woman intersect in life-and-death situations. Sean Penn, Naomi Watts and Benicio Del Toro give top-notch performances, but the nonlinear storytelling and ambiguous morality are difficult to watch and appreciate. Problematic content.

A-1 General patronage
A-2 Adults and adolescents
A-3 Adults
L Limited adult audience
O Morally offensive

USCCB Movie Review Line: 1-800-311-4222,

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