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
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.
(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,
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
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
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.