The Passion of the Christ Retro Talk; Grade: B-
Updated: Apr 27, 2020
Well Hello Hello again, welcome back to another edition of Retro Talk! Since it's Easter tomorrow, my original plan was to discuss this film for this weeks retro talk. But since In the Soup was so fascinating and unheard of, that NEEDED to be discussed... I figure we might as well discuss both of these films for this weeks Retro Talk.
History lesson: On February 25th 2004, Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ released worldwide in theaters in front of 3,000+ screens. For 16 consecutive years... It has been crowned the highest grossing Rated R film of all time domestically... That's insane. In the 1st week it debuted at 125 million at the box office during it's five day of release, a whopping 83 mill for the weekend debuting at number one in the box office. Not only an impressive debut, but most religious films back then and even today don't even achieve this amount of money through it's entire theatrical run. Passion of the Christ went on to be number one movie in the box office for two more weeks in a row, totaling at 264 million. The film finally gets dethroned by Zack Synder's remake of Dawn of the Dead, edging out Passion of the Christ by 7 million. Passion of the Christ would later on become number one in the box office again during Easter Sunday. The film went on to make 106 million more dollars before it ended it's theatrical run with a total of 370 million dollars domestic value... For a film that had a 30 million dollar budget... An incredible achievement. The only Rated R films that have came close to dethroning Passion of the Christ were Clint Eastwood's American Sniper, whom grossed 350 million at the box office. Recently Todd Phillips' Joker came close as well to dethrone Passion of the Christ, grossing at 335 million. How long will Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ hold on to this domestic box office record for a Rated R film?! Honestly: I think it could go on longer for another five more years at least.
The film was awarded three Oscar nominations including Best Cinematography, Original Score, and Best Makeup... All well deserved, especially the makeup. For many years I've been curious about Passion of the Christ, a film my mother warned me about that I couldn't handle watching this film. Well on a late quarantined night on Thursday and on a Thursday afternoon... I finally have seen Passion of the Christ. 49% of critics liked this film including a 4 star rating from Roger Ebert, while 51% don't like it. After seeing this film I can understand both sides, even though my grading is positive, I do have differences with this film.
Passion of the Christ is simply described as Jesus' (Jim Caviezel) final hours before his crucifixion. Majority of the complaints I have for Passion of the Christ, have to involve with the beginning and the way it's presented. One thing I really couldn't stand about the beginning, is the fact this film attempts horror including a jump scare in which a ghost figure appears... I was honestly scared for this film's path the rest of the way. It was so unnecessary, like why even have that in this film?! I don't get the decision making behind it, but I thank God it was never shown again.. Which now I'm questioning, why have it if it's never shown again later on?! What is with the jump scares in the beginning?! You take that ghost special effect figure and those annoying jump scares away, this movie gets a better reception I guarantee it. The beginning also has over the top slow mo scenes, in which I was honestly bored with. I think in the third act the slow mo scenes were better in execution, but in the beginning it felt too Hollywood for me, as it just bored me. I also felt the beginning felt a bit rushed, I understand the synopsis of this film, but it jumps to the final hours of Jesus' life as I'm supposed to know a great amount of information before this occurrence. The film shows some flash backs of his life, which most films do this method, so the audience can learn more about our lead partaking in this event. But even some of these flashbacks weren't much help, other than Jesus wanted to build a table. This is where Passion of the Christ becomes a hit or miss for audiences: It relies heavy on style over substance. A fair amount of complaints I have for Passion of the Christ is it barely has much substance. Which in the beginning becomes a problem: You know little of Jesus, but not enough to where the film can be followed closely. Lucky it picks up in the middle and end, but could've been improved in the beginning. Also the hooded woman/man... Was it really needed?! It could be relating to sin or a fallen angel trying to convince Jesus otherwise, but I felt it was misused as it's just a random figure that shows up every now and then, as it just stares at Jesus, then screams at the end when defeated... Eh. I think Mel Gibson should've done what Martin Scorsese did in Last Temptation of Christ, as you can actually explore a character like this further is making it intriguing, instead of doing absolutely nothing with it. While I do have indifferences with Passion of the Christ, it is a film worth giving much respect towards, as it does what Mel Gibson intended to do.
The moral purpose of Passion of the Christ, is to deliver a brutal accurate portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus. Does Mel Gibson deliver the moral purpose of his vision?! I believe he has, what I can respect from Mel Gibson is the fact he didn't shy away of what the crucifixion was really like. In earlier films, we typically see Jesus getting his hands nailed to a cross. You can understand past film makers not attempting to show the true brutal nature, due to the fact it's quite disturbing. For Mel Gibson and even others: The way Hollywood portrays it feels a bit misleading. I remember a religious song lyric back in my youth, hearing the words, "I'll never know, how much it cost, to see my sin upon that cross." When you hear those lyrics and see these past portrayals of this important moment, you are mislead because any ignorant soul can say, "Huh, well I can do that. Doesn't look that painful." Which you may disagree with them, but you see how past films have portrayed it and think you know... I can understand their point of view. That's why I feel Mel Gibson wanted to make a honestly brutal portrayal, that'll leave many audience quite disturbed, to the point where not only will it make them uncomfortable... But to show them just how much Jesus sacrifice for us. Now when you hear the lyrics again and see this film, you understand that no human being will be willing to make that brutal sacrifice for us. This film never lets up on the brutal gore violence displayed on screen, it's extremely terrifying, disturbing, gets under your skin, to the point where you can never honestly watch this film again. As mentioned earlier: The film relies heavy on style over substance, Mel Gibson is just delivering a heart aching experience. For some I can understand why the film doesn't appeal to them, however I think Mel Gibson does achieve what he is going for. The style portion could've been improved in some ways, would like to see more of an arthouse approach, although for how it's presented.. It improves in the middle and end.
Introducing new characters, that provides some solid emotional moments. Like I felt most of the emotional moments in the third act really lifted this film up, where it needed to be. The flashback sequence in the third act as well, during the last supper was much better. You can say the finale though heart breaking, yet delivered a strong conclusion to the story. The film is well shot, has lovely costume design, excellent makeup, solid Score, a solid cast all around, and despite my differences... I can say it's an daring experience, not many could attempt nor pull off, however Gibson did just that. I think what Mel Gibson wanted to do other than the accurate portrayal, is to show how much Jesus means to people. He's not some figure that got his hands nailed to a cross and died, he's the son of God that sacrifice his own life for our own well being. That's why many take faith and religion very seriously, with a film like this... Many shall understand the true dedication people have for the love of Jesus.
Overall, Passion of the Christ though I have my differences, however is a solid brutal experience. I recommend checking this film out once, especially if you're uncertain or confused why faith is important to people then definitely check it out. Couple questions come to mind after seeing this film. Will I ever see Passion of the Christ again?! I don't think so, if it was on the quality level of Silence and The Last Temptation of Christ that is worth exploring further, then sure. However some differences and the brutal nature make it difficult worth seeking it again, so more than likely not. Do I think this film is worth the domestic Rated R record?! You know I like Joker and American Sniper more, but I will say: I'm stunned this film has the record. I mean for a film like this and it's nature... I have a great amount of respect for movie goers back then. Seeking out something new and with a not so high budget?! I hope these movie goers come back after this quarantine is over, because man we need more like them that seek and try new things for the first time. Well Happy Easter everyone, hope everyone has a blessed holiday, thank you all for reading! I had a great time discussing these films with you, until next week on Retro Talk! -Mitch Smietana