The Passion of the Christ

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Opening in February 2004. Let me say right out that this is, for me, the most profound and true movie ever made about Jesus Christ. “true” because it captures what no other Christ movie has in regard to his suffering. And it is Christ’s suffering that is the essence of atonement for sins. It focuses on the “Passion” of suffering that Christ had to experience in his last 12 hours on earth. The reason why I believe this is so crucial to its greatness is because the depth of the suffering is a reflection of the power of the redemption. The verse that is shown at the beginning of the movie says it all and sets the context for understanding everything that follows. Isaiah 53:5 “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities, by his stripes we are healed.” This movie is about understanding just what that means. So it starts with the Garden of Gethsemane and ends with the Resurrection. Well, let me tell you. All I can say, is “it’s about time.” It’s about time someone captured the meaning of Christ’s suffering and death in a dramatic way that touches the soul beyond words. I think of all the other films about Jesus, and how they all include his doctrinal teaching along with a third act about his death and resurrection. Well, that is good and I’ve liked them all in one way or another, but for movies, I have to say that the preaching part can get a little preachy and drawn out. The teachings of Christ are just not as suited to visual dramatic storytelling. Not that there’s not a place for them. But what the Passion of Christ does is capture the essence of his teachings through a visceral experience. I wrote in my article about “Jesus in the Movies” that all Jesus movies tend to reflect the era they are made in, the prevailing zeitgeist. So, the first Jesus movies, made more in an era of belief, tended to emphasize his deity, and the later movies, made in an era of skepticism tended to emphasize his humanity or worse, make him out to be sinful. The Passion is brilliant in that it is a postmodern experience of Christ. It is gritty and realistic in its portrayal of what Christ suffered — I mean what he really suffered. Very human, very Existential. All other Jesus movies are revisionist candy coated schmaltz compared to this one. But that is good for this generation. This pomo GenY yada yada generation speaks with gritty, in your face attitude. REALITY, baby, that’s what we want. Well we get REALITY all right, we get it all, from the flesh ripping scourging to the actual nails pounded into the hands (most movies cut away at the pounding, but Gibson does not) Rather than focusing on the didactic teaching as a modernist movie would have done, The Passion has almost none of the teaching and goes straight for the gut. It captures the experience of Christ for people. This is not to say that rational teaching is not appropriate, but merely that Mr. Gibson is achieving a communication of the Gospel of redemption in a way that transcends other Jesus movies and meets the postmodern where he is at. I almost believe his original intent to not have subtitles would work, the images are that central to the story. Of course, I am thankful that he did have subtitles, because truth be told, I do believe that words fill out what image cannot. Image without word is incomplete. So the balance between word and image here is astounding and profound. EVERYONE MUST GO SEE THIS MOVIE.

Radio

Highly Recommended. This wonderful little sentimental heart-tugging true story stars Cuba Gooding Jr. as the real life James “Radio” Robert Kennedy. He’s a mentally handicapped young kid who is taken under the wing of a high school football coach played by Ed Harris in a small South Carolina town. It’s a story about what really matters in life (second most), loving your neighbor. Cuba is so good you forget you’re watching Cuba. The story is a bit weak and episodic, but it doesn’t hurt it that much because the characters are so compelling and the heart of this story rings so true. One complaint: They set up a problem with Ed Harris’ family, his daughter in particular, because he spends more time with Radio than his own daughter. She starts to get a bit perturbed at it. But then they don’t really pay it off. They never really resolve this issue. It just disappears. I can only imagine how deep and powerful this story could have been had the love of one’s neighbor been rooted in the grace of the foremost commandment, the love for God.

Beyond Borders

Not Recommended. This was a potentially great idea ruined by Romanticism. It follows the path of Sarah, played by Angelina Jolie as a married woman in the English high society who awakens to the true plight of the third world one day when an activist doctor, played by Clive Owen, crashes a high falutin dinner party that is raising money for such projects. He brings a real kid who is really suffering and chastises everyone for their fraudulent “help” because the plug is being pulled on his project and lives are going to be lost. SO Sarah is inspired and gets involved in relief work. She travels around the world to the Sudan, Cambodia and eventually, Chechnya to help the suffering in the midst of political and military upheaval. Of course, she meets Clive, the doctor and they fall in love, but do nothing because she is married. The Romanticism of this movie lies in making Angelina stay with her husband for the sake of her child, even though he is an adulterer. But as she gets more involved in her work, she keeps seeing Clive and eventually falls for him. They consummate (read: fornicate), but realize they can never be together because they are in different worlds and can neither of them leave their own world for the other. So they are doomed to seeing each other every few years in different lands. This sets up the Romantic notion that doing the right thing versus following your passion leads to tragedy. Angelina and Clive are created as characters of true love and passion and connection who cannot be together because she stays with her family. Her husband’s adultery becomes the pragmatic justification for her embracing her adultery. Hey, after all, they weren’t really in love anyway, right? And hey, he’s an adulterer too, so there! This movie reminds me of the despicable Bridges of Madison County, that justified Meryl Streep’s character in her adultery as the only true experience of love and passion in her life. And even though she stayed with her husband, even though she “did the right thing,” she treasured her adultery all her life as the one true experience of life and love from which she thrived. Rather than work out the issues and grow to love her lifelong partner LIKE AN ADULT, no, she had to follow illicit passions and treasure those experiences of lust as love. What a selfish child, if you ask me. At least in Beyond Borders, her husband was an adulterer. In Bridges, the husband wasn’t even half bad. Well, same story in Beyond Borders. They even have a tragic ending where Angelina gives her life to save her lover so he can be with the baby that resulted from their union. Very epic and melancholic sadness. Great acting, good emotional writing and storytelling. It’s all very epic feeling and grand, and a compelling story. Unfortunately, it is immoral Romanticism.