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PCR # 205  (Vol. 5, No. 9)  This edition is for the week of February 23--29, 2004.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"The Passion of the Christ"

Movie review by:
Nolan B. Canova
Both Zero (0) stars & Four stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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Icon Productions and Newmarket Films     
Starring: Jim Caviezel, Monica Belluci, Maia Morgenstern and Hristo Shapov
Directed by: Mel Gibson
Rated: R
Running Time: 2 hours 7 mins

If you don't know the Bible story, this could contain what you might call "spoilers." --N

First of all, I encourage everyone to read Mike Smith's review before you read this one to get a more balanced sense of what this movie is about and the formidable array of talent it contains. Unfortunately, this was entirely lost on me as I spent an extremely uncomfortable two hours-plus trying not to vomit. Then spent most of the rest of the night screaming at my poor friends and confidants (thank you for putting up with me Terence, George, and Rev. Wallace) over what an emotional wreck I'd become because of a stinkin' movie!

In my opinion, The Passion of the Christ is a 30-million dollar snuff flick with religious overtones, and at that it succeeded on every count. Tremendous job. Anyone missing the drive-in "barf bag" horror movies of the '60s and '70s will love this...maybe. Those were actually more entertaining, though, so maybe you wouldn't. What you will not find is anything educational and meaningful about Christianity's beginnings except that it was birthed in extreme violence.

Mel has assumed we all know the Christ story well enough to depict only the last 12 hours of Christ's life (I could swear it's a little more than that with all the traveling they do, but whatever..). What Mel felt he wanted to present, which no one else has, is the degree of punishment Christ was made to endure through to the end. This is the focus of the movie forsaking all else.

Catholics, either currently practicing or not, will recognize The Stations of The Cross, I know I did. Director Mel Gibson, an outspoken advocate of "traditional Catholicism" (i.,e., pre-Second Vatican Council of the '60s) certainly adhered to Catholic dogma. Really bought me back.

We hit the familiar stage marks in by-the-number fashion right from the beginning, starting with the agony in the Garden ("Can you not stay awake one hour with me?"), to Judas's betrayal with a kiss. Jesus is arrested by Roman guards and that's about the last time we see Jesus not a bloody mess.

It appears the Jewish leaders were very offended that he claimed to be the Messiah, so he is arrested, pre-beaten up, and brought before Pontious Pilate on charges of blasphemy. Pilate is confused what all the fuss is about, doesn't quite buy the Jews' argument that Jesus is some kind of political threat, but must act somehow to quell a possible uprising. Every time Jesus is led away, the Roman soldiers whip him mercilessly. Scourgings, beatings, followed by more scourgings, followed by more beatings. Pilate refuses to decide the case and remands Jesus to King Herod. Herod, finding Christ dazed and confused, unable to answer questions coherently writes him off as a bum or a fool and sends him back to Pilate. Pilate decides to make a show of punishment, but still does not capitulate to the new demand, which is crucifiction. (The Jews do not have a death penalty, so they want Rome to do it. At this point I can see why current Jewish leaders are in a bit of a snit over how shallow and cruel their ancestors are portrayed.)

Nothing.....nothing...will prepare you for what happens next. Left to their own devices, sadistic Roman guards gleefully beat Jesus, who is tied to a stump of some kind, to within an inch of his life, with a variety of large, torturous flogging instruments. This goes on and on until you cannot believe anyone could survive that without going into shock and early death within minutes. There are several big guards, all working brutally until exhaustion. (Once scene catches that special whip with the hooks that actually rip bits of flesh out.) Then you know what? Now that Jesus's back and legs are an unrecognizable bloody pulp, the head guy orders him turned over and they resume! This continues until another Roman guard orders them to stop under orders from Pilate. They need to keep him alive for crucifiction, after all.

Next morning, we resume the Stations of the Cross. Pilate washes his hands of the man's blood and the execution begins. Made to carry his own cross, Jesus, now outfitted with the crown of thorns, falls three times on the way to Calvary--he is whipped every time he falls. Finally, obviously unable to continue, a stranger is drafted to help him carry the cross. He is not named, but I happen to remember it was Simon of Cyrene. Later, a kindly young woman leaps from the crowd to wipe the blood and sweat from Jesus' face with her veil. She was not named, but I remember her name was Veronica. Legend has it that cloth still exists somewhere in Europe with Jesus's image still burned into it.

I'll spare you the gory details of the crucifiction itself, but it shouldn't be a leap of imagination to figure it's among the worst scenes to watch. (Yes, the "thieves" he was crucified with all recite their lines from Scripture on cue.) Mary, his mother, and Mary Magdelene, his main squeeze, are both present (though they are two-dimensional characters throughout like nearly everyone else, save for Pilate and Christ himself). The Resurrection is hinted at near the very end.

It's hard to call these "spoilers" unless you've never heard the Bible story. This is the Bible according to Mel. Hope that it's an exaggeration of the way it was.

P.S. All my religious buddies who normally fret over my Atheism want to know if I was "saved" while watching this movie. They feel my disgust and are gleeful at my "redemption". Nothing could be further from the truth, with one exception: most Atheists agree someone like Jesus roamed the earth (altho he wasn't supernatural, nor Hollywood handsome like Jim Caviezel) and whether he was the Messiah of the Jews or not is not even an issue. If the real-life figure went through anything CLOSE to this torture for something he believed in so deeply, he is more than worthy of the role of changing the history of the planet.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give The Passion of the Christ both  Three and a half stars for savagery, violence, and extremely disturbing scenes of torture featuring horrifically graphic make-up effects by Greg Canom; and ZERO (0) stars for entertainment value or religious enlightenment.

This week's movie review of "The Passion of the Christ" is ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2004, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2004 by Nolan B. Canova.