Those intrepid group bloggers over at National Review’s The Corner have been blogging on their reactions to The Passion. There are times that I envy others their ability to describe their feelings succinctly and clearly. To wit:
1) It’s an excellent movie, a masterpiece of craft. 2) It’s hard to imagine that it will lead to many conversions to Christianity, because it focuses very intensely on the human suffering of Jesus (as opposed to his Divine/human glory)-and can thus be seen relatively easily as a graphic documentary of a human-rights atrocity, of the kind that has been all too common in every period of human history. An agnostic, an atheist, or a non-Christian religious believer can view this film as chiefly a description of man’s inhumanity to man. (Of course, the Spirit blows as it wills; conversions have in fact arisen from stranger circumstances than these.) 3) For me, as a Christian believer, what came through most vividly in the film was the disfiguring nature of sin. The Romans beat Jesus to a bloody, shredded pulp-barely recognizable as a human person. Many movies with torture scenes focus on the nobility of the sufferer; not this one. The Romans themselves, as they beat him, have their faces contorted with jeering glee at his suffering. I thought, looking at both him and them, that this is not how God created us, not what he intended us to be and to look like. This is the result of sin. 4) The film makes abundantly clear that great evils are often perpetrated in the name of good. The priests of the Temple are portrayed as defenders of religious tradition and the established social order. They think they are waging a culture war against a social and religious subversive; so they “do not,” in fact, “know what they do” in killing the Messiah. 5) The best performance in the film is not by the excellent Jim Caviezel, but by Maia Morgenstern as Jesus’ mother. What Caviezel’s Jesus suffers in the flesh-aided by very realistic makeup–Morgenstern’s Blessed Mother suffers in her soul, and shows, heartbreakingly, in voice, expression, and gesture.
I saw it yesterday, and was deeply moved. I’ll have a column about it in tomorrow’s Dallas Morning News. But a few things here: 1) the intensity of this film blasts away the standard bourgeois American domesticated Jesus we get from too many pulpits today; it’s impossible to come out of this movie and to remain satisfied with the faith as it is lived in much of America, and even in your own life; 2) I was startled by how much empathy I had for Caiaphas and Pilate; echoing Mike’s comments, the movie made me see that both of them reacted very humanly to the “problem” of Jesus: if I were a temple priest, and I’d had to listen to this preacher going around calling me and my kind hypocrites, and then had him right in front of me claiming to be the Messiah, I’d surely see him as an outrageous blasphemer; if I were Pilate, a colonial bureaucrat who just wanted to keep the peace and avoid trouble, why wouldn’t I have given this innocent stranger over to die, if it made my life easier? Like Mike said, the religious and political authorities just wanted to defend order — and lots of us contemporary conservatives understand the impulse.
Which is all to say that this film made me understand in my bones that if I had been there, I probably would have wanted to crucify him too. And, as the Church teaches, in some mystical way, I did.