Mel Gibson's masterful rendering of The Passion of the Christ is not a popcorn movie. Try tossing fluffy kernels into your mouth, and your hand will freeze midway. Your mouth won't close. Your teeth won't chew. Your throat won't swallow. The very light and airy nature of this typical movie-going snack cannot compete with the gritty substance of The Passion.
By no means a "feel good" movie, The Passion nonetheless makes you feel—in a most powerful way which works for good. Troubles in your own life shrink in proportion as you focus on the One who redeemed us, who shed His innocent blood to pay our colossal debt—a debt which too many of us are ignorant of. Now that Gibson has brought Christ's passion to life so that we may experience the ultimate, sacrificial death (in the convenient space of a mere two hours), those who wish to avoid the film's impact rationalize their stance by saying the film is too graphic. Yet difficult as it is to watch, this is a film to be received with reverence, wonder, and thankfulness. Gibson should be commended for his courage to show it like it was, in all its dark and grisly details. Moreover, his having made such a movie available to the world is a stunning accomplishment in itself. Modern media has been used in ways so horrendously harmful to faith and morals, that it is bittersweet justice to see this movie used as a tool of God.
The Passion is an intense paradox of divine proportions. How can a movie so graphically disturbing be refreshing and encouraging? The fact that it is so disturbing tells us something. In our own thoughts of Christ's life, we all too easily breeze by the painful parts, or else sugar-coat them so that they're palatable. But in doing this, we're in danger of minimizing the greatest act of love. How can we ponder upon the way Christ brings so much goodness out of evil if we refuse to recognize the evil? Christ assures us as He labors under the weight of the cross, "I make all things new." This applies not only to His mutilated body, but to our sin-stained souls.
Only by moving past personal prejudices to realize Gibson doesn't mean this film to be a celebration of gore, but as a means to expose the very vile nature of sin, can the viewer hope to understand why such suffering is essential. During the scourging, the soldiers delight in the spray of blood, the way many of us delight in our sins, failing to see their truly foul nature. Likewise, our moral carelessness is contrasted to Mary's tender, meticulous devotion as she mops up her Son's precious blood. As the movie progresses, every gruesome act is balanced by remarkable moments of mercy and love, such as Christ embracing the cross, Veronica wiping His face, and Mary kissing her Son's bloody feet. We respond not only to the sorrow, but to the goodness, truth, and courage. If Christ can bear all this for us, His love knows no bounds. Faith is bolstered, hope is enkindled, and life takes on new meaning.
As "Catholic" means "universal," so is this film. While working on multiple levels, it speaks to us all, no matter that the language is foreign. The subtitles, far from being distracting, appear naturally, while the use of Aramaic and Latin increase the sense of historical authenticity. What viewer could sit through this heart-wrenching drama unmoved? Voice tone, facial expressions, and actions all speak to the heart with a universal language of love, pain, and forgiveness. Ruthless acts are interspersed with skillful flashback scenes of touching proportions. The relationship of Mary and Jesus brings home to us a very human, personal aspect.
"It's just too disturbing," people still protest as an excuse to avoid the experience that may force them to alter their lives. We're fortunate Christ didn't take such an outlook when it came to saving us, for it's due to this extremely disturbing nature that forgiveness was merited and the gates of heaven were opened to us. At Christ's death, this realization is what makes the devil unleash his hellish shriek. If Christ had the courage to carry the cross and die for us, surely we can find the courage to sit back in cushy seats and behold this courage. Christ suffered excruciatingly; the least we can do is make ourselves aware of it. In this way, perhaps we can begin to appreciate just how much He suffered.
It is an understatement to say that The Passion demands your full attention. Christ endures such severe savagery from the soldiers; indeed, He invites more torture by his unwavering submission to the will of His father. Your eyes remain riveted to the screen, though forced to avert their gaze at particularly excruciating moments. Unlike the devil's unyielding black eyes, we don't delight in these brutal images. The goodness in us flinches at every whiplash. So powerful are the images portrayed—such as the sweating of blood in the garden of Gethsemane, the horrifying scourging, the forcing on of the crown of thorns—that those who have never meditated—indeed, who barely know the meaning of the word—will find themselves doing so; while others who have attempted this contemplative form of prayer will discover just how far short they have fallen from envisioning the real passion.
Conditioned by the world to avoid pain, it is all to easy to flit over Christ's sufferings briefly, even casually, as we minimize them in our imagination. This movie changes that. Faced with the stark, soul-shaking reality, one must embrace it, lest he flee like Judas, driven to despair. Only by embracing the truth can one discover the depths of supernatural beauty and love concealed in Christ's sufferings. You find yourself thinking, Christ did so much, suffered so much for me . . . What can I do for him? In contrast to the worldly attitude of, "What can I get?", the viewer now asks, "What can I give?" Like Simon who was forced to help carry the cross, we may protest at first. But then, having come so close to Christ, a holy allegiance is formed so that we will endure anything for Him—because we are with Him, and He gives us strength. And when the journey is accomplished, we do not want to leave Christ's side.
Yes, The Passion is a disturbing movie, but in a most beneficial way. It rocks mellow Christians out of a comfort zone of passive, sketchy views of the passion. So skip the popcorn, take courage, and watch The Passion. If you can bear it, you will be rewarded with the final triumph—made all the more triumphant because it is not final at all, but a glorious victory for all eternity.
The film ends, but it is not the end. Christ offers this triumph of salvation to us all—if we'll only pick up our cross and follow Him.
Therese Heckenkamp, a traditional Catholic, is the 22-year-old author of Past Suspicion, a suspense novel with a Christian slant. Her other writing credits can be found on www.pastsuspicion.com.