Sunday, March 07, 2004

I thought the Passion was a powerful film -- but in a very disturbed and violent way. The camera lingered lovingly on every injury that Jesus suffered. I think that this film would have a seriously negative impact upon children who viewed it -- personally, I think it should have gotten an NC-17 rating for violence. The one really positive note in the film was the love depicted between Mary and Jesus, and this demonstrated the essentially Catholic nature of the film, since devotion to Mary is a very important strain in Catholicism, but not in Protestantism. I am curious to know what the Evangelical audience made of this devotion.

The priests are dressed up in ridiculous regalia that to my eye did not resemble what Exodus describes as priestly garb (it is described in this week's Torah portion, Tezaveh). The camera lingers on their bearded faces, many with the stereotypical Jewish hooked nose.

In an early scene in the Temple (at least I think it was there -- it was pretty unclear where a lot of the initial action occurred after the arrest of Jesus), it showed Jesus being led through the crowd, with people shouting at him in hatred. This is the scene where one really sees stereotypical depictions of Jews akin to those in medieval paintings -- they look demonic, with noses larger and more hooked than would be possible in a human being, with evil faces. They look like figures out of a Hieronymous Bosch painting.

Jesus appears before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, twice (following the gospel of John). After his first appearance before Pilate he is scourged (a scene of pornographic brutality, as Andrew Sullivan has noted), and then he is led out before Pilate again. As many people have commented in reviews, the film portrays Pilate as a sympathetic figure (even more sympathetic than his appearances in the Gospels). He is shown agonizing over the decision to crucify Jesus, and it is Caiaphas, the high priest, who manipulates him into that decision by threatening a revolt against Rome -- a scene that does not exist in any of the Gospels, of course. It is ludicrous to suggest that Pilate, known for his cruelty and brutality, would have been manipulated by one of his own native appointees (the high priests were appointed by Rome from among the high priestly families).

In this scene first Caiaphas, and then the priests and crowd at large shout out "crucify him!" This line is translated from Aramaic in the subtitles. The crowd also shouts out in Aramaic, "his blood be on us and on our children!" (taken from Matthew 27:25), but the line is left untranslated. I was listening for this line and heard it among the Aramaic cries of "crucify him!" Of course, not very many people know Aramaic -- but it seems to me that this translated line could be added in again if the film is shown in other cries, or when it is released as a DVD. This is one of the scenes that I think truly could foster renewed anti-semitism.

At the end, right after the crucifixion, there is what appears to be an earthquake, and in a quick cut to the Temple we see the floor splitting in two and priests falling into the crevasse. This is a scene not found in the Gospels. In Luke 23:45, it states that "the curtain of the Temple was torn in two" (see also Mark 15:38 and Matthew 27:51).

A note on the languages -- according to the colleague I saw the film with (who teaches Latin), the Latin was distinctly Italian-accented and occasionally became pure Italian. The actors seemed to me to speak the Latin much more fluently than the Aramaic, which they spoke very slowly and sometimes haltingly (making it easier for me to understand). There was a ludicrous scene when Pilate questioned Jesus in Aramaic -- I think it very unlikely that he would have spoken Aramaic, and it's much more likely that they both would have spoken Greek, as many have commented.


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