Horrific brutality may not be the best teacher

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2005

I purchased a tape of the movie &uot;The Passion of the Christ&uot; months ago but was reluctant to watch it alone because of the comments made about the brutality and bloody scenes by some of my friends who did see it.

Now Mel Gibson, director and producer, has released another version of the movie that reached theaters the first week in March. It is said to be toned down from the first one, with six fewer minutes of the brutality being shown in the crucifixion scene.

In the meantime, I finally decided that I would get the nerve to view the original one to find out why movie critics warned that if you are squeamish or faint-hearted it would be best not to view it.

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Some news media reported that a few people experienced miraculous healing while a couple also suffered heart attacks. Therefore to make sure that I wouldn’t suffer the latter, I invited a good friend, Charles Gray, over to watch it with me since we had already gone to see &uot;Coach Carter&uot; and &uot;Constantine&uot; together and he had expressed the desire to see

&uot;Passion&uot; next.

We saw it last Thursday and I can only say that I admire those who could sit in a theater to view it on the big screen with no escape from the brutality unless you left the theatre altogether. Luckily I could go into any part of the house if I needed to take a break or just turn the tube off.

Gibson explained his desire to make the movie as realistic as possible, so my first negative reaction was that the entire dialogue was in Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin and if you couldn’t read the English version at the bottom of the screen fast enough, you missed out on what was going on.

A New York Times Review of the movie in February 2004, explained what the production was all about by stating that it relentlessly focused on the savagery of Jesus’ final 12 hours and seemed to arise less from love than from wrath and that Gibson tried to succeed more in assaulting the spirit than in uplifting it.

Also, the original movie is about Jesus being tortured and killed in graphic, lingering detail after he is taken into custody. I stress the word lingering because no one told me that the entire 127 minutes of the movie included a continuous beating of Christ, so much to the point that I was wishing that the Romans would hurry up and crucify Him to relieve Him of the beatings.

During the brutality He was cuffed, kicked, flogged with stiff canes, and beaten with leather whips and whipped with sharp stones and glass shards. If you wanted to read the dialogue at the bottom of the screen, you couldn’t avoid the bloody and torn view of Jesus’ body. If you wanted to cover your eyes, you couldn’t avoid the terrible sound of the whip against His body. That is when I took an escape to go into the kitchen to get popcorn, stopped in my tracks and said to myself, who can eat popcorn with the view on the screen?

Scenes that I thought would show Jesus performing miracles and preaching to people were only included in short flashbacks during the beatings.

After Christ was beaten and falling all the way to Calvary where he died on the cross, the eruption in the weather began and temples were destroyed. The final scene showed a shadow only of the tomb stone being removed, Jesus’s face and a hand with the hole where He was nailed to the cross and a short glimpse of the white robe as He walked out of the tomb, then a totally dark screen indicating the end of the movie. I would have liked to have seen further scenes of Him talking to the women who returned to the grave after He had risen and some disciples before he ascended to his Father in Heaven. After showing scenes of horrific brutality, I don’t think that this would have been too much to ask for.

Other than children, the squeamish and faint-hearted I wouldn’t recommend this movie to the illiterate and those who are not familiar with the chapters that include Jesus suffering and dying on the cross. An unsaved person may wonder how could a loving God allow His son to suffer so much cruelty. In case you want to read about the crucifixion before you view the movie, portions of the story are found in the chapters of Luke 19:29-44, Matthew 21:1-46, Mark 12:13-44 and John 18:1-18.

However, if there is only going to be six minutes of brutality cut from the crucifixion scene in the new version, and if the story is still going not going to be in English, I will stick only to watching the Sunday School homilies that are designed to soothe an audience rather than terrifying or inflaming it, and to get the true meaning about why Christ suffered and died for our sins.

Evelyn Wall is a retired News-Herald reporter and regular columnist.