FROM protests against the mere principle of a Hollywood adaptation of the final hours of the life of Jesus Christ to securing the approval of the Catholic Church, perhaps no movie has been more shrouded in controversy than Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”
The movie premiered in Costa Rica last Thursday to a packed theater of more than 500 viewers – including President Abel Pacheco and Archbishop of San José Hugo Barrantes – at Cine Magaly in San José.
The film, directed by Gibson, is not the first to take on the story of Christ, however, it is perhaps the first to make such an effort to strive for meticulous accuracy. With a majority of dialogue coming verbatim from the Bible, the entire picture is filmed in Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew.
Depicting the last 12 hours of Christ’s life, the film portrays the betrayal, torture and crucifixion of the man believed by Christians to be the Son of God. Beginning on Holy Thursday (the night of the last supper), the film chronicles those final hours in a linear narrative, using occasional flashbacks to bring in key scenes of Christ’s life, including the last supper, his preaching to followers and Palm Sunday.
BEFORE the screening, Barrantes said the message of the film has great importance.
“In this age of terrorism and violence Christ brings us the solution to all problems,” he said. “This message (of Christ’s life) is very pertinent in today’s society, ‘that it is with love that we can create a better world.’”
After the screening (close to 11 p.m.), a panel of four priests along with the Archbishop, convened to reflect on the film briefly and field questions from the audience.
The panel agreed that the historical and biblical accuracy of the film was faithful to the story of Christ’s last days as described in the Bible.
Those extremely familiar with the story will notice scenes have been added, including several interactions between Jesus and his mother that illustrate their strong bond. There are also scenes in which Satan is directly present as a representation of temptation and evil. The clerics said these scenes help fill in areas of the story where details are absent in the Bible. Of these additions, the majority are based upon Biblical passages.
THE panel addressed one of the primary controversies surrounding the film – its portrayal of the Jewish people, which has been interpreted by some within the Jewish community as anti-Semitic.
“The only thing I ask is that we do not take the ‘The Passion of the Christ’ as being anti-Semitic,” said Father Randall Soto. “The Jews that condemned Christ were few, not all, and in no moment is it said that those few represented all of Israel.”
When asked later about his feelings on the film, Rabbi Isaac Gustavo Azar said he felt the film was biased, anti-Semetic and did not present the truth.
“In my opinion, the picture is very bad,” Azar said. “It’s very bloody and it only gives a partial view of the last 12 hours of Christ’s life.”
“The visual is very strong against the Jewish people,” he continued. “The idea should be about the truth and show all sides, but this film doesn’t.”
AZAR described direct scenes from the film that he says are contradictory to the truth, including the idea that Jewish leaders would have the power to demand Pontius Pilot punish Christ and that crucifixion was not a part of Jewish law.
During the panel, Father Hugo Munguia spoke about the power of the film, saying several scenes should be recognized for the emotion they provoke and messages they convey.
He cited among these moments Jesus’ second fall, a scene not directly from the Bible, where Jesus says to Mary, “See, I make all things new.” The combination of the love and pain shown in that interaction make it incredibly moving, he said.
Munguia also noted the resurrection of Christ, which is subtly done, a scene just before the film’s end in which an anguished Satan cries out from hell because the prophecy has been fulfilled, and a scene depicting the destruction of evil.
The brutal violence in the film has also been a topic of discussion. Scenes vividly depict torture, including the beating of Christ by temple and Roman soldiers, the tearing of Christ’s flesh when being flogged by a cat-o’-nine tails and graphic imagery of the nailing of Christ’s hands and feet to the cross. The panel addressed this, noting that was how punishment was given out in that time and while violent and disturbing, it is not something created by Hollywood.
Following the discussion, the floor was opened to questions, however the crowd was relatively silent with only one question being posed regarding historical accuracy.
WHILE viewers may not have had many questions for the panel, amongst the murmur of those leaving the theater it seemed the film moved a majority of the audience. Several theater-goers said the film was extremely well done.
“It showed how it really was,” said Adriana Rivero of the film. While admitting that it was graphic, she echoed the panel, saying “It’s known history that this was how the Romans exercised the law. It’s not something that the directors or the producers or anyone else invented.”
Ana Hidalgo also praised the film, saying it was moving and powerful – exposing the audience to a reality they have never seen in movies before.
“People are not used to a film like this, because no movie has ever shown something like this so accurately,” she said. “At parts we almost can’t deal with the suffering of Christ because it is so great. We have never seen anything so real until now.”
Santiago Velez said people should be aware it is a very intense film before viewing.
“There are many things you have to understand, as some scenes and images are very strong,” he said.
The Passion of the Christ opens today. See The Tico Times movie listings for times and theaters.