The Passion of the Christ: a Review of Mel Gibson's Movie
by Rich Deem


If I were to describe Mel Gibson's Movie, The Passion of the Christ, in one word, that word would be "intense." The movie, The Passion, is the most emotionally intense movie I have ever seen. If you are like me, you will experience fear, disgust, surprise, and shock. You will also spend much of the movie crying - even if you are like me - one of those unemotional science-types.

Is the movie faithful to the gospels?

The movie begins in the garden of Gethsemane. Satan makes his appearance early, and plays a much larger role than that portrayed in the gospels themselves. Even so, Gibson's literal fulfillment of Genesis 3:15 is quite striking.1 The cinematography is exceptional, but disappears through the intensity of the drama portrayed. The dialog is spoken in the original languages of the time - Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew - with English subtitles. Although the movie "officially" covers only the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus, viewers get a more complete picture of Jesus' ministry and purpose - His passion - through flashbacks. For the Christian, the flashbacks are familiar stories from the New Testament that present the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ. Those unfamiliar with the New Testament may get somewhat lost during a some of the flashbacks. So, if you take a non-Christian to the movie, ask him if he had any questions about parts of the movie. A summary of the scenes, characters, and flashbacks and their significance can be found at Movie Guide for The Passion- Questions and Answers.

The scourging scene is the most emotional and most difficult to watch. Mel Gibson portrays the sadistic evil of the Roman penalizers in gruesome detail. The scene will make shivers run up and down your spine. At the end, there was blood everywhere. Even the religious leaders who wanted Jesus executed looked horrified at the degree of Roman cruelty. One often sees some sort of disclaimer to the effect that no animals were injured in the making of a movie. It would seem that this movie should have had a disclaimer about no actors being injured in the making of The Passion of The Christ.

Although Mel Gibson is a conservative Roman Catholic, The Passion of the Christ is quite true to the gospel narrative, with little added tradition (with the exception of the wife of Pontius Pilate, and some other minor additions). The dialogue is almost word for word from the gospels themselves. Mel Gibson has done an excellent job integrating the four gospels into one coherent storyline that flows from beginning to end.

Is The Passion of the Christ anti-Semitic? No! If anything, one would have to say that the film is anti-Roman. For more details, see Anti-Semitism in Mel Gibson's Movie The Passion?

Is the violence in the movie faithful to history?

A number of years ago, a medical doctor wrote an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association on the physical death of Jesus Christ.2 The article examined the historical practices of the Romans regarding crucifixion. All the practices mentioned in the gospels were confirmed through the historical information available. Therefore, the violence, although extreme, is most likely an accurate portrayal of first century Roman criminal "justice."

Who should see this movie?

I would recommend that every adult Christian see the movie, The Passion of the Christ. The movie brings the death of Jesus from the safe pages of scripture and theology to the reality of life. All the sanitized movies about Jesus and His death pale in comparison to the reality of the actual events, which are brought forth in vivid realism in The Passion. The movie isn't easy to watch, but it will move you profoundly. When I watched the movie, the entire theater was absolutely silent at the end of the movie - one could hear the sound of air moving through the ventilation system. The Passion will give you a better appreciation of the real cost of redemption paid by God's Son.

Passion of the Christ DVDShould non-Christians or atheists see the movie? Having been an agnostic for many years before becoming a Christian, I would say that I would probably have gone to see the movie even as an agnostic to see what all the fuss was about. Even if you don't believe in Jesus, the movie has some redeeming aspects for you. The cinematography is excellent, along with the sets, costumes, music, etc. However, even if you think you can handle the violence, you will be disturbed by it. I have corresponded with some atheists who have seen the movie, and they were so disturbed by the violence that they missed much of the storyline. It is almost impossible not to become emotionally involved with the characters. If you are a non-believer and go to see the movie, e-mail me to let me know what you thought of the movie.

The movie is not suitable for young children. There were some children in the theater, who were terrified and crying during the movie. Don't take your young children to see it. In addition, unless they are excellent readers, they will miss much of the story because of the subtitles. Teenage children might be able to watch, if they are sufficiently mature. We are debating about taking our eldest son, 12-year old, Matthew, but will probably buy the video and show it to him later.

References Top of page

  1. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel." (Genesis 3:15)
  2. Edwards, W.D., W.J. Gabel, and F.E. Hosmer. 1986. On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ. JAMA 255:1455-1463.

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Last Modified August 15, 2004


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