I Saw The Passion

So I was at a private screening at Icon Productions yesterday, and got to see a rough cut of The Passion. There were about twelve people in the room, including Mel Gibson, his producing partner Steve and four or five other Icon staffers. After the screening, we talked to Mel and friends for about an hour. (As cool as that was, the quality of the film was such that the celebrity stuff was completely gone from the moment. I can't explain it really, except that it would be like standing in the Sistine Chapel next to, well, someone like Mel Gibson. Great art is a great leveler….)

The rough cut we saw obviously didn't have the final score or special effects, and there were many more sub-titles than they will have in the finished film.

So, here's my take…

The Passion is a stunning work of art. It is a devout, act of worship from Mel and his collaborators – in the way that Handel's Messiah and Notre Dame were artistic acts of worship in previous times.

Let's get the controversy out of the way right at the top. The film is faithful to the Gospel, particularly St. John. It is no more anti-Semitic than is the Gospel. There are at least two members of the Sanhedrin who come forward to protest on Jesus' behalf during the sham trial. The Romans are just as guilty of cruelty and hatred against Jesus in the film. And best of all is a final look right into the camera of Mary, holding her dead Son. She is looking at all of us with a kind of, “Look what you've done”/This is for you” expression. A cinematic Pieta worthy of Michelangelo.

Having seen the film now, I can only marvel that the attacks are pretty much demonic. Hopefully, the devil will end up spitefully biting his own tail on this one &#0151 as he does in The Passion by inciting on the executioners of Christ, and thus being complicit in his own ultimate defeat. The Passion is high art. It is the greatest movie about Jesus ever made. In the discussion following the film, Mel and co. were asking us how mainstream theater audiences would react to the film. I told them, “Who cares? What you have here is so much more than just a product to sell. It will live forever, regardless of whether it is a commercial success for you or not.”

For those of us who love Jesus, The Passion is devastating to watch. It is so good, I almost couldn't stand it. There is one moment on the way of the cross sequence, in which the whole tragedy unfolding devolves into a vicious riot of hatred between Romans and Jews with the Savior on the ground in the middle of it getting it from both sides. It was so frenzied and terrible, I wanted to run from the room. But then the film again finds Mary, Jesus's Mother, on the sidelines, and her presence gets us through it. Kind of like how Mary's presence helped Jesus get through it, it seemed to me.

The film is lovingly Marian. Mary is perfectly portrayed here. She is contrasted repeatedly with the really super-creepy Satan character, who is also a woman (something for the feminist theologians here? heh heh…).

The film is strongly Eucharistic. There is a beautiful juxtaposition of images that cuts from the stripping on Calvary to the unwrapping of the bread to be used at the last Supper. Fabulous stuff.

Every Christian needs to see this film at least once. Just to remember, in our current comfort zones while evil is closing in, the price that was paid for us. On my way home from the screening, I found myself praying in the car, “Jesus, I'm so sorry, I forgot…” How many films have led you to compunction lately? The Passion is a miracle.

Editor's Note from Tom Allen: I also had the privilege of seeing The Passion with Mel and co. the following day. I fully endorse Barbara's comments and hasten to add my belief that this film will be a powerful evangelizing vehicle not just for Catholics, but for Protestants and non-believers as well. As one prominent Protestant pastor in my group exclaimed at the conclusion of the film, “This movie places Christ back on our bare cross!” Please keep Mel and his team in your prayers during these months leading up to the film's release, asking God to protect them from the slings and arrows headed their way. And ask our Blessed Mother to intercede on their behalf and ensure that they receive the strength they'll need to carry the weighty cross they've freely and generously taken up. Finally, prepare to support this film by turning out your friends and family for its historic opening at Easter 2004!

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Barbara Nicolosi teaches screenwriting to aspiring Catholic writers at the acclaimed Act One: Writing for Hollywood. You may email her at [email protected].

To purchase the book Mel based the screenplay on, click here.

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