An interesting film experience to be sure. Shall I enumerate the film's successes first?
1.) Caleb Deschanel's cinematography. It's been said that Mel Gibson asked him to make the film look and feel like a Caravaggio painting. Mission well accomplished. Deschanel's shots of the Last Supper and of Gethsemane render a cinematic interpretation of chiaroscuro. I was--and still am!--most impressed.
2.) The casting of the movie's main characters. James Caviezel is great. Even better, though, are Maia Morgenstern (The Virgin Mary), Francesco De Vito (Peter), Jarreth J. Merz (a Jewish Simon of Cyrene), and Hristo Jivkov (John). These three were, for me, the emotional barometers in the film. Morgenstern is simply fantastic. I can't say anything more. De Vito's rendering of Peter's grief over denying Jesus was raw, real. It literally made me cry. Merz intelligently utilised and developed the character he was given in the limited amount of screen time he had. And Jivkov's John--sweet, innocent with a quiet, otherworldly strength--the apostle John as I envisioned him.
3.) The film is indeed moving; however, I'm still not sure if the film is genuinely moving, or if I was moved because of my personal beliefs...
The film is, after all, seriously flawed.
In particular, the following things are problematic:
1.) The Romans. By and large, the Romans are not people, but ridiculous caricatures. They are SO ridiculous that their involvement can be discredited. And this is a HUGE problem in light of the debate about whether The Passion of the Christ is anti-Semitic or not. The more I consider it, the more I think this film ISN'T anti-Semitic (after all, as it has been pointed out, most of the film's sympathetic figures are indeed Jewish. The Romans are the unrelenting, blood-thirsty sadists); however, it is dangerous that Gibson makes it easy to discount the Roman involvement. Downright irresponsible, actually. Not everyone who sees this film is going to look at it critically. There will be some who take this film as fact. And for those people The Passion of the Christ, while not inherently anti-Semitic, could incite anti-Semitism. And this, of course, is a MASSIVE problem!;
2.) The obnoxious slow-motion bits in the Gethsemane sequence;
3.) Barrabas and Herod. More ridiculous caricatures;
4.) The violence. Yes, crucifixion still remains one of the cruelest, most brutal forms of death. However, I must agree with those who have noted that the film is almost a pornographic depiction of violence. It has been said, too, that Gibson "fetishizes" the violence. Shots that focus on a cane or whip ripping a square of flesh, or a nail driving into a hand take the focus away from the whole person. The focus is on the body part, not on the person to whom violence is being done. This is the crux of fetishization: it glorifies a part instead of a whole. A serious flaw for a film that aims, as Gibson has been keen to note, to put a human face on the Passion;
5.) The inaccuracies (historical and Biblical.) If you're going to claim that this film is faithful to the Gospels, you must not embellish! If you want to give your own artistic spin, Mel, DON'T CLAIM THAT THIS FILM IS GOSPEL TRUTH!; and
6.) The symbol a la Gibson. Gibson ignores some of the story's inherent symbolism (ie. the number three. True, he does have a Mary-Mary-John triumvirate at the foot of the cross, but he neglects other threes. In particular, Gibson ignores the fact that Jesus falls three times while carrying His cross to Golgotha. I counted five falls in this film [six, if you count the fact that Gibson has Caviezel collapse at the procession's end]). Now, this MIGHT have been excusable had Gibson not decided to insert some of his own symbolism (ie. Judas' guilty conscience represented as a crowd of demonic-looking children, Satan carrying a baby who looks strangely like Pilate, the crow on the cross of the unbelieving thief, and Satan screaming in Hell). Each time Gibson inserts one of these little flourishes, the effect is heavy-handed, jarring. Ridiculous. It wrecks the mood. Not very intelligent filmmaking, if you ask me.
And, on that note, I leave you the wonderful Jon Stewart's thoughts on how Mel Gibson has been suffering for his art:
"Yes, it's a courageous move releasing a pro-Jesus film in America.... Very, unusually bold. Somewhere, I believe, Salman Rushdie is playing the world's tiniest sitar just for Mel."