Film — The Passion Recut (NR)

The Passion Recut (NR)

by Amy Diaz

Mel Gibson goes back for a second helping of cash with the re-release of his The Passion of the Christ, which has been recut to make it shorter and slightly less violent.

The Passion of the Christ, released near the last week in February of last year, has made about $371 million so far. However, when it was originally released it carried an R rating and contained scenes of rather remarkable violence. Quentin Tarantino-level violence — only not as cool or as funny. As a result, there may be a few teens or more squeamish members of the Christian-movie-watching audience who decided to pass the film up.

In an attempt to capture some of those movie dollars, the Recut version has lost about seven minutes, most of that in the scenes where Jesus is being scourged with a multi-pronged whip featuring tiny daggers. Now I am not a person who as a rule opposes gratuitous violence. Many movies need squirting blood and over-the-top fighting scenes in order to even register as entertainment. But in the case of The Passion the violence, which I’m guessing was put in to give us a sense of the extreme suffering and sacrifice of Jesus, was just kind of hokey and stagy. And, a serious no-no for a movie like this, a little campy. The scenes did not make me think about the great love which Jesus had for all humanity; it made me think about the great amount of stage blood which Mel Gibson had on set. It made me think about some of the cheesy filmmaking tricks used in other sections of the movie (including, but not limited to, several very lame scenes involving the devil, a few scenes involving people with demon faces or demon faces that appear in the dark, some smothering-by-score that takes place at the end of the movie, etc.)

Minus some of the more pornographic scenes of violence The Passion regains a little of its gravitas. On second viewing, and without the we-get-it-already repetition, a few surprising things stand out. There are a few flashbacks involving Jesus and his mother that are interesting. They are essentially imaginings by Gibson (who also helped write the screenplay) about what the “normal” parts of Jesus’ life might have been like — the parts where he skinned his knee as a kid or worked on furniture as an adult. Also, antithetically, the decrease of the amount of on-screen violence increases the impact of it and — again, perhaps because it does not obscure the movie with a kind of amateurishness — decreases what had previously seemed like a very sympathetic read of the Romans’ role in the crucifixion.  

I also found myself paying a lot more attention to the use of language in the movie. The dialog itself is extremely flat — little of the sometimes poetic biblical language makes it to this retelling. But the use of Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin to tell this story is, on a word-geek level, pretty cool. I tried to follow the change in language — when did Pontius Pilate speak in Latin and when did he switch to the local language (and was that language Aramaic or Hebrew, I personally couldn’t tell as the Jewish priests seemed to speak both depending on the location of the conversation). Sure, you can pick at the inaccuracies (might some of the Roman soldiers have been speaking Greek, as I’ve heard some linguists say?) but when else can you go to the movies and learn the Aramaic word for table (something on the order of “B’LuOKHeA”)?

The Passion of the Christ is still a frustrating movie that you’ll view through whatever your personal religious bent is. Personally, my desire is for more context — I want to see a fuller picture of the passion play. But that’s the movie I want to see, not the movie Gibson was looking to make.

As it is, The Passion of the Christ is cinematic proof that less is in fact more.

- Amy Diaz

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