March 10, 2004 (STAR) By Raphael Lazo - How does one begin to write about a movie that shows in larger-than-life, living color the bloody suffering of a man? How does one react to the sight of men lashing away with glee at a helpless man, blood splattering their faces? Or how does one relate to a people, incited to almost feverish pitch, demanding the death of a man with no crime as opposed to a known criminal? These are but some of the interesting questions bound to confront the viewer of the much talked about movie "The Passion of the Christ."

First, the good news. It is clearly a good movie, well made and crafted and well directed. The acting is simple, straightforward, and perhaps better yet, appropriate. The soundtrack is also a must have. Perhaps, one can say that the movie is so good that even without the English subtitles and with our ignorance of Latin and Aramaic, the movie can still be understood very well. And, because it is in Latin and Aramaic, the movie takes on a whole different quality, moved by the rhythm of these two very different languages.

But now comes the challenging and, for me, truly important facet of the movie: how can I experience it without coloring it with the imagination I have always had of the passion of Jesus Christ? After all, I have known this story almost as long as I have known the Christmas story and that is quite some time. Thus, we carry within us strong images of this dramatic moment in the life of Jesus Christ. Add to this the challenge of technology. Just about everyone would have read reviews praising it, seen promotional clips, and is fully updated on the income of the movie Hollywood earlier shunned has generated. After all, this is readily available from the Internet. This too can easily pre-form our impressions of the surprise hit, opening March 31st and locally distributed by 20th Century Fox, released through Warner Bros. International.

So is it as moving and good as "everyone" says it is? Even the Pope who reportedly viewed it last December was moved by it and said, "it is as it was," meaning the film in his opinion was a true rendition of the last 12 hours of Christ. Well, one has to get over the tremendous focus that the suffering of Jesus Christ brings. The movie brings into play a whole range of humanity, from the three sleeping apostles in the garden of Gethsemane, to Caiphas and his circle; to the intimacy between Claudia and Pontius Pilate. We are confronted with the torment of Judas cleverly depicted as taunting children. And there too is the brutality of the Roman soldiers, who clearly enjoy it and who obviously have mastered such an understanding of the human body that they can make one suffer, and suffer, and suffer without killing one. Here one cannot be but moved. True, Jesus Christ suffers and suffers greatly. A caning followed by flagellation is not an experience for the squeamish. But at the end of all the suffering, one cannot but help ask the question why? And yet all around him, no one acts. The Sanhedrin, keen on condemning him clearly wash their hands of any guilt by transferring the "dirty work," so to speak, to the Romans. Yes, their laws cannot allow them to condemn a man to death so let the Romans do it. Pilate chooses to castigate Jesus Christ but not kill Him, in the hope that in seeing this suffering the Jews would relent in their conviction that Jesus Christ be crucified. And yet, in this manner, he and the Romans donít act. There is Mary, Mary Magdalene, and James who follow Jesus Christ up to His death and witness His suffering, every step of the way. And yet, it is the deep pain etched on Maryís face that point to a much deeper understanding of the true spiritual nature of the suffering of Jesus Christ; and they do not act. So in this sea of humanity, where are we? Do we see ourselves as one of these characters, perhaps not in their being but in their actions and reactions?

Left clearly with these questions, one begins to see the genius not only of Mel Gibson, but more importantly, of the spirit that moves such a story. For me, there were two very important conversations that took place which very much underscored the many insights that arise from the movie. The first is between Jesus Christ and Pontius Pilate when Pilate begins his interrogation of Jesus Christ. Speaking in Aramaic, Pilate is replied to in Latin. To all of us, the anticipation of hearing Jesus Christ reply "Tu dicit" to the question of are you the king of the Jews, is almost unbearable and yet, it never happens. The scene ends with Pilate faced with the question "Veritas. Quid es?" (Truth, what is it). A few scenes later, while Jesus Christ is being scourged, Pilate has an intimate conversation with the troubled Claudia. And the whole conversation revolves on this question, what is truth. Here, in the privacy of his room, Pilate reveals both his ineptitude and his pragmatic, soldierly nature much to the dismay of his wife. Thus, we are all left "hanging" in a sort of way because the ever famous, "It is you who say I am" never gets uttered; but we are left with an even more important question of what is truth.

Another interesting aspect is the role women play in the movie. What is evident in the condemning of Jesus Christ is the prominence of men. In fact, in Pilateís attempts to save Jesus Christ, he seems almost guided by Claudia who looks across the courtyard from another window. And at the moment before he washes his hands, he looks up one last time and waits ó when Claudia turns her back and leaves the window, he then washes his hands. And, as Jesus Christ begins his painful journey to Golgotha from the inner section of the city, the abuse heaped upon Him by the crowds appears to come predominantly from men. And yet, as He journeys further out, He is now met by wailing women and the role of men start to diminish. And there is Mary, as mentioned above. Quiet, strong, dignified, and suffering, yet in her deepest being, truly understanding and experiencing Godís will; after all, she too was once moved by Godís will.

Clearly, it is a movie with many facets and points of view. It raises more questions than it answers. It challenges our experience and imagination of the Passion. It challenges our experience and relationship with the Christ. But above all, it challenges our very own human being-ness and our understanding of ourselves with the two questions the inevitably arise: what is truth? And why did Jesus Christ die? For this experience alone, it is worth watching in the hope that we all come into our own "passion" and realize our true, individual, spiritual relationship with the Risen Christ.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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