Judging by the apparent lack of enthusiasm at the box office on this film’s opening weekend, it would seem that the phenomenon known as The Passion of the Christ is over.
Gibson re-cut the film — removing six minutes of the most graphic violence — in an attempt to receive a PG-13 rating. But he’s been forced to rerelease The Passion without a rating after the MPAA slapped the film with another R rating. And that gains him nothing, since many theater chains will not book unrated films, and most that do will treat the film at hand as if it had an R rating.
Truth be told, there’s probably no way The Passion could ever be anything but an R-rated movie — and the R granted to the first version was itself a little suspect. Were it not for the religious subject matter, it seems almost certain that the MPAA would have hit the film with an NC-17. Whatever the case, after nearly $400 million in domestic grosses and an untold amount in DVD sales and tie-in merchandise (including souvenir crucifixion nails), The Passion appears to be played out.
It’s an impossible call as to whether the film’s interest has merely passed, or its audience has decided this latest attempt smacks more of profit than piety, or they simply aren’t interested in the movie when it’s devoid of flying chunks of fake Jim Caviezel flesh. But the reissue does afford another full-size look at the movie, for anyone wanting to reassess it now that the hoopla has died off.
First of all, do the excised six minutes significantly alter the film? Not to any great degree. The approach to the subject — focusing on the physical torture of Christ — precludes that. The film’s still painfully graphic, and it still concludes with a Christ reduced to such a bloody pulp that it’s hard to believe he could have lived long enough to be crucified. The movie still packs a certain visceral punch — a punch that operates more on the stomach than the heart, thanks to the combination of graphic overkill and an uncharismatic Christ.
The bothersome aspects of the original version are still there. The effeminate characterizations of Satan (Rosalinda Celentano) and Herod (Luca De Dominicus) still suggest an anti-gay bias, if not outright demonization. The film’s approach to the Jews still sidesteps overt anti-Semitism — while playing to it, should the viewer be so inclined. What is actually surprising on a second viewing is just how awkward, quaint and occasionally sloppy The Passion is as filmmaking.
Apart from the leads, the performances are often amateurish — to the point of resembling the sort of arm-waving and hand-wringing histrionics usually found in the most primitive silent movies. Worse, the extras alternate between over-enthusiasm and looking rather confused. At one point, one even looks directly at the camera, as if unsure what to do.
Gibson’s cheesy, horror-movie approach to aspects of the story — the Satan business and Judas being pursued by child-sized demons — feels even more hollow and ill-advised on a second look. The effects work is no better; the CGI wounds in Christ’s hands at the resurrection are distractingly obvious as effects. The moment when the temple splits in two — complete with even more arm-waving theatrics — might as well be a clip from a low-budget Italian sword-and-sandal epic from the early ’60s.
Initially, these elements of the movie were overshadowed by questions of Gibson’s intentions and the publicity surrounding the film. Devoid of those considerations, The Passion simply isn’t a very good movie, suggesting that it was always more of an event than anything else. Not rated.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke