Mel Gibson (Producer)
Since Mel Gibson's self-funded labour of love The Passion of the Christ was released, Jesus has once again become a big deal. Our contemporary culture has re-discovered something of the controversy that surrounded Jesus' crucifixion in the first place. Film critics and Judaeo-Christian scholars alike are as divided by the film as were the original witnesses to the event: in it, some see an unremarkable, blood-soaked gorefest, while others see a profoundly spiritual experience. The Passion — this beautifully presented, graphic companion to the film — is testament to the fact that Jesus is important again; although, if you're on the 'all-violence-no-substance' side of the debate, it probably won't persuade you to the other side.
The book consists of a collection of still photographs from the film, complemented by relevant biblical passages ranging from Isaiah's messianic prophecies to the gospels' 'Passion' narratives. Each picture reflects Caleb Deschanel's cinematography (which itself is inspired by the paintings of Italian artist Caravaggio [1573-1610]), marrying perfect composition with gritty, dark realism. From the blue mists of Gethsemane, to the burnt-reds, palm-greens and sun-yellows of Jerusalem's streets, every scene is like a framed painting. Each facial expression contains a wide breadth of emotion — from the instant regret of Judas as he betrays Christ with a fistful of blood money, to Mary's faith beyond doubt in her son, to the brutally-bloodied-but-victorious face of our Saviour himself as he cries 'It is finished!' from the cross.
My complaint about the book lies in two faces: the inclusion of one, and the exclusion of another. Firstly, it has been said by some film critics that the centurions who torture Christ are one-dimensional, cartoon-like characters. I concur. One picture (p.68) shows one centurion, his face spattered with blood, displaying a 'come-and-have-a-go-if-you-think-you're-hard-enough' scowl, straight at the camera. It's not needed. It's not an image I remember from the film, and shows little underlying emotion or depth of character: the man appears more like Tom, the villainous cat who chases Jerry for the sheer fun of it, than a human executioner under strict orders to torture a convicted 'criminal'. My second reservation is this: where is the resurrected face of Jesus?
Unlike some others, I found the resurrection scene in The Passion of the Christ adequately powerful and subtly awe-inspiring. The walls of the auditorium rumble in surround sound as the stone is rolled away. Jesus' face displays a superhero-like victory as he stands and walks out of the tomb, and into the history books. Great. But though the end of the story is here, that image isn't. Just an empty cross: a profound image, but hardly the face of Christ himself.
The Passion companion is an artistic journey through the scenes and story of Gibson's film. Beautiful but horrific, emotional but harrowing, I recommend it wholeheartedly — but not without a word of caution: the film has an 18 rating due to its graphic violence, so children who choose to read the book are advised to do so with a parent or guardian.
Mark Burnhope, April 2004
Mark Burnhope is a graduate of London School of Theology. He is a 'trying' novelist and poet with a Masters Degree in Creative and Transactional Writing from Brunel University, and an alternative worship/emerging church obsessive.Tyndale House | Order from www.christianbookshops.org