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March 19, 2007 | Comments ()


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The Ultimate in Torture Porn

Real-Time Review of The Passion of the Christ / Dustin Rowles

Film Reviews | March 19, 2007 | Comments ()


Introduction: In the nearly three years of Pajiba’s existence, we’ve managed to review almost every notable film (and most of the ones that weren’t) released during that time. But there is one movie that we never touched, which was by design. When The Passion of the Christ was released, Pajiba was in its infancy (we were still covering politics at the time), and I wasn’t keen on alienating half of our then 14 readers. There was no way, really, to review it without pissing someone off. But now that Mel Gibson is certifiably insane, the film is the 11th biggest domestic release of all time, and most of our readers are resigned to the fact that we’re going to offend someone with almost every review we write, I figured it’s about time we fill that gap in our archives. Be warned, though: As much as I respect people of faith (and I really do), I’m a non-practicing Unitarian Universalist, which is a kind of like dating in junior high: It’s an “everything but” religion. As in, we pretty much believe in “everything,” but our monotheistic virginity is still intact. That makes absolutely no sense, does it? Well, it’s the best explanation I can muster. At any rate, I’m not doing this with the intention of pissing anyone off, and if you expect to be offended, please don’t read the entire piece and then take issue with it in the end. Just click away, all right? Especially if you are one of my many Christian friends who will use this review as an excuse to disown me.

So, let’s get on with it, then.

00:00: The one thing I do know about The Passion of Christ, besides how it ends, is that it’s long. And in Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew. So, er … kick up your feet and grab a soda. I wouldn’t recommend popcorn, though; that’s blasphemous.

02:39: I’m also going to have to admit my complete ignorance of the Bible. The extent of my knowledge is memorizing all the chapters, for which I was awarded $5 in grade school. But, John, Peter, et al., are gathered around a tree right now and already referring to Jesus as “Lord.” I thought that didn’t come until after he returned from the dead. No? See? I am an idiot.

02:56: Jesus looks like he’s seen better days. He’s stumbling around like he just woke up after a raging kegger at the Sigma Nu house. Elsewhere, some men in Viking costumes just tossed some coins to another bearded guy in a cathedral of some sort.

05:15: Jesus is asking Dad to rise up and defend him. Save him from traps. If Jesus’ Dad were Dennis Quaid, they could talk to each other through time on shortwave radios. And, really, I can already tell you that this is what The Passion is missing.

06:36: Creepy pale guy is telling Jesus to give it up. No one wants their souls saved. Creepy pale guy has a worm in his nose. And then he lets loose a snake. Oh! Creepy pale guy is Satan, right? I’m lost without the horns.

08:46: Jesus stomps on Satan’s snake (no, that’s not a double entendre). It’s his way of saying, “Get bent, devil man.”

10:00: The Viking-looking fellas arrive with the guy who took the coins. They are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. Ah ha! The guy who accepted the coins is Judas, who just sold out Jesus for a few shekels. I bet that bites him in the ass.

11:24: OK, I had to look it up, but the Viking-looking fellas are actually Romans. And the Romans just cut Peter in the face. Jesus is like: “Leave my buddies alone, y’all. I’ll go peacefully.” They chain him up and whip him. I liked John Turturro’s version of The Jesus better.

15:00: The Romans are getting a big kick out of beating the crap out of Jesus. They dangle him off a brick wall and pull him back up by the chains. Uncool. Clearly, they have not been instructed as to how to manhandle the Son of God.

18:30: Some woman is begging the Roman authorities to release Jesus (I think this woman is Mary Magdalene). The Romans are doing that thing with their finger near their ear, which is the international sign for loco.

23:40: The high priest is patronizing Jesus: “Where is this Kingdom of yours?” Jesus won’t take the bait. The Romans think he’s a blasphemer. That he cures the sick with the help of devils. Lay off, folks: He just stomped on the devil’s snake.

25:50: Now, they are spitting at him. Aw, crap. Here we go. They’re mocking him as “The King of Jews.” It’s going to be two hours of torture, isn’t it? Damn it. If I wanted to see a torture flick, I’d watch Saw again.

27:49: Jesus admits he’s the Son of God. The crowd is restless. The high priest is, like, “Death to the Blasphemer.” It’s already getting difficult to write irreverently about this. I can feel the sting of my own eternal hellfire.

30:00: Peter denies any knowledge of Jesus. Ah ha: Jesus told him to deny exactly three times. I guess they’re divorced now.

32:00: Judas is back. He’s like, let him go, man. Take back the shekels. Please. The high priest tells him to scram.

33:41: Two kids are fucking with Judas. They are freaking his shit out. Judas has apparently had some moldy bread — he’s having some funky visions.

36:16: There are more kids now. A crowd of them. They won’t let up on Judas. Suddenly, the kids have vanished and Judas is left alone with a dead animal and a bunch of flies. So, he hangs himself. Judas: If you thought that was bad, check out Our Daily Bread.

38:21: Some woman named Claudia is advising some bald dude not to kill Jesus.

An aside: There are two types of people who grow up in the Bible belt. Those who are deeply religious and those who go out of their way not to learn anything about Christianity out of simple spite. I was the latter. Anything I might have picked up inadvertently, I’ve already repressed. So I had to run downstairs and ask Mrs. Pajiba-Hyphenate, who was a religion major, who the bald dude is. It’s Pontius Pilate. I’m a 32-year-old guy with eight years of higher education and this is the first I’ve ever heard of Pontius Pilate. You’ll have to excuse my ignorance, again. This is what happens when you’re raised by a gay man who actually believes in Ramtha. Ask me about Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment, and I’ll tell you anything you want to know. Mostly, though, I’ll tell you it’s bullshit.

40:00: Pontius Pilate is out in the fancy Roman courtyard asking why anyone would want to kill Jesus. The high priest is telling Pilate that it’s because Jesus believes he is the Son of David. “He claims he is the Messiah.” Wait? Who is David? I thought Jesus was the son of God. And that David was responsible for slaying Goliath. No?

42:16: Pontius Pilate takes Jesus aside for a heart-to-heart. He asks him what’s the deal, man? Pontius Pilate seems somewhat sympathetic. In fact, he goes out and tells the crowd that he has no cause to sentence him to death. The crowd is not pleased. They want blood. It is my understanding that the crowd is mostly comprised of Jews.

44:19: All right, some new guy with a bad beard is questioning Jesus now. Ah, it’s King Herod. Laughing at him a bit. “He’s not guilty of any crime, he’s just crazy.” Well, at least he has a decent beard.

47:32: Pontius Pilate is having second thoughts now, much to Claudia’s chagrin. Pontius Pilate fears that unless he condemns Jesus to death, there will be bloodshed. In the grand scheme of things, he’s kind of fucked both ways here.

50:00: Pontius Pilate gives the Romans a choice: He can either free Barabbas (an ugly murderer dude) or Jesus. The crowd says, “Free Barabbas.” Barabbas is like, awesome. He looks a bit like Andre the Giant, God rest his soul.

51:26: Pontius Pilate asks, “What shall I do with Jesus?” The crowd is like, “Kill him, please.” Pontius Pilate is like, “Damn. You people are cold.” He says he won’t kill him; he’ll just hurt him real bad. The idea I’m getting here is that the Romans — at least the higher-ups — aren’t terribly keen on killing Jesus, that it’s the Jews who are bloodthirsty. Right? This is where the anti-Semitic controversy lies, yeah?

54:04: The soldiers are whipping the hell out of Jesus. Satan is lurking among the Jews. Satan looks a lot like Kelli Williams (“The Practice.”) He’s not, but he is played by a woman, Rosalinda Celentano.

56:00: Jesus takes his whipping. Then he stands up and suggests, “Please sir, may I have another.” The Roman soldiers oblige. Damn!. This ain’t right. They are pulling the man’s skin off with the whip. This is a bit much, if you ask me.

61:00: After five more minutes of this, they untie Jesus. And then they whip him on the front side. C’mon, Jesus. Haven’t you ever heard of shock? Go into it, already. Please. This is killing me.

62:00: Satan is wandering around, watching, with a creepy-looking baby in his/her arms. The baby looks kind of like Mini-Me, if Mini-Me were the son of Satan.

63:00: A Roman official comes out to put a stop to the gratuitous whippings. There is blood everywhere. Unbelievable — thousands and thousands of church groups attended this film? Seriously? It just seems to me like Mel Gibson is incredibly fascinated with the gore. And he’s showing off under the guise of religion.

67:00: The Roman soldiers continue to have their way with Jesus. They’re just beating the hell out of the poor guy. Stop it.

68:41: Pontius Pilate shows the crowds of Jews his handiwork. Is this enough, he asks? Apparently not. They want him crucified. The High Priest tells him that if he doesn’t crucify him, Caesar will not be a happy man. Pontius is like, “You can do it if you have to. But keep me out of it.” He wants the clean hands, though I’d argue it’s a bit late for that.

73:16: Jesus is carrying that cross through the crowd; the hooligans are lovin’ it. If they’d had an Eighth Amendment back then, Gibson’s film would’ve been about three minutes long. This is just stupid. You’ve made your point, Mel. It’s kind of desensitizing at this point — a little bit goes a long way.

75:55: C’mon: Give the motherfucking whips a break, guys? The man has had enough. If you keep at it, there’s going to be nothing left to crucify.

79:19: Jesus’ Mom has a few words with him while he’s down on the ground. He says, “See, I make all things new.” Sorry, folks. I don’t get it. There’s nothing new here but the wounds in his skin.

82:00: The Romans ask some dude in the crowd to help Jesus carry the cross, because Jesus can’t do it anymore. The fella is not happy about it. But he obliges.

83:00: Jesus falls/is pushed down the stairs. Some woman offers him a blanket to wipe his face. A moist towelette would’ve been nice, lady.

85:00: The Romans continue to kick Jesus while he’s down. The guy who was carrying the cross runs out and says essentially, “Cut it out. You’re a bunch of dicks.” He helps Jesus back on his feet.

88:00: Whip. Fall. Trudge. Whip. Fall. Trudge. Gibson really wants us to know what it’s like to carry a giant wooden cross up a hill with a few hundred Jewish people whipping you. If that was his goal, he’s certainly succeeded here.

89:14: This is dumb. Just dumb. Why would watching this make someone a believer? Or even confirm one’s belief in Jesus? Either you are, or you aren’t. And watching Jesus get the tar beat out of him for two hours doesn’t seem like a difference-maker. There is a town back in Arkansas where they put on the most popular Passion Play in the country. I’m guessing there isn’t nearly this amount of blood involved, and yet they seem to be able to drive home the message just fine.

92:00: The guy who carried the cross has been released and told to skedaddle.

93:59: There’s not really a lot of plot here, is there? I guess you might call it a road trip movie. If so, he’s just reached Wally World. He’s about to get on the roller coaster. And they are strapping him in. With nails. *!#&. Damn. $#%. Quit it with the nails, already. Fuck! Quit it.

97:45: Now the other hand. Shit! They had to break his arm first. #%$# Another nail. And those aren’t nails, by the by. Those are freakin’ railroad spikes.

99:00: And now the feet. #&$#*. Stop it! You sick fucks.

All right. I’ve gotta take a break. Eject the contents of my stomach, and prepare myself for the final push.

100:00: Home stretch. But I’d just like to say, if I had children, I’d let them watch the entire works of Eli Roth, James Wan, Clive Barker, and Joe Ezsterhas before I let them watch The Passion of Christ. I can barely fathom what it must have looked like on the big screen. How Jerry Falwell could speak out against the freakin’ Teletubbies yet “pray that Mel Gibson’s movie will … appeal to millions of movie lovers” is beyond me. This is not a film for movie lovers. This is a fucking snuff film. No — I’ve seen an actual snuff film. This is worse. This is deeply unpleasant. I don’t think Gibson is winning over anyone, unless he believes that faith and blood are somehow proportionately linked.

101:00: They turn over the cross, take care of some last minute nailing (#%$@), and lift it up. Mary Magdalene and Mary are watching, grief-stricken. The music is unbearably ominous.

104:00: I haven’t seen a film that made me this physically ill since I Spit on Your Grave. I’m turning green. Yep. I’m going to hurl again.

106:00: What the fuck? There is another guy on a cross next to Jesus. He’s kind of crazy. Looks a bit like Vincent Gallo on a day when he decided to shower. A crow is on his cross, though. And … there you go. The crow is pecking at Vincent Gallo’s eyes. One of his eyeballs pop-splats. Thanks for that, Mel. You sick bastard.

107:15: So, Jesus just hangs by the nails for a few hours, huh? In the heat. And now the rain is impending. The crowd doesn’t seem pleased with the rain. The film is almost over, and where the hell is the part about Jesus’ teachings, his tolerance and forgiveness? His faith in humanity? There is nothing here but unrelenting savagery. Where is the fucking plot? The character development? I don’t’ see anything but the bloody remains of a Jim Caviezel character.

109:00: Mary takes advantage of the break in action to kiss the bloody feet of Jesus. A Roman, Cassius, lifts a sponge up to him to drink from. It’s the only relief from the torture I’ve seen in nearly 90 minutes.

111:00: Everyone disperses because of the rain. Jesus has a few words with his father. The rain comes. This rain is also accompanied by an earthquake of some sort.

113:00: The Romans are about to take another whack at Jesus, but it seems he’s already dead. So, Cassius, just to make sure, guts him with his lance. Blood and water spill out. Cassius falls to his knees. You know what? If this film had any basis in reality, Jesus would’ve been dead an hour ago. Sure, he died for our sins — but he didn’t die 18 times over for our sins, which is what Gibson seems to be saying here.

115:00: People are losing their shit, left and right. The High Priest is upset; it’s in a language I don’t understand, but I think what he says is, “Whoopsie!”

115:23: And: Bam! Satan starts screeching from the depths of hell. He is not a happy camper.

116:00: Jesus is being let down by Mary, who holds her son and stares straight ahead. I know this image: Pieta. I don’t know crap about Christianity, but I studied the hell out of Renaissance art. Thank you, Mrs. Hollicer.

118:23: It’s a few days later; Jesus is cleaned up. He gets up and walks out naked. I recognize that image, too: Schwarzenegger in T2.

119:00: Roll credits. I can tell you now that I’m going to have recurring nightmares about this film. It’s the message film that keeps giving.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.



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