A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Passion of the Christ is violent in an intense, graphic, personal, even intimate manner -- much more powerful than other R-rated movies with cartoon-style explosions and shoot-outs. We see Jesus brutally beaten for much of the movie. We hear his flesh tear as he is whipped. We see his blood splatter and drip. The nails are driven through his hands and feet. His side is pierced with a spear. Two other men are crucified and one's eyes are pecked out. There are other disturbing images, including the character of Satan and some grotesque children who taunt Judas. We also see Judas commit suicide by hanging. Gibson has said that the agonizing, unbearable torture is a key part of the story, and parents who are considering whether this movie is appropriate for their children should see it themselves to judge how their children might respond to it.
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What's the story?
THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is writer/director Mel Gibson's interpretation of the last hours of the life of Jesus. It's neither fully history nor drama, though it has elements of both; rather, it's Gibson's personal, spiritual statement about the view that the suffering Jesus endured at the end of his life demonstrated his divinity and his sacrifice. The movie takes place almost entirely during the last 12 hours of Jesus' life. The characters speak in the languages of the time: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin (with English subtitles). Little effort is made to explain what happened before Jesus was captured in the Garden of Gethsemane, why his followers were so loyal, why his accusers were so threatened, or who all of the characters are and how they relate to each other. For that reason, the movie will be most appreciated by those who are already familiar with the Gospels or as a starting point for those who want to learn more.
Is it any good?
This movie is the prayer of a gifted filmmaker, but it's also a narrow and harrowing perspective on a story that, no matter what your faith, is bigger than any attempt to portray it on film. As a movie, it's a respectful and reverent treatment of a story that has probably been more influential than any other in the history of the world. It has moments of great power, extraordinary cinematography, and some stunning images. But it doesn't give those unfamiliar with the details or significance of the story enough of an understanding of Jesus and the other characters to convey all that it hopes to. Some of the scenes are particularly awkward, while others seem overwrought without the missing context. The violence is intended to be upsetting, and it is -- it's extensive, detailed, and literally painful to watch.
The movie is also controversial to some in its portrayal of the Jewish elders who ordered the capture of Jesus and urged Pontius Pilate to sentence him to death. But while some viewers may choose to interpret the movie to support their views, there's nothing here to suggest that it's in any way intended to explicitly or implicitly connect the Jewish people as a whole to the death of Christ. The Jewish elders are a small group of powerful people who feel threatened by someone who doesn't support them; other Jews in the story are very positively portrayed, including Jesus, his followers, and the people who help him on the way to the crucifixion, especially Simon. The characters who come off the worst are the Roman soldiers, who laugh and taunt Jesus as they beat him and gamble for his robe while they wait for him to die. Ultimately, each member of the audience will have to evaluate the movie as a whole as an affirmation of faith or as an invitation to those who are still searching.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how this story fits into their own faith tradition.
They could take this opportunity to explore the ways that groups of all kinds have responded to the story of Jesus and to consider the controversy this film has raised about its portrayal of the Jewish elders.
What other biblical stories have you seen? How does this one compare? Is the violence here necessary? Why or why not?
- In theaters: February 25, 2004
- On DVD or streaming: August 31, 2004
- Cast: Christo Jivkov, James Caviezel, Monica Bellucci
- Director: Mel Gibson
- Studio: Newmarket Film Group
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 135 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: sequences of graphic violence
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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