01 April 2004

Random Reflections On The Passion

Yesterday, my soulmate and I underwent our own version of Calvary before watching The Passion. She planed in from Palawan island and call it bad luck, there was massive power failure at the airport, and this caused her flight to be delayed by 4hours. Also, the traffic was horrendous (what's new?), I moved at turtle-pace and what was supposed to be an afternoon date became a romantic evening activity. We managed to catch the 6:45pm screening at Cinema 2 of Glorietta 4.

It was opening day yesterday and being a weekday, we were surprised to see a lot of people queuing up for tickets. The media mileage generated by the film is reaping its rewards.

The cruelty and violence starts early. After the opening scene at Gethsamene where Jesus prayed long and hard to prepare for the passion, the thrashings begin: Jesus is beaten up and slapped, struck with chains, trussed, kicked, and dangled over a wall. He is made to face Caiapha (played by Mattia Sbragia), the High Priest of the Sanhedrin, who accuses him of blasphemy because he says he is the Messiah. His co-priests rally the crowd to have Jesus delivered to Pilate (played by Hristo Naumov Shopov) and have him crucified. The film highlighted that the crucifixion was largely the outcry of Jesus own people, and not of the Roman conquerors. Pilate saw no wrong in Jesus and thought that by scourging him hard at the pillar, the people will change their minds and let him go. He was wrong. The people wanted him dead. He washes his hands and gives in to what they want. Death by crucifixion. Even during the time of Jesus, there was already the concept of mob rule.

Pilate is one troubled fellow. He was a paranoid governor and easily agitated by signs of dissent and uprisings. Jesus lived in a politically unstable environment. In fact, the Passion can also be seen under a new light: it is the story of a revolutionary fighting for a change.The Jewish community was occupied against its will by the Roman Empire, and the good news being proclaimed by Jesus was equally threatening to both sides: to the Romans, because he was a radical, and to the Sanhedrin council, because he preached a new covenant. The status quo was being threatened. The source had to be eliminated.

The word 'passion' today has a romantic connotation. The real meaning of the word, however, had always something to do with pain and suffering. This is what Gibson's film is all about. If you think this is a feel-good spiritual movie, think again. It aims to disturb the audience. It wants you to know that there is more to the agony, the scourging, the journey to Calvary, and the crucifixion. Pain is a relative word: if you have never witnessed or had little exposure to cruelty and violence in your life, you will find the film revolting. It will be like a trip to the slaughterhouse. If this be the case, pay close attention to the willingness and the obedience of Jesus in accepting his fate. He was so open to the whole idea of being reduced to a pulp that he even asked forgiveness in behalf of his tormentors. If there is anything to admire here, it is Jesus' free will to be beaten and scourged. It is also his stern resolve not to be tempted by the devil and back out from it all.

Anti-Semitic? I do not think so. Gibson merely tells the truth and nothing but. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by a mob incited by the High Priests at the time. Out of his "own accord," he is punished for the non-existent sin of telling the truth.

If you love gore and sadomasochism and your name is Quentin Tarantino, you might find the Passion mild and boring. If this be the case, I would like you to look at the fact that the beaten victim is the one who calls himself the Son of the living God and as such, he need only to flick his fingers or whistle and he can easily wipe out his tormentors. But he does not. He accepts all the blows with no rancor, with no complaints, with no sign of anger. He even embraces his cross as if it was a long lost friend of his. He was called a "fool" by a robber who was with him. But just like pain, "fool" is also a relative term.

It was a good movie. If I were Gibson, I would have added more punishment and more gore. After all, it is what really happened. I think the world of today has gone numb and its pain threshold has become too high, that it would take so much for it to even notice. The way Gibson's cash register is sounding, however, I might be proven wrong. I hope many who watched wouldn't just let this film pass as another good movie easily toppled when Troy and SpiderMan films get to be shown soon. I hope the Passion leaves a deep scar in the minds of the audience. For me, the film can be an inspiration because it can make your your trials and problems in life seem trivial. It can make you stop complaining and whining about how difficult and complicated your life is today.

One of the most haunting scenes is this last scene in which Mary stares blankly at the audience while holding the broken and nonliving body of Jesus. It is more than a Pieta doppelganger; it is Mary asking you and me, "Look what you've done. What do you intend to do with your life now?"

Two thumbs way, way up for this film. Watch it. Share Jesus' pain and be disturbed. Be scarred. Be scarred and don't ever recover.

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