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Thursday, February 26, 2004

Review of "The Passion Of The Christ"

Four guys. Sitting in a theater together...

Mark, 31. Emergency medical technician.

Patrick, 18. Public high school student.

Clark, 24. Home on furlough after 2 years of missionary work in Bosnia.

Chris, 29. Whatever.

That's the setup for this review, about two hours now after seeing The Passion of the Christ. Four guys at various points in their young lives, each of whom have been through any number of experiences. You would think that despite all the hype and publicity that this movie's gotten, that nothing... nothing... could faze these guys, right?


Thirty minutes after the movie ended, none of us had been able to muster much of a word beyond "okay".

Drained. Shell-shocked. Mentally and physically exhausted. Outright stunned. I feel as if I've aged twenty years in two hours. And the other guys said much the same, that they felt something sapped out of them too.

Folks, nothing you have seen, or read, or heard about, will prepare you for this movie. The best I can describe it is what Doug Tennapel (the artist/writer who created Earthworm Jim) had to say about The Passion Of The Christ: "This is a movie that secular Hollywood could not make, but it’s also a movie that the Christian community could not make either."

This movie should have been rated NC-17. I cannot say that enough. It HURTS to watch this... but then again it's supposed to. Mel Gibson has done what no other filmmaker - or other artist for that matter - has been able to do: produce a Jesus that is as fully HUMAN as He is God incarnate. Which makes what happens later all the more MEAN. Gibson went all-out with this one: he pours on the agony, makes you literally scream "PLEASE GOD MAKE IT STOP!!" and then starts playing nasty.

There is stuff in this movie that is downright pornographic. When the Roman guards scourge Jesus, two things occurred to me: this is perhaps the most faithful portrayal of Roman soldiers that's ever been committed to film. For the most part they're fairly honorable men, following orders and upholding Roman law. But in every lot there's the crazies. The ones who have been in the field and away from home for too long. It's making them forget civilization and their superiors have to keep whipping them back into line. These are the same soldiers that Stanley Kubrick showed in the Vietnam sequences of Full Metal Jacket. THOSE are the ones that you wanna reach out and jerk the living snot out of, when you see what they do to Jesus. Gibson made sure that this film showed what a cat-o'-nine-tails would do to a bare back. And that's what begins separating the squeamish from the... come to think of it, no one was anything BUT squeamish here...

... 'Cuz those are CHUNKS of Jesus that are flying across the screen. Bloody bits of skin, muscle and sinew. Blood going all over the guards, who take WAY too much pleasure in doing this, until the "nice" Roman officers make them stop: "You were supposed to punish him, not kill him!" And it still doesn't stop. One of my friends had to choke back tears when the crown of thorns was shoved HARD onto the head of Jesus.

I'm not going to even begin going into the actual crucifiction itself.

Two scenes that stick out in my mind, going back to how Gibson showed the human side of Christ. There's a flashback sequence where we see Jesus - He's not quite at the point where He's about to launch His ministry - is working as a carpenter at home, building a table. His mother Mary calls him to dinner, and... don't want to spoil it, but the interaction between these two is so incredibly sweet, so touching and beautiful and yes FUNNY, and it made me think again to something that you have to pick out for yourself from the Bible: that Jesus loved life, that He could love and laugh as much as any of us...

...and He could also fear. And feel rejected. And scorned. Which brings me to the other scene that keeps bringing itself up...

It takes place during the scourging. Jesus sees Satan. Satan is holding something. I'm not going any further than that.

There are things in this movie that once you see, you can't unsee. They will be stuck in your gray matter for all time. I saw a photograph YEARS ago that haunts me to this day, that I can't even consider talking about without feeling a cold shiver up my spine. Well, The Passion Of The Christ is packed with images like that.

It's not a date movie. It's not something I would feel comfortable taking a small child to, or maybe even take a church youth group to. I'll be seeing it again this Saturday night with my wife (who I still haven't been able to pour my heart out to about this movie if that tells you anything) and another couple from our church. We're having dinner beforehand. Now I'm having to reconsider if this was such a smart plan after all.

But then, there's the ending. And on so many levels it proves why neither secular Hollywood or dedicated Christian filmmakers could have produced a movie like this. Gibson didn't limit himself to either mainstream niceties or ecclesiastical restrictions. The ending is simple, beautiful, and VERY bold. Without a doubt the greatest CGI ever rendered.

Folks, I can't define what The Passion Of The Christ is by any stretch. This is film that transcends filmmaking. If I've one gripe, it's that some of the music in certain parts seems... out of place. Not quite powerful enough. But that's a minor quibble and for the most part the soundtrack delivers itself superbly.

We were finally able to talk, Mark and Patrick and Clark and I. We agreed that it was good. That there may not be a word in the English language to describe it. "That was effective," Clark said.

I can't add any more than that.

But go see The Passion Of The Christ if you can. If for no other reason than to tell your kids that you saw one of, if not the most influential movie in history when it was still in first-run.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Believe in "Miracle"

The past two weeks kicked the slats out of this part of North Carolina. The snow began falling on January 25 and effectively locked everything down for the better part of the following week. That and two bouts of freezing rain that closed schools all over the place and made travel a major hassle. Now, at last, the last remnants of the white stuff are disappearing, so we've been able to get out and live a bit more.

So this afternoon, Lisa and I went to the movies. Next weekend is Valentine's so I owe her a "chick flick" on top of dinner, but today we saw a lil' flick that's been on my radar screen for some months now.

You gotta see "Miracle", if you haven't done so already. In my opinion it's even better than "Remember The Titans" and that's saying a lot. Easily the best sports-driven movie to come along in awhile to be sure.

"Miracle" is the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team and Herb Brooks, its head coach. If I were to say that much, you know exactly how this movie is going to end: with the U.S. team pulling off what some have since called the "sports upset of the century" by toppling the hockey machine that was the Soviet Union's team, undefeated at the Olympics for 20 years. Just the title of the movie more than suggests its plot to even the most casual of sports fans: "Do you believe in miracles?!" NBC sports announcer Al Michaels screamed in the final seconds of that matchup at Lake Placid.

I've read numerous accounts from players on the U.S. team that "Miracle" depicts what happened in the months leading up to that game as accurately as could possibly be done. Which may be what helps "Miracle" as a true-life sports movie: the whole theme of "players from different backgrounds" that's been done to death? It's still here, but it's balanced out against everything else and in the end it's perfect. This is probably the best performance Kurt Russell's ever done: he nailed every nuance of Herb Brooks in this, right down to the manic gum-chewing and overturning the table in the locker room (he really did).

You know what the real theme of this movie is, that's going to get lost on a lot of people? That America is still good, because there's good people to be found here. It's not good because of good government or good management... heck no. It's good because when pushed, when driven, the people of this country can go far. And that's something that's gone missing in the post 9-11 world.

Finally, "Miracle" accomplishes something that no other movie in history has done before or ever will again: using the infamous Jimmy Carter "malaise speech" to good effect :-P

Go see "Miracle". And believe.