DVD Release Date:  August 31, 2004
Theatrical Release Date:  February 25, 2004
Rating:  R (for sequences of graphic violence)
Genre:  Drama
Director:  Mel Gibson
Actors:  Jim Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern and Monica Bellucci

"Veritas," mutters Pontius Pilate, in Mel Gibson's epic film, The Passion of the Christ. "Quid est veritas?" What is truth?

It's a question we must all ask, at least once in our lives. And when we finally do, just how do we find the answer, in a world where the flow of information - along with the industry that feeds our minds, day and night - is controlled by those who so often deny its very existence?

Like so many others, Mel Gibson has found his answer in the person of Jesus Christ. But, unlike most, Gibson also has the power - and the money - to bring that message to the rest of the world.

Speaking in Aramaic, Jesus prays to his heavenly father for release from the task that awaits him, even as his disciples slumber and a satanic figure taunts him in the Garden of Gethsemane. An arrival, a kiss, a betrayal, a tussle. Peter lops off an ear; Jesus restores it, and the stunned Roman guard sits unmoving, wondering what has just occurred.

The film moves through the various trials, with the accused being mocked and judged by the high priests of Israel, then Pilate, then Herod, then Pilate again. Unwilling to condemn Jesus to death, Pilate sends him off for a brutal beating at the hands of his sadistic soldiers. Hounded by the Jewish leaders for a death sentence and fearful of a revolt, Pilate finally relents, washing his hands to deny all responsibility. 

Through the streets and up the hill to Golgotha, a blood-covered, stumbling Jesus carries his cross, as soldiers continue to beat him and the crowds continue to mock him. A reluctant Simon of Cyrene steps in to help. Finally, at the top of the hill, Jesus crawls onto the cross, where merry soldiers drive nails into his palms and ankles. One stretches his arm, dislocating a shoulder - and laughing. Jesus cries out for their forgiveness.

The thief dying next to Jesus pleads for forgiveness; another scoffs, as a black crow comes to rest on his cross. Caiphas arrives in his swirling robes to taunt Jesus, who responds in muttered prayer, always faithful to his last words as recorded in the Gospels. Mary and John approach the foot of the cross, where he tells them to behold one another.

Then, the sky darkens and a violent wind stirs, whipping the cloak that the soldiers are casting lots for beneath his feet. Finally, after crying out to God that he has been abandoned, Jesus dies - and a single, solitary drop of water comes crashing down from heaven. The earth trembles and the temple floor cracks in two. Jesus rises from the dead in a brief scene, and then the film ends.

My tears, as well as those of the seasoned film critics sitting around me, were copious. It is a hard film to watch. Yet, it is equally impossible to turn away. Suddenly, the cost of my salvation is personal, very personal. It is also an important film, an epic, but it is not for children. The unflinching brutality of the Roman soldiers is historically accurate, and it is no wonder that the word "excruciating" shares the same root as "crucifixion." The beatings and torture are savage - more so than anything I have ever seen onscreen. Harder still is the knowledge that this story is true and that it happened to someone I know personally. Just when you think it cannot get any worse, it does. And it continues throughout the film, relentlessly.

My husband, a biblical scholar, suggests a guideline for parents. The Bible, which is written on an eighth-grade level, assumes that most children younger than 13 will not be reading the story for themselves. How much more so should they therefore not be seeing it - especially when the story is this graphic. For the rest of us, however, "The Passion" is a film we should all watch, every year, for the rest of our lives - lest we take it for granted, lest we forget.