First of all: don't believe the hype. All the inane local and national newscasts portraying Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ as an organic extension of "Christianity" as a whole are as misguided as they are shallow. The Passion is a specific, sectarian interpretation which all Christians outside of Gibson's inner circle should be hesitant to let speak for them. Yes, Gibson puts all the right King James version catch phrases in the right places to make his Jesus seem familiar, but his "A day in the death" vision is more telling in what it leaves out than what it includes.
The most obvious and eerily prophetic reference with which to begin dissecting The Passion is a 2000 episode of The Simpsons entitled "Beyond Blunderdome," in which Homer and guest Gibson remake Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with a bloody Congressional shootout for an ending. The satirical message: America wanty blood, no wanty substance. The only substance we want is the chunky substance occasionally found within blood, and the The Passion is all too willing to open that faucet. From Jesus' interminable flaying with sticks, whips and shards of broken glass to his numbing hour-long schlep to the crucifixion site, Gibson has a fetishistic eye only for decay. Even Mad Max's downer of a plot, in my view the best cinematic parallel to Gibson's depressing vision, seems more spiritually uplifting by comparison.
The Easter reanimation, usually held by believers as the ostensible proof that Jesus' death was proof of divinity and salvation, is only a decorative afterthought to Gibson-indeed, it is such a meaningless moment that I couldn't help but try to explain it away. Did he run out of money? Did he lose his Jamesian English to Aramaic Dictionary, or is he simply a sick, violent little monkey? (Answereth all wise folk: the last option). Likewise Jesus' life, teachings and spirituality are all minute-long blurbs, tiny ships lost amidst a sea of ketchup. Watching The Passion in a theater packed with people who were crying, applauding and spilling their soft drinks on me like some demented conversion rite, I didn't feel guilty for my sins. I simply felt depressed to be part of a culture audacious enough to use such a sickening spectacle as a proselytizing tool.
Whether the individual acting feats in such a film are "good" or not is hardly worth discussing. Like Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, all performances in The Passion are so subservient to a director's overarching personal agenda that they can't really be judged of their own accord. Yes, Jim Cavaziel looks sufficiently pained during his scourging as to seem authentic, but his is the easiest Jesus in the history of cinema-the makeup, and the holy baggage that audiences inevitably carry to the theater with them do all the work. Pauly Shore could have performed the role just as well, and the beatings would have seemed far more justified.
I, like any reviewer with both eyes and a brain, would like to address the frightening proto-Fascist Roman jingoism which Gibson uses to universally dismiss the "dirty rabble" of rabbis charged with Jesus' death, but will leave it to those whose anger is more personal. For me, a non-Christian who nonetheless feels a fair amount of admiration for the chap, watching Jesus get the shit kicked out of him for 120 minutes straight was an objectionable enough experience to fill several reviews. With its gratuitous snuff-film reliance on slow motion (matched only by The Matrix) and lifeless message, The Passion is a cultural event that should only be witnessed with a healthy dose of skepticism. Watch it to be dismayed by a classless pandering to America's most unhealthy urges, and do not take your children.