Review by John-Henry Westen

The Interim

‘I felt like a visionary, or like I was in a time machine,” was the reaction of the lady next to me at the preview of The Passion of the Christ. The weight of Pope John Paul II’s reported reflection after seeing the film: – “It is as it was” – was brought home during an extended silence after the film ended.

In mid-January, I attended a preview screening of The Passion of the Christ with some 500 Christian pastors and ministry leaders. The preview, arranged by Campus Crusade for Christ and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, was intended to introduce the film as a key tool for evangelization. Indeed, it is the most realistic and spectacular portrayal of Christ ever to have been realized on film.

The film follows the last 12 hours of the life of Christ, beginning with his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, through his scourging, crowning with thorns and the steps of what is known as the Way of the Cross, ending with his death, burial and glimpse of the resurrection.

The artistry in the film is superb. Its power is such that beyond mere tears and sniffling, which were universal, a gentleman behind me began openly sobbing. The effort to resist joining him was real – it took measured breathing through clenched teeth and flexing of muscles.

Rather than watching an actor attempting to portray Christ, it was as if we were watching an old friend suffer for us. Jim Caviezel’s portrayal of Jesus is by far the deepest and most convincing to date – restrained, yet surprisingly rich in meaning, and rendered with a dignity that can only be communicated by an actor who is, in some mysterious way, living through the story in communion with its central character.

The role of Mary, the mother of Christ, as she suffers with her son from the moment of his arrest and all the way to the Cross, is beautifully portrayed. Parents will feel the immense pain of Mary as she watches in submission as her flesh and blood offers his flesh and blood for the salvation of the world.

Attention to minute detail is evident in the film. The imagery and scenes are so rich, they will require many viewings to take in. Like a great work of art, many brush strokes, which go unnoticed at first, grace the viewer upon subsequent viewings. It was in comparing our observations as a group that we were able to capture as much as we did. Each viewer shared aspects of scenes missed by others.

Just as with the Scriptures themselves, there are layers of meaning in the film. And so as it is with repeated reading and study of Scripture, the pictures presented hold deeper and deeper meaning. Some will merely see a supremely acted film that has great beauty and evokes great emotion. Others will recognize the historical facts in the presentation, and still others will see a spiritual dimension that begs the viewer on from contemplation of the horrific tortures Christ suffered for our sins, to the realization of the fact that those sufferings came after he divested himself of the glory of his divinity.

Campus Crusade and the Evangelical Fellowship have seen in the film an awesome evangelical tool. The Passion of the Christ presents the Good News in a way that has never been more compelling since the original. It is a miracle; it is a gift of God through his son Mel Gibson, who is the first to admit that it was his sins – not those of the Jews – that crucified Christ.

Notably, we were told after the screening that Mel Gibson did play a part in the film. It is his hands that drive the nails into Christ – thus serving as Gibson’s admission of guilt for the death of Christ.

The film will likely receive an “R” rating for its graphic portrayal of Jesus’s sufferings. Admittedly, the tortures Jesus underwent are difficult to witness, even the minute portion of them portrayed in the film. But Gibson says he purposefully included enough of such scenes to make the viewer suffer at least a little with the victim.

Copious tears flowed from me while watching, -nay, experiencing – The Passion of the Christ. Some were shed out of pity for the hurt to the characters in the film, but the more intense pangs came from another sentiment.

Often, I have tried to evoke “true contrition for my sins.” It is that feeling of sorrow you would want a child to be experiencing after seriously harming a sibling. Not crying out of the fear evoked because his brother is hurt or his parents are worried. Not for fear of punishment or worse yet, self-pity after punishment, but crying out of sorrow in the realization that by his own malicious actions, he has seriously hurt his brother, the child of his father and mother, his closest friend.

Contrition for our sins is often hard to come by. It is difficult to comprehend that our sins have hurt Jesus. The Passion of the Christ bursts through this barrier. I felt sorrow and shed tears for my sins, not because I had been caught, not even because I feared the loss of heaven or the pains of hell, but most of all, because my sins were the scourges that inflicted such suffering on my Lord – the good God made flesh to save me from my sins, my brother, my Saviour, my king.

John-Henry Westen, M.A., is the editor of He has six children, including one yet to be born, and lives in the Ottawa Valley.