When The Passion of the Christ was first announced it was a picture I took a lot of interest in. The subject matter - the last twelve hours of Christ’s life - interested me less than the concept writer/director Mel Gibson wanted to try. Gibson’s original plan for The Passion was to present the film in the languages of that time - Latin and Aramaic, with some Hebrew thrown in, but with no subtitles. Gibson theorized that with a story just about everyone should be familiar with, the language of emotion would be enough to tell the tale. Much to my disappointment, subtitles were later added in to make the film available for a more general audience.
Now, a year after its initial release, Gibson has compromised his film again, releasing The Passion Recut, his same film minus around five to seven minutes of graphic violence (the reported amount of time cut seems to vary from interview to interview). This is a movie I don’t quite comprehend. The film, which is about Christ’s capture, torture, and eventual death, is now having some of that torture removed. I get that Gibson felt he was making the movie more attractive to a broad audience, but at the end of the day this movie showcases Jesus being tortured. How does removing five to seven minutes of that open the picture to a wider audience?
I’ll be honest, I haven’t watched The Passion of the Christ enough to catch all of the changes in The Passion Recut, although some of the more gratuitous shots are obviously missing. Personally, I don’t think anyone should watch a movie this powerful and devastating often enough to catch the changes, but I’m sure there are some out there who have. No matter how you cut (or recut) it, this is a hard movie to watch. For a lot of people it’s a hard movie because of their beliefs. To them, this torture and inevitable death shown on screen was done by them - Christ died because of their sins. Well, I checked the end credits and didn’t see my name up there, so I’m pretty certain I didn’t cause the scourging. Maybe that was in the cut footage though. For others this is a hard film to watch because it’s almost the equivalent of watching a snuff film - a snuff film starring the lord and savior of mankind, but a violent snuff film nonetheless. This is a hard movie to watch because it is an extremely graphic, hyper-realistic depiction of a man’s death, and removing five to seven minutes of that doesn’t change what you’re watching, it just changes how graphic that depiction is.
The Passion is still full of powerful performances beyond the visual effects - Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount for example is an extremely powerful moment to watch. Gibson manages to capture the charisma and power of Christ’s figure without splattering him in blood. The portrayals of Mary (Maia Morgenstern) and Magdalen (Monica Bellucci) reach out and make even the coldest heart mourn the damage Jesus (James Caviezel) takes (the big difference between this film and any big budget horror flick), and one can’t help but feel concern for apostles Peter (Francesco De Vito) and Judas (Luca Lionello) as they deny and betray their lord.
I felt the original cut of The Passion bordered on being one of my “Important” films - movies everyone should see, regardless of its graphic nature, because the content was important. With these changes I wonder if Gibson hasn’t tainted the original cut and lessened the significance of the film. I think I’d have more respect for Gibson if he had altered the film to bring it more in touch with his original vision by removing the subtitles. I’d even accept him doing that but still cutting graphic footage from the film - then at least it would be closer to his original intentions. Instead he’s created more of a Passion- lite version, for those Christians who can’t stand the reality of their own faith, ready to be redistributed to theaters each Easter as a less-grim reminder of what the holiday is all about. Maybe next year the cut can become even more family friendly by having a rabbit pass in front of Jesus on the cross and lay an egg, therefore tying in the Easter Bunny. I’m sure Cadbury would spring for the costs to reshoot.
If you’re interested in The Passion of the Christ it’s still a good film, but I’d suggest viewing the original cut of the movie on DVD before catching this version in theaters. It’s not that this version is emotionally less of a movie, but if you’re going to watch a film with this content, you might as well be ready for the complete picture, not a watered down version of the director’s already-compromised original vision.