Theologically Informed Movie

THE THEOLOGY OF THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, by Monica Migliorino Miller. New York: Alba House2187 Victory Blvd., Staten Island NY 10314, 2005. 170 pages, $14.95.

The film The Passion of the Christ has been lauded as the most theologically informed movie about Christ ever made. Unlike many other films drawn from the Gospels, it utilizes images, gestures and actions, which serve as commentary on the Redemptive mission of Christ. In her text, The Theology of the Passion of the Christ, Monica Migliorino Miller attempts to unweave the major elements of this theology. Drawing from the depictions of major characters, themes of the Incarnation and the sources used, she provides a very meaningful journey through the media production. This review will deal with only some of the major characters and themes.

As the film opens to the beginning of the last twelve hours of Christ’s life, the garden narrative immediately conveys conflict between good and evil. Christ does sweat blood as he looks toward the next few hours. Evil is indeed personified lurking in the garden. The serpent emanating from the devil is then crushed by the blow of Christ’s foot. Mel Gibson, in this opening scene, is harkening back to the Proto-evangelium found in Genesis 3:15.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
He will strike at you head,
while you strike at his heel.

Christ, the New Adam is the Offspring of the woman, the New Eve. He will render the mortal blow to the Devil’s head. Thus in the Genesis narrative is the bright promise of salvation given.

Mary is central to the unfolding of the story. Mary is likewise portrayed through the lens of Gen 3:15 for she as the New Eve assists in the bringing forth of Redemption. Mary is the only other character in the film who sees Satan. At one point in the film when Christ is being beaten, Satan appears carrying a child. The child clings to Satan as a child would to his mother but smiles in a grotesque fashion as Christ is beaten. The Devil attempts to imitate the truth of God—the counterfeit mother and child. Christ and Mary, however cannot embrace, for the work of Redemption is about to take place.

The Gibson film illustrates that even though Mary and Christ cannot embrace in these last hours before his death, there is a spiritual communion between them. Mary is present during Christ’s trial before the Sanhedrin. Afterwards, the camera follows Mary into an open courtyard space where she kneels down on the pavement and presses her eye into a crack between the stones. Her Son, chained directly beneath her, looks up at her. Though they are separated by the stones, they are united in a spiritual journey.

The disciples refer to Mary as Mother. Indeed, as the New Eve she stands in relation to the New Adam as a sign of the Church. She is therefore seen as Mother of all of the flock. After Peter has denied Christ, he goes to Mary. His declaration of guilt is equivalent to a confession, a confession to the Church.

Mel Gibson attempts to get into the turmoil of the soul of Judas in The Passion. Judas seeks relief for his soul in the wrong place and cannot find it. He is to be pitied. He attempts to erase his sin by his own power. He constantly wipes his own mouth, the lips which had betrayed Christ with a kiss. At the trial scene one of the witnesses accuses Jesus of telling people that he will give them his flesh to eat. Judas scrapes his mouth against the pillar and wipes it on his sleeve. The mouth that kissed Jesus in betrayal is unworthy to receive the Eucharistic Flesh of Jesus. Judas tries to wipe the guilt away.

A major element often referred to even before the film was released was anti-Semitism. Miller points out that Gibson was very faithful to what is found in the scriptures and further conveys the misinterpretations drawn by viewers in reference to various scripture passages.

Gibson’s portrayal is enriched through the writings of Anne Catherine Emmerich and Mary of Agreda. This is especially true in reference to the journey to Calvary. Miller explains the element of violence within the context of the Redemptive message.

The Theology of The Passion of the Christ is a very timely, easy to read text for individuals and certainly, parish libraries. It provides necessary background in carrying on meaningful discussions of the film within and beyond Catholic circles.

Sr. Madeleine Grace, CVI
University of St. Thomas
Houston, TX

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