They say that an image can say more than thousand words. This may not always be true, but in some cases I think that these words are very, very near to the mark.
Let us take the film, “The Passion of The Christ”.
This film is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it, I must hasten to add, for the faint of faith. If you subscribe to the “let’s celebrate” mantra so conveniently spread in these godless times, you won’t like this movie. Violent, you will call it. Insensitively focused on cruel details. Graphic in the extreme.
And in fact, this film is a truly shocking experience. Still, I can tell you that no reading of the Gospel, no homily and no personal reflection and prayer ever opened my eyes to the reality of the Passion so much as this shocking film did from the first viewing.
I could never see this movie without crying of sorrow and shame and I tell you, it doesn’t happen to me whilst listening to the homily. The reality is that the sheer violence of this film delivers the goods in a way the best homily could probably – for want of the necessary visual props – never achieve. And in fact it can – I think – easily said that if you found the violence of the film excessive, this is a clear indication that the reality of the Passion was never transmitted to you in all its crudeness in the first place.
This film is not dedicated to the message of Jesus. It doesn’t primarily intend to explain Christianity and, in this sense, it can only indirectly be considered a help to the conversion of non-Christians. What this film does, is to limit itself to the last twelve hours of Jesus’ human existence. This, the film does not by explaining, but by observing. The screenplay closely follows the Gospels and is here and there integrated with elements of Anne Catherine Emmerich’s “The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord” (an unjustly neglected book, since come back to vast popularity). There are no frills, no hollywood-like “enrichments”, no attempts to make the story palatable. It is undiluted, brutal truth.
For this reason, the language has been accurately considered. No English-speaking actors here. The Jews talks in an Aramaic dialect (as they did in reality), and the Romans speak Latin. Astonishingly for the fans of the theory that Catholic churchgoers be too stupid to ever cope with Latin (much less… Aramaic!) you can easily follow the plot at all times through subtitles (just as you would, in church, with a Latin-English missal or booklet; but I suppose this is too much to ask of our liberal geniuses).
I watch this movie again every year during the Holy Week, but I think of it countless times during the year as its highly impressive visual message is a great help in my Rosary meditations. Every time, the violence of the Passion strikes me anew, which again tells me how easy it is to slowly but constantly sanitise the message until the sheer evidence of it is put in front of our eyes again.
To watch this movie is, to me, something akin to going to confession: unpleasant in the very thought, but highly salutary in the end result. I don’t sit joyously in front of the TV screen thinking “how beautiful, I am going to see Jesus being horribly tortured and killed again” in the same way as I – my fault, no doubt – do not manage to joyously run to the confessional, or to proceed to my examination of conscience without a sense of shame, humiliation and sheer inadequacy. Still, the spiritual benefits we can reap from such unpleasant activities can never be underestimated; not in case of the sacrament of course, but also certainly not in the case of such a powerful help to truly understand the Passion as this film undoubtedly is.
In the beautiful world of ours, for most of us this powerful Christian message is only a click away (or click here if you use the US version). Notice how cheap (particularly in the UK) this film has now become.
I suggest that you make the investment now and look at the film during next week.
You won’t like it. But you won’t regret it, either.