Just like the title suggests, The Passion of the Christ gives a retelling of the events that led to Christ’s death on the cross as well as the events that led up to the crucifixion, according to Catholic director Mel Gibson’s interpretation of The New Testament from the Bible. While there have been many film retellings of these events over the years, none have been like The Passion of the Christ. That’s because this film is violent, disturbing, and very difficult to watch. The word “passion,” after all, does come from the terms passio and pati, meaning “suffering.”
The graphic content of the film was met with a lot of criticism and controversy and some believed that Gibson’s film was a gory ‘torture porn’ flick with excessive violence. In addition, many moviegoers couldn’t handle the film and left the theater in tears, emotionally distraught. While the film is very haunting and difficult to stomach, it’s important to remember that it should be. After all, torturing and murdering someone will never be pleasant to watch, especially someone who endured a crucifixion, which was one of the most brutal and painful deaths in its time. Therefore, Gibson was just trying to give an accurate interpretation of what may have actually happened.
Jesus’ Crucifixion as Christians Believe It Happened
To completely understand why an accurate retelling of Jesus’ death needs to be graphic and R-rated, it’s important to know what Christians believed happened. The Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees, didn’t like Jesus’ message of hope, love, and repentance. They believed his preaching to be incorrect, and blasphemous. The Pharisees needed Rome to sanction Jesus’ death sentence, so they took their case to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and persuaded the people to support their cause.
The Christians believe that after questioning Jesus on his teachings, Pontius Pilate actually found Him innocent. To try to appease the people, Pilate had Jesus stripped of his clothes and flogged. However, the people still wanted Jesus to be crucified. So Pilate, fearing retaliation from the restless crowd, handed Jesus over to one of his centurions to carry out the deed. Jesus was then spat on and insulted and a crown of thorns was placed mockingly on his head, cutting into his scalp. Jesus was then forced to carry a large wooden cross to Golgotha, where he was eventually crucified.
As mentioned above, Jesus was tortured before his crucifixion, and if The Passion of the Christ was to be as Biblically and historically authentic as possible, then that torture has to be depicted. Jesus’ specific form of torture was scourging, one of the most brutal, inhumane punishments inflicted by the Roman soldiers. Normally made from leather, a scourge is a multi-thong lash or whip with metal spikes, balls, or bones. It’s designed to inflict as much pain as possible as the jagged metal ends of the whip will bite into the skin, causing it to tear and bleed. As mentioned above, Jesus was stripped of his clothes and he would likely have been shackled so that he was in a defenseless position and His back would have been fully exposed to the lashings.
One or more Roman officials would then inflict the blows, one after the other, and would likely change positions and sides to ensure that they covered more skin. While Mosaic Law forbids scourging to exceed more than forty lashes, the actual number of lashes inflicted was often decided by the cruelty of the executioners and determined by the crime that had been committed. Therefore, the exact number of lashes that Jesus underwent is unknown. However, the aftereffects are known. Flogging causes the tear and breakage of small blood vessels, nerves, and muscles. Additionally, rib fractures, severe bruising in the lungs, and bleeding in the chest cavity are also a possibility, especially if blows were dealt to the upper back and rib cage.
Afterward, Jesus would have been extremely weak, having lost so much blood and having endured all the physical pain. He likely would have been in shock and experienced excessive vomiting, and diaphoresis. Yet, His plight was far from over as Jesus was then tasked to carry a large wooden cross to Golgotha. Along the way, the pain and suffering became so extreme that Jesus fell three times, and eventually, He required the aid of Simon of Cyrene, who was a passerby and pulled from the streets to help Jesus carry the cross. Once at Golgotha, the crucifixion destination, Jesus had wooden pegs driven into his hands and feet, nailing Him to the cross. Yet, His pain and suffering didn’t end there as a crucifixion is not a swift and painless death.
Death by Crucifixion
Crucifixions are not painless deaths. In fact, they are quite the opposite. Known as a method of capital punishment in ancient times by Carthaginians, Persians, and Romans, crucifixions are meant to be brutal and extremely painful. In addition, they are one of the most disgraceful ways to die, reserved mainly for the worst of criminals, traitors, slaves, and captive armies. Traditionally, death by crucifixion happens by tying or nailing its victim to a large wooden beam, cross, or X. That victim is then left to hang until death from exhaustion and asphyxiation occurs.
This process was meant to be slow and drawn out and could take anywhere from six hours to four days. According to Biblical accounts, Jesus’ death took six hours. While this is considered short for a crucifixion, that amount of time would be endless for the victim waiting on the cross to die, praying that the end was near all while suffering with excruciating pain from the previous flogging and torture.
The events speak for themselves, and after giving a detailed account of Jesus’ death according to Biblical texts, it’s impossible to accurately portray these events without extreme blood and violence. Most Christian movies are synonymous with being wholesome and cleaner than usual Hollywood films, but The Passion of the Christ is a true anomaly. If Mel Gibson wanted his story to accurately depict what Christians believe, that Jesus suffered to the extreme for the salvation of all, then the director had to show things exactly as they would have happened. If anything, Gibson may have held back to achieve an R rating rather than the dreaded X or NC-17 rating as it’s now called. Therefore, anything less of an R-rated retelling of the crucifixion simply cannot be accurate.
Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how Gibson handles the other side of the crucifixion in The Passion of the Christ: Resurrection, and what rating that will receive.