The Buddha once remarked that understanding his instruction is like “trying to catch a poisonous snake in the wild”: it’s all too easy to get bitten. Among Christian teachings, none are more treacherous than those about Jesus’ Passion (from the Latin passio, “suffering”). Theological ideas have teeth. In The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson ventures out into the wild and gets bitten.
Buoyed by controversy, the film will become the most watched Passion play in history, and so its strengths and flaws—The Passion has plenty of both—will have a breathtakingly broad audience. The critics are deeply divided: some have hailed it as a masterpiece comparable to the works of Dante (First Things), while others have labeled it “obscene” (Boston Globe), “almost sadistic” (Los Angeles Times) and “a sickening death trip” (New Yorker).