By Chris Cabin on Wednesday 12th July 2006
Out of the thousands of problems one could have with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, there is one thing that sticks out above all: its sureness and certainty. There was no questioning going on in the film and no humbleness in the great face of possibility. It was an act of utter belief, which could be seen as a great gesture or a great detriment. This obviously got the attention of indie rebel Abel Ferrara, the firebrand behind Bad Lieutenant and King of New York. Where Gibson is steadfast in his Christianity, Ferrara has the foresight to fill the film with his own humility and confusion over what's going on up there.Jesus Christ walks into a cave (this would be directly after the resurrection) to find Mary Magdalene and attempts to comfort her. Then, Jesus yells "Cut!" It turns out that he is actor/director Tony Childress (Matthew Modine), and Mary is Marie Palesi (Juliette Binoche). Tony is just wrapping his retelling of the life of Jesus, This is My Blood, and is high on his own self-righteousness. So much so that he blows up at Marie when she announces she is going to Jerusalem. See, Marie has become obsessed with the character of Mary Magdalene and has made it her new mission to try to unlock her secrets.Back in New York, hard-nosed discussion show host Ted Younger (Forest Whitaker) is prepping a week long discussion on Jesus and the Bible. He has a pregnant wife (Heather Graham) that he ignores and a pressing need to get Childress on his show. Childress agrees but Younger hits a water hazard when his wife gives birth prematurely and the life of his son is not certain. Things get really messy, but Younger gives it up to god and Childress stages a coup when a bomb threat threatens to cancel the opening screening of his film.Childress isn't just a representation of Gibson-like pomposity; he is also a representation of Ferrara's feebleness/audacity with this subject matter as well. Ferrara's search is sincere and unbelievably open, but it really is a return to the ideas that he was tangling with in Bad Lieutenant: uncomplicated redemption. Bad Lieutenant's physical world of pain and corruption eventually led to that shocking scene where the Lieutenant offers to kill the rapist and the nun asks him not to, ostensibly forgiving the kids who raped her. The redemption sought after in Mary has much more breadth and a mercurial vastness. Every character is looking for their way to rediscover god, to be brought back into his graces. Childress tries to find it by emulating it, Younger does it by finally giving into his humility and Marie wants to find it through finding Mary Magdalene's true purpose. At moments, it can be overwhelming.Ferrara returns to his city of choice with an uncanny gothic style, dark and frankly frightening. Those long shots of Younger's limo rides home evoke a deep sense of dread in the current state of cynicism and fear (often, Younger is watching news of terrorism during his rides home). For the first time since 1996's The Funeral, Ferrara has found a sustainable tone and a story that allows him room to talk about a reverent subject. Somehow, he turns confusion into a concise study on what it means to believe in god in this day and age. Consider it an act of faith. Amen, brother.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 11th November 2005
Distributed by: IFC First Take
Rotten Tomatoes: 59%
Fresh: 10 Rotten: 7
Cast & Crew