It Should Have Won the Oscar – The Passion of the Christ

In the Best Picture category, one of the biggest Oscar snubs in my time came when Mel Gibson’s epic The Passion of the Christ wasn’t even nominated. This was before Gibson started being recorded making highly bigoted rants. He was still in the good graces of Hollywood and a respected Oscar-winning director for his work on Braveheart.

The Passion of the Christ is a 2004 cinematic masterpiece that captures the final 12 hours before Jesus’ death. Gibson not only directed the film, he also co-wrote it. The dialogue is in reconstructed Aramaic, with some Hebrew and Latin mixed in. The acting is so good, and the filmatic choices so raw and riveting, it doesn’t matter that it’s in a dead language. Yes, there are subtitles, but they aren’t necessary to feel the passion of the film.

I come around to religious subjects from an interesting point of view. I have been everywhere on the religious spectrum from not believing in God, to believing in a God, to believing I was God, and back to a more reasonable belief that there may be a God. I’m an ordained minister thanks the Universal Life Church, although, so was Johnny Carson.

I have always been fascinated by the story of Jesus. I love the Broadway musical Jesus Christ Superstar including both the 1973 Norman Jewison film adaptation starring Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson and the 2001 straight to video adaptation starring Glenn Carter and Jerome Pradon. I also saw Neeley and Anderson recreate their roles on stage. When Sebastian Bach got fired from the 2002 national tour, I was among those considered to replace him. Eric Kunze won out. He was a far better singer than I was, but I had much better hair at the time. Talent over glitter and light.

Films about Jesus also fascinated me. I wondered at how different actors approached the role. It only struck me later in life that all the actors were Caucasian. We are so used to seeing the Evangelical image of a blond haired, blue-eyed Jesus that it’s easy to forget that the real Jesus would have been Middle Eastern.

In Gibson’s Passion of the Christ the role of Jesus fell to Jim Caviezel. Caviezel had been on my radar for a while. I first became aware of Caviezel in his small role in Pay it Forward opposite Haley Joel Osment and Helen Hunt in 2000. Then he turned in a nice acting job in Frequency later that year and showed true star power in The Count of Monte Cristo in 2002.

His commitment to authenticity while filming the role of a lifetime is impressive. In the film, Jesus is beaten, whipped, and tortured mercilessly. Caviezel had his shoulder dislocated, was struck by lightning, suffered a stab wound, and contracted both pneumonia and hypothermia while filming. It was an amazing performance. I have little doubt that Gibson’s greatest film would not have been as riveting with any other actor.

I was very surprised that Caviezel didn’t earn a Best Actor nomination for his performance. Jamie Foxx won the Academy Award for his performance in Ray, and rightfully so, but Caviezel deserved at least a nomination. He was far better than any of the other four nominees.

Gibson, of course, went on to destroy his image in a series of antisemitic and homophobic rants. Once considered cinematic toxic waste, he has shown that with time Hollywood forgives. He has played a growing number of meaty roles in the last few years. His 2016 directing effort Hacksaw Ridge earned him another Best Director Academy Award nomination.

Caviezel landed on television as the star of CBS’ Person of Interest. Sadly, later Caviezel went pure batshit crazy as a devout follower of QAnon – a far rightwing conspiracy theory organization that believes Donald Trump is fighting a secret war against a group of cannibal demonic sex traffickers presided over by high-ranking Democrats. But at one point he was a good actor. The Passion of the Christ is a prime example of that.

The film is a pure masterpiece. It was easily the best film of 2004. The cinematography by Caleb Deschanel was amazing and was duly recognized with an Academy Award nomination. Nominations also were issued to Keith Vanderlaan and Christien Tinsley for Best Makeup and John Debney for Best Score.

The winner of the Best Picture Oscar for 77th Academy Awards for films released ins 2004 was Million Dollar Baby, a very good film – but not on par with The Passion of the Christ, in my opinion. Clint Eastwood also won the Best Director award, although Gibson far outshined him. As we know by now, sometimes Oscar gets it wrong.

Peace. Love. Trust.

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