Resources for Parents Who Want to View The Passion of the Christ with Their Teenage Children
about this articleThis review of Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ, given by a parent and high school teacher, gives parents insight into the content of the movie, guidance in allowing their child to see the movie, and discussion questions for follow-up if they do decide to take their child to see the film.
Things to Remember
Film is an art form, and many genres and subgenres exist within film. Comedy is a genre. Within that genre one could name romantic comedies, slapstick comedies, and dark comedies as subgenres. Before reading a piece of literature or before watching a film, it is important to know the genre of the work. Likewise, if you choose to watch The Passion of the Christ with your child, you will need to prepare yourself and your child by studying the genre.
This film is not a documentary. Documentaries are concerned with retelling historical events exactly as they happened. Mel Gibson is not providing a portrayal of the last twelve hours of Christ's life based on extensive historical research. Rather, he has produced a tragedy. More properly, he has produced an artistic interpretation of a tragedy. The purpose of this film is not to retell history. Rather, the purpose is to reveal the essence of who Jesus is through Mel Gibson's eyes.
Mel Gibson is an artist, and he uses artistic imagery to reveal his understanding of Jesus. This film is not a historical retelling of the Jesus story. It is an artistic retelling of a particular part of the Jesus story--Christ's Passion. The Jesus story is more than Christ's Passion. The way Jesus celebrated, taught, loved, and worked are part of the story. But most importantly, the story of Jesus is one of resurrection. The images of his death are very powerful and compelling, but they are not the end of the Jesus story. The Resurrection and Jesus' Ascension into glory make up the rest of the story. Christians are to live with an understanding of the cross; however, Christians are to also live with an understanding of the Resurrection. To ignore either one is tantamount to an incomplete relationship with Jesus.
Possible Reactions by Young People
The Passion of the Christ is a work of art. Sometimes art can be very disturbing. Some of the artistic imagery in the film is disturbing. Much has been made of the violence and brutality in the film, but one must also be aware of the personification of evil in the film. Satan is portrayed as a feminine character, and demons take the form of children. Judas does commit suicide. This comes after being harassed by children--dark, disfigured, and unsettling children. Your child, even a teenage child, could be quite bothered by such a depiction.
On a spiritual level, one might experience profound and unhealthy guilt. Generally, teenagers have very sensitive consciences. It will be important to monitor their level of guilt for several days after watching the film. Again, it will be important to emphasize that Christ did undergo death in order to free us from death. By fixating on his death, we limit our freedom from death. The cross is a symbol of Jesus' empathy with us, not his judgment toward us.
The story of Jesus and the events of his life, death, and Resurrection are a revelation of Love--God as Love. Such a dramatic portrayal of Christ's Passion could lead young people to repentance. However,their repentance could be prompted by fear. If a young person is having a conversion experience based on such fear, it will be important for you to walk with him or her past that and into a fuller, more mature relationship based on God's love. The film depicts Jesus as overflowing with compassion and mercy for those who are crucifying him. Mel Gibson says we are the ones who crucified Christ. If that is indeed the case, then we should look at the compassion and mercy that Jesus extends to all in the film. That is the God of love that the cross reveals.
Talking About the Film
I saw The Passion of Christ at a prescreening with 2,500 people. Media were covering the event and were swarming the area outside the screening room before it started. I imagined what the scene would be like after the event. I imagined media trying to capture interviews. I imagined people "buzzing" as they left the screening room. I imagined impromptu prayer meetings in the hallway. But nothing like that happened. The media was silent. The reviewers were silent. Everything was silent, and I was relieved. I saw the film without a companion, and I was glad. I did not want to talk after witnessing such a film, and no one around me did either. This might be your experience or the experience of your child as well. I was not ready to talk about the film until the next morning. I understand this is a common experience after witnessing something traumatic. This film depicts something traumatic and could indeed be traumatizing. If you decide to view this film with your child, please know that it could be quite traumatizing to her or him. But once the period of silence is over, it will be important to talk and to process the images in the film and the emotions within your child and you.
Questions for Discussion
When your child and you are ready to talk about the film, you can use the following questions to help facilitate a discussion. You may find these questions helpful. You may not. You may find that your child and you can sit down for a set amount of time and have a formal discussion. But you may not. At seemingly odd times, your child may want to talk about the film. It will be very important for you to listen at those moments. Be flexible. On the other hand, be intentional. Many young people find it awkward to discuss their emotions with their parents. But viewing The Passion of the Christ is a significant event that young people will need to talk about. Asking questions could help facilitate a good conversation that starts and stops over several days or even weeks.
- By using a woman to portray Satan and children to portray demons, do you think the movie did a good job portraying evil? Would you have portrayed it differently? If so, how? Did the film's depiction of evil disturb you?
- What about Simon of Cyrene? Do you think you would have helped Jesus carry the cross? Would you have wanted to stay out of it like Simon did? What did you think about the change in Simon of Cyrene? Do you think you would have changed?
- Could you identify with Mary? Why do you think she was able to stay near Jesus during the whole Passion?
- What did you think about the Resurrection scene? Would you have depicted it differently?
- What were you thinking and feeling during the scourging and crucifixion? How do you think the Resurrection can help us better understand those scenes?
(Copyright © 2004 by Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for the free use of this article for classroom or campus ministry purposes; however, it may not be republished in any form without the written permission of Saint Mary's Press. For more resources to support your ministry, call 800-533-8095, or visit our Web site at www.smp.org.)
Published March 20, 2004.