Defending the 12th century since the 14th; blogging since the 21st.

Catholicism, Conservatism, the Middle Ages, Opera, and Historical and Literary Objets d'Art blogged by a suburban dad who teaches law and writes stuff.

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Who was Cacciaguida? See Dante's PARADISO, Cantos XV, XVI, & XVII.

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Tuesday, April 06, 2004
Saw The Passion of the Christ for the fourth time this evening.

You see new details each time. This time I caught:

* During the Herod scene, one of the Jewish leaders mutters something un-subtitled to another, and it sounds like it begins with "Yehuda."

* The are a bazillion ways in which the movie makes the point that Caiphas and his cronies could not count on widespread support among the Jews whom they supposedly lead -- in other words, "the Jews" didn't kill Jesus, even if Annas and Caiphas did. (And even as to that, see John 10:17-18 and my comments on it in the next bullet-point but one.) This implicates the "bribery" bit: Caiphas's men have to pay to make sure their reliable hacks fill up the courtyard (first Caiphas's, later Pilate's) and crowd out the others. Those others are represented by the Jewish woman who pleads with the passing Roman sentries outside Caiphas's court: "They've arrested him! In secret! At night!" And of course Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, both in priestly garb just like the "bad guys", make their opposition pretty clear.

* During the first flagellation, the one with the reeds or rattan canes, the Jewish leaders who are present are visibly shaken; one of them turns away and leaves. Then Caiphas says something un-subtitled; since he begins to depart as he says it, I assume it's "Let's go" or something like that. None of the Jewish leaders are present for the flagellation with the fishhook-pronged maces.

* Jesus brings the second flagellation on Himself, by standing up after the first one, to the amazement of the Romans. ("Credere non possum! -- Mutate flagellum!") This ties in with the flashback, much later, to John 10:17-18 ("I lay down my man taketh it away from me...."), which is shown by a white-fade between Him preaching those words and Him seeing the priests watching Him. Clear message: "These guys think they're killing me, but they're not: they're carrying out a divine plan to which I have freely consented." Being High Priest will do that to you: even when you try to be really evil, you end up prophesying truthfully. See John 11:49-52.

* The bird -- not the bad crow, but the beautiful bird in the Pilate's court scene -- appears at the moment when Caiphas is giving Pilate the religious side of the charges against Jesus. Jesus clearly notices the bird, and is encouraged by it. (The Holy Spirit? The first verbal reference to the sending of the H.S. comes in a Last Supper flashback near the end of the scourging.)

* Is it real or is it a good-cop/bad-cop act? Caiphas (I'm using the Douay spelling) gives Pilate the religious charges against Jesus, which he must know Pilate won't care about. Annas -- more menacing than Caiphas -- makes a "Let me handle this, boy" gesture towards Caiphas (his son-in-law) and proceeds to tell Pilate the political side of the case against Jesus -- the side Pilate cares about, because it implicates Caesar's authority in Judea, and therefore the career (and perhaps neck) of Caesar's top representative on the spot.

* I've noticed it before, but I've got to mention it: I get a kick out of Caiphas's facial reaction to Barabbas's smell, as he waves Barabbas out of his sight. In fact I think Mattia Sbragia (Caiphas) is da bomb: he has great dignity, a wide range of expression, and a beautiful speaking voice. (Here's his website: lots of pictures, and also his measurements, in case you need to make a costume for him. Seems he's been a staple of Italian stage and film since Caesar was a cadet.)

* Mary awakens abruptly at the exact moment of the first blow delivered to Jesus by one of the arresting guards. The solidarity of "Team Mary" -- Mary Immaculate, Mary Not-So-Immaculate, and John -- is one of my favorite visual motifs in the picture.

* I was also very moved this time by "Team Simon": the bond that springs up between Jesus and Simon of Cyrene, shown in their looks at each other, as the carry the cross together. For me this illustrates what St. Josemaria wrote about this particular Station of the Cross (the fifth):

In the whole context of the Passion, this help does not add up to very much. But for Jesus, a gesure, a little bit of love is enough for him to pour out His grace bountifully upon the soul of his friend.

Think not only of Simon's physical assistance, but also his repeated quiet encouragements: "Almost there", "not much further", etc. It's a strange and brief friendship, but it changed Simon's life: how else explain St. Mark's obvious assumption that his readers will be so familiar with Simon's sons that he can identify Simon simply as "the father of Alexander and Rufus" (Mark 15:21)? St. Josemaria says:

Years later, Simon's sons, Christians by then, will be known and held in high esteem among their brothers in the faith. And it all started with this unexpected meeting with the Cross.

* I know that the Hebrew for "no" is "lo". In Aramaic is sounds more like "la". "Never", it seems, is "liut." This time I paid less attention to the subtitles, intending to give myself an immersion lesson in Aramaic. One of the effects of this was that when the dialogue switched to Latin, the rush of sudden (relative) comprehension made me forget momentarily that they weren't speaking English. (One of my faculty colleagues, a Jewish-Christian classicist, says that when he gets the DVD, he's going to watch it with the subtitles suppressed.)

* I've mentioned before that Pilate starts his conversation with Jesus in Aramaic, but that Jesus responds in Latin, and in Latin they continue. But the second time Pilate asks Jesus whether He is a king (corresponding to John 18:37, as distinct from John 18:33), Pilate asks the question twice: first in Aramaic, then in Latin.

One more thing: I'm not a "cheap cry" at movies, and I didn't lose it at any of my first three viewings. This time I did,
twice, both times at highly Marian moments: when Our Lady tearfully turns away from the second, more severe scourging and prays that her Son will allow this to end; and then at The Moment, the one where everyone loses it: the Fourth Station of the Cross -- Jesus Meets His Blessed Mother -- "Bari! [Son!] I'm here!" "Mother, behold, I make all things new!"