• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


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    Sunday, March 23, 2008

    The Passion - Part 4 Scene Guide

    See all posts on this film.
    The Passion has just reached its conclusion so it's time for me to blog my thoughts on the final episode. As with the previous three episodes I'm giving biblical references in my usual scene guide format (citation guide). Passages in square brackets are extra-biblical episodes. My overall review of this programme is here, though I hope to add some additional points now I have seen the whole series.
    Joseph Asks for Jesus's Body - Mark 15:42-45
    [EBE - Disciples Discuss Jesus's Death]
    [EBE - Caiaphas Criticises Joseph's Decision]
    Burial - Mark 15:46-47
    [EBE - Holy Saturday - The Two Marys]
    [EBE - Holy Saturday - Disciples Worry About What to do]
    [EBE - Caiaphas's Wife Reassures him]
    Soldiers at the Tomb - Matt 27:62-66
    [EBE - Marys and the Disciples]
    Magdalene at The Tomb - John 20:1
    Caiaphas Told of the Empty Tomb - Matt 28:11
    Mary, John and Peter Go to the Tomb - John 20:3-10
    Jesus Appears to Mary - John 20:11-17
    Mary Tells the Disciples - John 20:18
    [EBE - Caiaphas and Joseph Argue]
    Road to Emmaus - Luke 24:13-33
    Jesus Appears in the Upper Room - Luke 24:36-49
    [EBE - Pilate and his Wife Return Home]
    [EBE - Caiaphas's Son is Born]
    Jesus and Peter - John 21:15-19
    I Will be with you Always - Matt 28:20

    Spoilers follow:
    I'd like to start by talking about the post-resurrection appearances, mainly because I've known about them for some time. I'd heard a good while back that this film was going to do something interesting with the resurrection, and I wondered then if it was going to use a different actor for the resurrected Jesus. My suspicions were confirmed at the première when Nigel Stafford-Clark accidentally let it slip that my hunch was correct. Fortunately, I managed to keep this all to myself, and settled for just giving it a passing mention in my review. But, suffice to say, I've been positively bursting to talk about it ever since.

    What they did so well is keep the facts largely as they are. The gospels are nowhere more divergent than they are on the subject of Easter morning. Mark mentions some women, an angel and an empty tomb and precious little else (later additions aside). Matthew elaborates by having Jesus meet the woman and having a guard placed at the tomb. Luke omits Matthew's story about the seal, but adds the story about the Road to Emmaus, and an appearance to Peter, before bringing things to a climax with the resurrected Jesus appearing to all the disciples. Finally John gives an almost totally different account with Mary Magdalene alone finding the empty tomb, not seeing an angel, returning to tell Peter and John before she meets the risen Jesus for herself. We then two appearances to a room full of disciples and doubting Thomas, breakfast on the beach, restoration of Peter and a cryptic comment about John.

    Of course many previous Jesus films omit the resurrection altogether, or give it a more spiritual interpretation, and even many of those that do include it skip by fairly quickly. Among those that do include it, a surprising number actually go on to show the one thing the gospels don't talk about - Jesus leaving the tomb. What we have here is the story as it is presented - albeit based on a harmonisation of the story - and not only that but it's one that seeks to offer not one, but several possible interpretations of what actually happened and leave the viewer to decide for themselves.The first such interpretation will be the one that pleases scholars such as Tom Wright. Wright holds that the failure to recognise the risen Jesus was because his resurrection body is a physical body, but one that is significantly different from his pre-resurrection body. This is the interpretation that I had been wondering if ever anyone would try.

    But the other interpretation, that the filmmakers were keen to leave as a possibility was that actually Jesus wasn't resurrected. This is dealt with far more visually. Firstly the empty tomb, far from being somewhere that might require a gardener (John 20:16) is in the middle of the desert, and, at the crucial moment the soldiers leave their post. (Incidentally Matthew's account has the soldiers told to say that the body was stolen when they were asleep whereas here it occurs whilst they go off to buy food - a move that, in itself is open to various interpretations). Then we have the two appearances using the different actors which could be read to be fairly damning, and whilst Joseph Mawle eventually resumes the role these appearances are all shot from a particular character's point of view, rather than in a more objective setting.

    A further interpretation is that the use of different actors is just to show the confusion in the disciples' minds and once they realise that Jesus has risen we see Joe Mawle back in more corporate settings. So there are at least three interpretations and I look forward to unearthing more over the next few days. Either way, it will be a talking point. Incidentally the two actors who appear here are listed in the credits as "Man at Tomb" and "Man on Road to Emmaus".There are a few other points to make. The final scenes are also very interesting, in particular the birth of a son to Caiaphas, and his evident relief and prayer of thanks. The point here is that Caiaphas, at least, seems to interpret this as confirmation of God's approval. He has done the right thing, his wife and child are safe and his line will continue. But other possibilities are possible. Perhaps it's just chance, or perhaps it is a reward from God for being a pawn in his master plan. What's interesting is the correlation between Caiaphas interpretation and those of viewers interpreting the rest of the story in accordance with their own beliefs. This also happens to a far lesser degree with Pilate whose house is beginning to take shape once more.

    I also noticed a nice touch in one of the scenes between James and John. The portrayal of these two disciples has been one of the series' minor delights. John has for so long been played as a wet blanket, that it was great to see him acting more like he could be one of the sons of thunder. If I ever write up my Jesus Film Dream Team, Jamie Sives will be on it. Anyway, there's a nice irony at the point where a sceptical James tells warns his brother that if he carries on he's "going to get himself killed". Tradition has it that John was the only one of the disciples not to be martyred whereas James was one of the first to be killed..Following on from that, at the start of the episode John reports back on Jesus's death. It's interesting that this could be taken as the start of his traditional role as the disciple who wrote the fourth gospel. There's further intrigue, though, because John recalls Jesus's last words as "Your will is done" (variation on "it is accomplished" which appears only in John) whereas his last words were actually shown as being "I've loved you with all my heart". Whether this is intended to show John deliberately altering Jesus's words, or just that he didn't recall these things perfectly, or whether it was just a glitch in the production is, like much of this final episode, open very much to interpretation.


    As with previous episodes a few others have blogged the final episode. Doug Chaplin at MetaCatholic continues his generally excellent coverage and Gerard O'Collins is the fourth author for Thinking Faith. I also came across Stephen Barton's Reformed Christian UK site which has also posted a few thoughts on all four parts (1, 2, 3 and 4). The BBC has also added an article on their portrayal of the crucifixion.

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    • At 11:29 pm, March 23, 2008, Blogger Doug said…

      Matt, thanks for this and the rest of your coverage (and for the links). I'm intrigued by the way you spell out variant readings of the resurrection. I must say that I'm less clear than you that the portrayal of the risen Jesus is from various character's viewpoints by the time we see Joseph Mawle. I think that's arguably true at Emmaus, which was framed in such a way that it at first made me wonder whether this was a flashback to the Last Supper. I'm not at all ceratin that it's the case by the time of the Upper Room scene. And I'm pretty clear that the camera is "objective" observer at the scene of Peter by the pool with Jesus. No other disciple is shown or implied.
      I'm sure there's an interesting discussion here, and I would agree that this is a very creative portrayal.

    • At 11:01 am, March 24, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      Hi Matt, your running commentary on The Passion has been most comprehensive and interesting. Thanks especially for the scene by scene breakdown. It's been enjoyable following it for the week - the benefits of serialisation! My own eforts at blogging it during the week are at www.faitharts.ie/blog.html
      Found the last episode very moving, and to me the film makers were quite committed on the physical reality of the ressurection especially from the Emmaus scene on.

    • At 2:26 am, March 25, 2008, Blogger Mark Goodacre said…

      Excellent post, Matt; particularly enjoyed your reflections on the way the resurrection was portrayed, not least because I was thrilled by how well it was done. I'll comment and link to your post in due course.

    • At 12:55 am, March 26, 2008, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks for all your comments everyone.

      Doug, I'll have to have another look, but I certainly think it's not outrageous to interpret those scenes that way. From what I recall, I read the Emmaus scene as you did, the upper room scene was notable because we only see Jesus's face right at the end, and IIRC it's a point of view shot from Peter. The final one, and again this is just from recollection, but whilst there are other people there, it also feels a bit like the two of them are the only ones there. It's a little like scenes from Sixth Sense or perhaps Fight Club.

      Brendan - thanks for that, sorry I forgot to add you on after your earlier email I'll make amends soon.

      Mark - glad to hear you were so pleased with the final results, certainly the resurrection scenes are up there with my favourites (Miracle Maker and Last Temptation FWIW).



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