The words excruciating and crucifixion are related. It's easy to see why when you read the reviews of Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ.

Critics find themselves divided. Some applaud the portrayal of Jesus' final twelve hours while others are throwing rotten tomatoes. Nevertheless, they would all agree that watching it is an excruciating experience. For many, seeing Jesus' torments vividly, graphically and relentlessly illustrated only serves to heighten their appreciation of Christ's love for humankind. For others, Gibson's hyper-realistic violence is gratuitous, an act of cruelty carried out upon the audience by an agenda-driven, heavy-handed, insensitive director.

In this column, I first shared news about the film on August 19, 2002. There has been news on an almost weekly basis ever since. Film Forum readers even shared their suggestions on how to make a good Jesus movie. It has been a long and painful process, monitoring the debates, the mudslinging, the defense, and the speculation. So it is with a sense of relief that I am glad to finally share a few thoughts on the finished work, and links to the responses of other critics as well.

Now that I've seen the film, I find myself with a foot in each of the two critics' camps. The Passion of The Christ has commendable strengths, but it has flaws as well. Gibson's film is not The Fifth Gospel—it is a work of art by a human being. Thus, it is not sacrilegious to point out the work's weaknesses. (Critics who consider it imperfect are sure to receive angry letters, as though their comments about artistry are directed at the gospel itself instead of the way this version is illustrated.)

Gibson includes the basic events of Christ's last hours, and adheres remarkably well ...

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