Saturday, August 3, 2013

Changed Lives: Miracles of The Passion

Here’s an interesting find – a documentary about the effect Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ has had on the world since its release in 2004. Changed Lives: The Miracles of The Passion plays like an overly-long making of featurette one might find on The Passion’s DVD, describing it as “an experience like no other” and bragging that it has touched/changed 80, 000, 000 lives.

Two things I’d like to point out before I go on. One, I have not yet seen The Passion of The Christ, so I have very few comments to make about it. Two, Changed Lives is not an official product for The Passion; it is as independent from Mel Gibson’s film as, well... as this review is from Changed Lives. So to speak. Indeed, Mel’s name is mentioned more times in this review than in the entire documentary.

The film, written and directed by Jody Eldred, is divided into several chapters, each dealing with a specific story. Julie Moran hosts, introducing each story with cheerfulness mixed with awe. The stories themselves are told mostly through interviews with the people in question, and various religious experts toss their two cents in between chapters.

And then there’s the night vision stuff. As each chapter ends, we see footage of people in a cinema watching The Passion. Closeup shots reveal audience members crying and looking away, no doubt overcome by the movie’s power. I suppose these bits are meant to show the exact moment when lives are being changed.

The stories range from charming to nutty: a man who murdered his girlfriend and got away with it, only to turn himself in after seeing The Passion; the two brothers who broke a man’s jaw because he’d fired their mom, only to reconcile, hug and forgive after seeing the film; the atheist who did drugs who was affected “beyond comprehension” after seeing the movie with his girlfriend; a self-described God Hater who screened The Passion for his daughter and wondered “what if this is real?”; and a woman with lung cancer who saw it and became completely cured.

Most wacky is the story of Jan “Lightning Boy” Michelini, a production assistant on The Passion whose story “is an amazing tale of God’s hand of protection.” He was struck by lightning twice while on set, the second time sharing the bolt with star Jim Caviezel. Call me cynical, but I’d only consider it a sign of God’s protection if the lightning had missed him. Doesn’t say much about the safety standards on the set, either. Still, the guy survived unscathed, and was the reason two of the actors decided to convert. That’s something, I guess.

“We can’t get away from the fact that this is not fiction, not made up,” says Author Lee Strobel (The Case For Faith) about The Passion. “It is reflective of what the Gospels tell us actually occurred. I think that’s where a lot of its power comes from.”

“People are seeing depicted truth,” says Pastor Jack Hayford. The Truth “unsheathed, like a sword,” that is “historically reliable, spiritually dynamic.” I suspect the purpose of having these two in the film is to reinforce the idea that The Passion (and the Gospels it is based on) is verifiably true without actually verifying it. One is an author, the other a priest – if they say it is “depicted truth” it must be true!

The strangest and most disturbing of the stories is the one they show first. A Colorado couple named Mike and Krista left their baby in the bath unsupervised for four minutes, and she drowned. Luckily she made a miraculous recovery. That’s the good part.

The strange and disturbing part comes before that. Mike administered CPR, even though he admits he had no training – it was just part of the miracle. “I realized right away that this was an attack of Satan,” he says. So how did Mike defeat the evil Satan and save his baby? Other than performing a first aid technique he didn’t actually know how to do? And just what does this story have to do with The Passion of The Christ, anyway?

It seems Mike and Krista had seen The Passion not too long before this incident, and as they prayed over their daughter they visualized the scene where Jesus is flogged by a Roman soldier. ‘By his stripes are yea healed,’ the Bible says; basically, they figured Jesus would save their kid if they pictured Him having the flesh torn from his back.

And apparently that worked. The doctor who checked the baby afterward was ‘baffled’ that she was so perfect after such a trauma. “It’s the work of God. There’s no doubt about that,” Mike’s dad says. Maybe so. I personally believe they were very lucky. The alternative is to believe that an evil force, not parental negligence, put the baby in danger, and the only way to combat that evil was to bring to mind the most violent scene from a movie about their deity’s death. That, to me, is wrong and sick on so many levels.

“We know for a fact this is historic reality,” Lee Strobel says, “and that what we see played out in front of us is something that actually took place in history.” If you believe that statement, then this film (and, presumably, The Passion) is for you. If you do not, Changing Lives will seem silly. Or crazy. No attempt is made to speak to the unsaved; if you are watching, you are assumed to be the choir to whom they are preaching.

“The stories you’ve just seen are all true,” Host Julie Moran tells us, “but more importantly, they are stories of truth.” Perhaps so, Julie. And I do believe all the interviewees are sincere in the telling of their stories. After all, some of the details do not paint them in the best light. However, I refuse to believe one can resurrect drowned babies or cure lung cancer by watching The Passion of The Christ, even if it is “based on an historic event that can transform a human being’s eternal destiny.” It makes me wonder about the stories we haven’t been told, where The Passion failed to deliver.

A lot of Belief can be a dangerous thing.

Changed Lives: Miracles of The Passion
Likely To Convert - 1
Production Values - 5
Acting/Direction - 4
Likely To Be Sat Through - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 6
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content – 5

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