The Portrayal of Satan in The Passion of the Christ

In order to accurately understand Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, it is important to understand the portrayal of his enemy, Satan.  The first scene in which Satan appears in the film is when Jesus is praying the Garden of Gethsemane.  Whenever Jesus is praying for God to spare him for “traps they set for him,” Satan appears in the background.  Although this doesn’t appear in the biblical source, it serves to represent Jesus’ struggle with accepting his fate and his overall temptation not to go through with his crucifixion. He then tempts Jesus statings

Who is your father?  Who are you?

(Time Stamp 7:50)

A snake is then used to represent a physical presence of Satan when Jesus is at the most vulnerable moment in the film and over his life.  Below is a representation of Satan’s presence looking over Jesus and the snake that is literally squashed when Jesus stomps on him.  This is significant in a couple ways.  First, the snake is a classic representation of Satan due to the story of the Garden of Eden where Satan took the form of a snake. So this scene is referencing that aspect.  And second, when Jesus stomps the snake, that represents the over message and theme of the movie that Jesus is defeating Satan.  As the movie was made in mind with Mel Gibson’s religious views, these two pictures help represent them.

(Time Stamp 8:07)

In discussing the appearance of Satan, it appears that Satan exhibits neither masculine nor feminine qualities.  This is represent the fact that he is not a man.  The bugs and maggots in his nose also convey this.  An interesting fact is that Mel Gibson cast a women to play Satan to help strongly differentiate  Satan from being seen as a man, but rather a non-human being.

The second time Satan appears in the film in when Judas is being tormented by demons.  Satan is depicted in the background while the demons who appear as children torture and taunt him.  The scene is depicted without dialogue but it is implied that through his tormenting that Judas is led to hang himself due to his torture by Satan.  This rope with is on a dead donkey is covered in maggots, which further strengthen the influence by Satan on Judas death as Satan was depicted with maggots in his nose earlier.  It is implied Satan gave Judas the reasoning, the temptation and the means for him to commit suicide.  This scene is important because it shows that Satan does have to power to make individuals give up and it worked on Judas as opposed to it not working on Jesus in the first scene.  This also strengthens Jesus’s strength and resistance to temptation which is important to the film and shows that Judas wasn’t as strong mentally as Jesus.

(Time Stamp 36:50)

One last section to discuss when discussing the role of Satan in the film is the last scene in the film.  Whenever Jesus dies, Satan is shown screaming and looking upwards.  This represents the main theme of the film that Jesus was greater than Satan and “conquered” him in a sense.  As Jesus dies, Satan is shown screaming, looking upward and parts of him flying off, showing his own defeat.

Jason Jordan

6 Comments

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6 responses to “The Portrayal of Satan in The Passion of the Christ

  1. annacantwell

    I think it’s interesting the idea of Satan being portrayed androgynous and non-human. Biblically, Jesus came to die as a man. He felt true pain, shed real blood, and felt human emotions of dejection humiliation. Satan, conversely, is portrayed as an animal (a snake), an androgynous figure (favoring neither gender), and something un-alive (the worms in his nose representing death/decay). The contrast of Jesus becoming so much human flesh and blood is perfectly juxtaposed with Satan’s brief appearances in The Passion of the Christ. Jesus’ “humanness” gives him relatability to the audience, something to help the audience fill his shoes and imagine the immense suffering he undergoes. This also estranges the audience from Satan.

  2. Your analysis was very thorough and your examples were solid. I was only confused when Satan screamed towards the sky after Jesus died, but having read this, it is starting to make sense. In the movie, I found it very interesting that Mel Gibson gave Satan such a calm demeanor and inconspicuous physical appearance. I expected Satan to be a little more gruesome and conspicuous due to his heinous character depicted in the Bible. However, in remembering that Satan is a fallen angel, Mel Gibson’s portrayal is actually probable. He did an excellent job in staying as close as he could to the documented event and not filling his movie with fluff for dramatic appeal.

  3. michaeldepasquale

    I also thought it was interesting how Mel Gibson portrayed Satan in this movie. The actual woman who plays her is very pretty in real life, and I think he wanted to portray the potential attractiveness of Satan. It symbolizes that evil is not always evil looking, but Satan’s ways can be very deceptive and misleading. He wanted to portray the fact that evil can be oddly attractive to someone, and its not always obvious what the right and wrong decision is until after a deed is done. Satan as a woman is still very haunting in this film, but viewers can see how she is oddly elegant throughout the film.

  4. leariej

    In watching the movie, I also found Satan’s appearance very intriguing. Gibson’s portrayal of Satan brings a kind of supernatural feeling to the character, one I would compare with Voldemort in Harry Potter. Jesus’s decision to stomp on the snake was also interesting to me, because I felt it was the only time Jesus has ever partaken in violence. This aggressive action against this snake of Satan showed his extreme determination to stay with his fate.

  5. Pingback: Jonathan Bowden o filmu Umučení Krista | Délský potápěč

  6. Pingback: Jonathan Bowden o filmu Umučení Krista | Counter-Currents Publishing

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