April 16, 2004

The Passion of the Christ, first take

The Attila-Hub and I went to see The Passion today. Supposedly we were avoiding it because of the crowds, and my husband's work schedule, and the Easter Rush, and my having to pluck my eyebrows . . . we all know what's what, though, right? I'm tender-hearted, and envisioned a scenario wherein I spent two hours watching the fabric on my husband's shirt, and sobbing.

I did cry, and I did so audibly once or twice, which never happens in movie theatres (I'm usually discreet when a movie "gets to me"--and they all do). But I also got through the entire film on one Kleenex (the sturdy kind that goes in my purse carrier). I only looked away once (okay--maybe twice). There is suffering in this movie, but it's spread out, paced by strategic cutting away to places away from the actual torture--Mary's suffering, the events taking place alongside the crucifixion, and flashbacks to Jesus' ministry.

It was an amazing movie to watch as a Christian. Truly.

I think Gibson's being Catholic helped him in making this movie, because 1) he is very comfortable with symbolism, which helps greatly in storytelling. It's absolutely critical in a religious movie, of course. Also, 2) he has a willingness to focus on Christ's suffering without needing to "clean it up." He's okay with the blood of Christ, and Protestants ("we," I want to say, despite my conversion) want things tidy and clean--witness our penchant for crosses rather than crucifixes.

A picture--or, have it your way, a graven image--is worth a thousand words.

The Jewish Question: well, I just don't get that. I think there's only anti-Semitism if you're looking for it. In fact, there is an implicit indictment of anti-Semitism, if you look at the way the Jews are regarded as second-class citizens, and the way they are spoken to and treated by the Romans. Most of the pivotal characters--including Jesus and his followers--are Jews. Those who are not are Romans, who show the most callousness and cruelty, far surpassing anything the Jews are able to dish out. There are scenes of mobs calling for Jesus' death, but surely that's something that can happen in any group of people: it is historically accurate to show it, and what we're seeing there is the dark side of human nature, rather than anything specific to Jews or Gentiles.

I think it's important to remember that any Christian who sees this movie is going to see Jesus' death as the responsibility of mankind in general, and him/herself in particular. Please keep that in mind.

Posted by Attila at April 16, 2004 05:00 PM
Comments

The Passion just came out in the theatres here (The Netherlands). I'm a bit scared to go because of the blood that's supposed to be in the movie. Maybe your positive post on this movie will change my mind on going.

Posted by: Sweety at April 17, 2004 04:08 AM


It's a worthwhile movie. Not easy to watch, but not as hard as I'd feared, either. The husband tells me I had a harder time with The Pianist.

Posted by: Attila Girl at April 18, 2004 11:37 PM


Allow me to voice my take on this movie as a hardcore agnostic. And yes, I did see it in its entirety (and wrote on it in my university newspaper's opinion column).

I saw very little anti-Semitism, which is significant because I was looking hard for it. I noticed that one spoken line was not subtitled; I found out later that it was the line about Jews paying for this for generations to come.

The Passion is the most violent movie I've ever seen, and I'm counting every Ah-nuld flick, every B-horror slasher and all of the Lethal Weapon films (among many, many others). "The Passion of the Christ" is literally preaching to the choir in the worst way. Where are Jesus' life lessons? Not there. Where is the background on the characters? Not there? What is there? Blood, blood, blood. Made by hardcore fundies, for hardcore fundies. This film is hardly the best way to turn people onto Jesus' philosophy, but I doubt anyone cares about that. It just disturbed me, and I have no problem with the Bible.

Posted by: Ian McGibboney at April 19, 2004 05:15 PM


I saw very little anti-Semitism, which is significant because I was looking hard for it. I noticed that one spoken line was not subtitled; I found out later that it was the line about Jews paying for this for generations to come.

My husband was, likewise, looking hard for any anti-Jewish subtext, and had a hard time finding any.

I think it's significant that Gibson's hands nailed Jesus to the cross. He was making a point--to himself more than to any viewer.

The Passion is the most violent movie I've ever seen, and I'm counting every Ah-nuld flick, every B-horror slasher and all of the Lethal Weapon films (among many, many others).

What about something that contains real violence, as opposed to cartoon violence? How about Salo, or Ted Bundy, or Monster?

"The Passion of the Christ" is literally preaching to the choir in the worst way.

Or the best, depending on your POV.

Where are Jesus' life lessons? Not there. Where is the background on the characters? Not there? What is there? Blood, blood, blood.

There have been many lives of Christ. This was not one of them, and not meant to be. If you want background on the "characters" (!), you'll have to go elsewhere.

Made by hardcore fundies, for hardcore fundies.

Um. Did you read my post? Have you read any of the literature on The Passion? Do you know Mel Gibson is Roman Catholic? Or do you not even know the difference between Catholics and Fundamentalists? Have you heard of the Reformation? Ugh: I have to go.

This film is hardly the best way to turn people onto Jesus' philosophy, but I doubt anyone cares about that. It just disturbed me, and I have no problem with the Bible.

It was meant to be disturbing, so it appears that it accomplished its mission.

Posted by: Attila Girl at April 20, 2004 01:45 AM


I think I have a bit of an insight into why people are so surprised going into The Passion of the Christ. Spiritually, it's very much in the tradition of Los Hermanos Penitentes. As graphic and unpleasant as the violence on the screen was, it's nothing compared to seeing it (as I have) in real life, on a real person, and knowing that it's not makeup.

There's nothing wrong with making a movie in the Penitentes tradition, but for someone coming in expecting Life Of Christ 101, that particular focus (which, let's be honest, is not mainstream even in Roman Catholicism) can be very surprising. As an auto da fe, The Passion is probably unmatched in movie history, but I can see being a bit shocked if you were expecting a documentary.

Two other reasons for the reaction that I can see...

1. Let's just point out the elephant in the living room: Hutton Gibson. Now, I know that Mel is not Hutton, and (to the best of my knowledge), Mel has never espoused any of Gibson Sr.'s more, ahem, exotic beliefs. (To the best of my knowledge, Mel has never said, "Well, you know my father is a complete wing-nut," either.) Is it unfair to judge Mel's movie by his father's beliefs? Absolutely. Is it understandable that people would look at The Passion a bit differently knowing who Mel's father is? You bet.

2. The Passion was, clearly, intended as a tool for proselytizing; I think it's a bit rich to say that it was only intended for viewing by those who are already completely bought into the faith. Proselytization always sits a bit uncomfortably with religious pluralism. There will always be a bit of tension there: On the one hand, freedom of religion implies freedom to proselytize; on the other, proselytization, by its nature, implies a comparison and a promotion of one religion over another... which makes religious pluralism uncomfortable. I'm not saying that The Passion is a bad or evil movie because of that, but any time there is a Campus Crusade with that much oomph behind it, people who are not of the faith being promoted will start shifting in their seats.

Lastly, I didn't catch the untranslated line (which, apparently, directly ascribes blood guilt to the Jews for the death of Jesus). That's not precisely damning, but I don't believe anything just slipped into that movie without Gibson knowing about it. That's not a line from the Gospels (that I can find), and the "historical accuracy" argument simply doesn't fly in this case. So, why is it there?

Posted by: Christophe at April 22, 2004 09:22 PM


I'm going to hope that the acts of penitence you've seen were a good deal milder than those in this movie.

Is it unfair to judge Mel's movie by his father's beliefs? Absolutely. Is it understandable that people would look at The Passion a bit differently knowing who Mel's father is? You bet.

But the fact that something is "understandable" does not make it right. Mel Gibson has a sense of propriety I do not share: I would just say "dad's crazy." But he does genuinely seem to feel it would be disrespectful--probably even sinful--to say that. And honoring one's father and mother is one of the ten commandments. Mel appears to feel that his hands are tied, here. I'm just saying . . .

The Passion was, clearly, intended as a tool for proselytizing; I think it's a bit rich to say that it was only intended for viewing by those who are already completely bought into the faith. . . . I'm not saying that The Passion is a bad or evil movie because of that, but any time there is a Campus Crusade with that much oomph behind it, people who are not of the faith being promoted will start shifting in their seats.

Sorry. I don't see it. I agree with Ian the agnostic: this is not the movie to take a potential convert to. I don't see it as the happy face of Christianity at all. My impression is that people are uncomfortable with the violence and suffering, not with some sense that they are being asked to give their lives over to Christ. I think it's worth noting that most of the Christian bloggers who've reviewed the movie have said things like "it deepened my faith," rather than "this will minister to the unbeliever."

As far as the reference to blood guilt is concerned: 1) FWIW, there were plenty of lines that weren't subtitled--as I recall, some were in Latin as well as Aramaic. 2) I think you want Matthew 27:25: "And the whole people said in reply, 'His blood be upon us and upon our children.'" This line has been misinterpreted for centuries, often with tragic results. Here's more.


Posted by: Attila Girl at April 23, 2004 01:19 AM


Attila, the Matthew line you cite is exactly the line for which I was looking.

And yes, I am aware of the HUGE differences between fundies and Catholics; however, aspects of the evangelical sects are not exclusive to that faith; hardcore Catholics are the same way. I am Deep Southerner, so I see plenty of both on a regular basis.

Posted by: Ian McGibboney at April 25, 2004 07:47 PM


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