So I saw The Passion Of The Christ last night.
Afterwards, I felt rather empty - sucked dry of any further emotional response. My tears were flowing for most of the film, and all that saline just drained everything out of me. I wasn't, however, moved to silence. My friend Nathan and I (with whom I viewed the movie) discussed some of our observations, one of which was the longing for a 'longer' film, including more of the story.
The flashbacks throughout the film succeed, in my view, in making Christ seem more fully human. Sometimes, I think, as Christians - and this is not a new idea - we tend to distance ourselves from Christ's humanity; not necessarily in a conscious, deliberate way, but it happens nonetheless - perhaps as a result of the superficial 'dryness' of the translated Gospel texts. Heretical teaching throughout history has often emphasized one of Christ's natures over the other (his humanity over his deity, or vice versa), and I think believers are all susceptible to that. I know I am, and so it's good for me to see the 'manhood' of Christ emphasized, as a reminder of His being one of us.
Being a Protestant, I obviously have issues with the portrayal of Mary (Christ's mother), but as a 'film critic' (ha!), I applaud the fantastic use Gibson made of her. I may disagree with the director on the theological stance, but the effect she has on us as an audience is undeniable, and provides a 'safe-place' for us to store our emotional response. That is, had we watched the film without the emphasis on Mary's character, we would have been forced to completely empathize with Christ himself - and while that may have been good for our souls, that would not have been good for the film. It's like M. Night Shyamalan has said: if you show a child crying on the screen, you've just exhausted all the audience's emotional reserves; they've got nothing left to give you. In the same way, the audience for The Passion needs a focus on Mary so that they can have some respite from the terrible agony Christ suffers, and make it through the rest of the film.
To me, this represents just how fallen we are. We can't even take the suffering of Christ in a film without needing several breaks. Jesus doesn't get one, but the audience does. We have to have special consideration given to us by the director, or we'll be unable to make it through two hours of a re-enactment. That's just pitiful.
Is it a gory film? Yes. Is it gorier than anything I've seen before? That takes more consideration. Saving Private Ryan - a film to which the Passion has been repeatedly compared - is just as bloody a film in my memory, but only lasts a half hour (with occasional spurts of violence later). The Passion is the first portion of Private Ryan spread into two hours. It, surprisingly, wasn't as violent as I expected. Was it startling? Yes. Was it disturbing? Yes. Did it hurt me to watch? Yes. But did it exceed my expectations, my preparations? No. I don't know what more I was expecting, and anything more would probably have pushed the film over the top, but I was prepared for more that didn't come.
Now, to the charge of anti-Semitism. I've referred before to Dennis Prager's wonderful essay on the issue, and I can only emphasize that I'm viewing this from a Christian point-of-view. To me, I killed Jesus. My sins, my faults, my iniquities and transgressions. I had my hand around those rods that beat His back, the haft of that cat o' nine tails that scourged Him bloody, the rope whips that mercilessly pounded Him as He walked up that road to Golgotha. It was me. I'm siding with Gibson on this one: anti-Semitism on the behalf of a Christian is a sin, and is to be condemned whole-heartedly.
Do I feel this movie will spread anger against Jews? I don't think so, but anti-Semites have used less than this to take up arms before. For me, this turns rapidly into a 'free speech' issue. Should we do as Germany has done, as Canada has done, and bar a film, book, or article that has 'potential' to raise someone's ire against someone else? In the US, the 1st Amendment says no, and I repeat that statement here. To outlaw expression because it might have unintended results flies in the face of freedom. If hateful people use this movie as a banner, then that is a reflection on them, and not of Mel Gibson. To claim otherwise is to tread too close to designating 'hate speech' (which itself is a travesty against freedom). Gibson has made all the necessary disclaimers, all the necessary renunciations, and all the necessary defenses. He's not the one responsible for the actions of others.
Leaving that issue, then, was the movie a good one? It had high production values, was skillfully crafted, and featured fantastic performances. Jim Caviezel as Christ was brilliant; it's easy to see why Hollywood is so willing to accede to his demands (he refused to perform nude scenes in two of his films - High Crimes, and the Count of Monte Cristo): he's a fantastic actor. The direction was sure of itself, and though a few decisions were made that I would not have (too much slow-motion for my tastes), I must give the technical aspects of the film a thumbs up.
The choice to make Satan a character (though he is not to be found in the Gospel accounts) was a good one. This ties back into the accusations of anti-Semitism, and demonstrates to me why the film should not be considered anti-Jew in the least. Every time you see the Jews accosting Christ (or Judas), their faces twist into perverted, demonic features, and Satan is seen walking among them. Some critics have used this to decry Gibson for implying the Jews were 'demons themselves,' but I see it as completely the opposite: Satan was exerting his influence among those people whom were in his grasp. The machinations of Lucifer are just that - his work. Satan twists and perverts God's good creation. Here, he is seen corrupting the hearts of men (who happen to be Jews and Romans) to his ends. It's what he does.
Is it the best movie I've ever seen? I don't think so. Is it good? Yes. Should it be nominated in next year's Oscars? Yes, yes and yes. Will it be? I can't see it happening.
The film is something every Christian should see, just as Saving Private Ryan was a film every beneficiary of the sacrifices of that generation should see. And on top of that, it's a good movie, too.
When this film first loomed on the horizon, the received wisdom of the metropolitan sophisticates was that Mel Gibson had blown well over 30 million bucks of his own money on a vanity project of no interest to anyone but him and a few other Jesus freaks. A couple of weeks ago, when stories began to trickle out of amazing advance sales and Bible Belt multiplex owners booking it on to all 20 screens simultaneously, the received wisdom did a screeching U-turn:Go read the rest. Steyn's about to reclaim that flaming torch.
How about that Mel Gibson, huh? He claims to be such a devout Christian yet he's pimping his Saviour's suffering to the masses and raking in gazillions of dollars.
Throughout the whiplash U-turn, only one feature of the "controversy" remained constant: that the movie is "anti-Semitic."
It's true that in Europe "passion plays" often provided a rationale for Jew-hatred. But that was at a time when the church was also a projection of state power. What's happening in America is quite the opposite: One reason why Hollywood assumed Mel had laid a $30 million Easter egg was because the elite coastal enclaves who set the cultural agenda haven't a clue about the rest of the country when it comes to religion.
Latest Music On iTunes