Sunday, July 11, 2004

Movie Review: The Passion of The Christ

I am a practicing Roman Catholic. I make this announcement because I am not going to pretend that I don’t have some bias or predilection regarding this movie or the subject matter.

However, I think religious affiliation is almost irrelevant. The movie is the movie, and you should really go to see it and pay little or no attention to reviewers and what they have to say. Including me. We all have our agendas.

I have decided to rail against some of the crap I’ve read in other reviews, then offer my review.

Mel as Anti-Semite

I note that to date, there has been no pogrom against the Jew. Nor will there be, in my opinion. The film’s message is not one of hate. The statements that he and his father are worse than the Germans (Howard Stern) or that the movie is ‘virulently anti-Semitic’ as quoted by some rabbi whose name I can’t recall seem specious and inflammatory, and driven by hate.

“Worse than the Germans…” would imply that Mel and his dad have been directly responsible for more than 6 million Jew Deaths. “Virulently anti-Semitic” would imply a specific and unmistakable Hate message to be conveyed, along with specific direction of how to deal with the Jew Threat, such as murder, extortion, violence, seizing of property, etc.

Clearly the sewage of rhetoric emptying from 4 ft. diameter pipes into the rivers of our collective conscious requires capping.

Mel as Discipline Fetishest

I’ve seen 4 different reviewers , apparently dipping from the same sewage contaminated well, describe the flagellation as being handled with a “fetishist's eye” and turning the movie into some sort of nearly X-rated bondage and discipline flick.

A quick glance in my American Heritage Dictionary provided three meanings for ‘fetish’. “1. An object superstitiously believed to have magical powers, esp. of protection. 2. An object of unreasonably excessive attention or reverence. 3. Something, such as a material or object or an often non-sexual part of the body that aroused or gratifies sexual desire.”

I will grant that definition 2 might apply in this case, from a skewed perspective. However, given the prurient nature of our society, and the tendency to write for sound-bites rather than for understanding, I assume that the reviewers are referring to sex.

One of these was a Presbyterian minister! I am not sure what that says about that man’s theology, or his personal life.

Mel as Action/Adventure Actor/Director

Several reviewer’s wrote things such as “ is not surprising that Mel, an action/adventure movie star and director, made an action/adventure Jesus movie.”

I don’t even know what that means. Reference to a “big strapping Jesus…” and “blood and guts Jesus hero in the action/adventure tradition…” leave me scratching my head.

Perhaps Bruce Willis should have been cast as Jesus in Die Hard, The Passion.

Mel as Director with a Vision

One potential interpretation of this movie is that of Mel as someone wanting to make a movie about something personally important to him, and financing it himself because it was that important to him.

Yeah, I know it’s more exciting to critique a movie about some mouth-breathing thugs being transported into sexual ecstasy by scourging some big strapping man. But, as boring as it may sound, I think the simple truth is: This movie is about the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life as reported in the Bible. Note I did not say it was The Gospel. It is after all a movie. There are things in this movie not directly in The Bible, and vice a versa. Still, it is what it is, and what it is is one man’s vision of the events recounted in the 4 Gospels.

The scourging, which is painful to watch, doesn’t have anything on the Friday the 13th, Freddy Krueger or Halloween movies.

No one has lined up to question the need for the blood and gore in those movies. What fascinates me is that the violence in those movies is for no reason other than to horrify/titillate the viewer. The violence in The Passion is an integral part of His-story, and there is a reason for it. Yet people were quick to fault Mel for “unnecessary violence.”

As if the artistic merits of Freddy Krueger killing semi nude nubile teenagers warrants gallons of indiscriminately spilled blood while the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus to save all of humanity doesn’t? Oy vey.

Look up the word “scourge”. Ok, I’ll look it up for you: “1. A whip used to inflict punishment. 2. A means of inflicting severe suffering, vengeance or punishment.”

You read something that says that someone was “scourged” and what kind of mental image does it bring up? For me, prior to this movie, it was a clearly painful but survivable punishment designed to chastise someone. I was not afraid of being scourged.

Now I am. The movie portrays a scourging at the hands of professionals. For me, anyway, the brutality of a scourging could not be adequately conveyed in mere words.
So, what was all that about then anyway? Well, to really answer that you have to get into the religious aspect of this movie, and the purpose of Jesus Christ.

That topic is off limits for most movie reviewers because it requires of them to delve into areas thought to be somehow incorrect in these extremely odd politically correct days. And, they may find themselves expressing ideas that are perhaps unpopular, and maybe dangerous to their careers. And that may be why most of the reviews I have seen have been truly shallow, and of very little substance. This is a religious movie with no agenda beyond a portrayal of the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life. No conclusions are drawn. The story is just told, in Homeric fashion. The conclusions are left to the audience to draw for themselves.

Some questions that a person might ask, regardless of background and upbringing:

Who was this person?
Did this really happen?
Why did anyone want him dead?
Why was it so horrible?
What’s the deal with the water when they poked him in the side?
What’s up with the end of the movie? Wasn’t he dead?

Look it up! Go read the context of this story. There is a reason for why it happened, every bit of it. You may not like what you read or think it is all some childish fairy tale. But, you might be surprised. The story is remarkably simple and self-consistent. When’s the last time you thought seriously about God, or talked with anyone about God?

You may find Psalm 22 interesting. It’s the same in the Tanakh as well. Ψ


Frater Bovious said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Buck said...

well said. good questions.

i strongly urge y'all not to take anyone else's word for it (even Marks!), see it yourself.

why are so many in the entertainment biz uncomfortable/unhappy with this movie?

Anonymous said...

at the risk of causing discomfort and unpleasantness, I wonder if it has anything to do with the pre-dominant makeup of those in power in the entertainment industry. I don't know if it's really true or not, someone feel free to chime in, but isn't the percentage of jewish people in the industry rather high? And I suppose the liberal tag can't be avoided. Something to chew on.

riceburner147 said...

I love your post. I have kinda a different question. I saw the movie (as an evengelical christian) and thought it was powerful and moving and close to the truth. Having said that, would you but it as a DVD. Maybe i am wierd (probably) but i feel creepy treating this movie as i would others, i dont want to see it again and i dont want to collect it. I do read the gospels (time and again) but somehow watching the movie over and over would be problematic for me, Waddya think ?

Frater Bovious said...

Very interesting that you say that. I've seen the DVD and thought about buying it, and just didn't. I really didn't examine why or why not, so your comment got me thinking. Here's where I ended up: I just don't view this movie as entertainment. I know what you mean about creepy. Seems almost sacriligious to treat the movie in such a worldy manner.

I recommend the movie to people that haven't seen it. But, I really think the movie is at its most powerful in a large room with a bunch of strangers. It's kind of a shared event, and that initial viewing sensation, that shared emotion with people you don't know, would be very difficult to recapture. So, somehow, watching it over and over in my house would seem to diminish the movie. And I just don't want to do that.

Thanks for the comment!! fb

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