THE USE OF THE ARTICLE
You have to love the title. Its not The Passion of Christ. Its The
Passion of the
Christ!!! Two--count em--TWO definitive articles! Its all so deliciously infallible. You might as well say, Mel Gibsons Jesus shits the only real Jesus shit, and all that other Jesus shit--even the stuff thats actually in the Bible-- thats just shit.
Mels big gay masterpiece of homoerotic sadomasochism tells the story of a rugged, tough-guy Jesus who grew big sexy muscles building tables with his rugged, rough carpenters hands. Hes got magical powers, or so were told, but hes unlucky, and he doesnt choose his friends well. He gets caught up in a power-struggle between two rival gangs called The Romans and The Pharisees. Hes stripped almost naked and beaten skinless by brutish men with leather skirts and really bad teeth. Hes beaten with fists, and clubs, and rods, and whips, and other whips with razor-sharp metal woven into the leather. Hes beaten again, and again, and again, and again. Its amazing how much blood the guy has in him. Why do I get this feeling Christian rock is about to get really, really Goth?
But seriously folks, did we really need jets of blood filmed in slow motion accompanied by comical glurping
sounds? Did we have to see Gods literal teardrop falling from heaven? Did all the Roman soldiers really have to have Billy Bob teeth? Probably not, but thats the case.
And what of the films famous anti-Semitism? Well, Gibson forsakes historical and Biblical accuracy to make the Pilate, a notoriously cruel Roman governor, into a sympathetic figure. And he torques up the viciousness of the Pharisees who ultimately incite the Jewish rabble to near-riot. But thats all Hollywood hyperbole. Besides the whole Roman/Pharisee subplot in the New Testament is a cautionary tale about the dangers of corrupt, hypocritical, and paranoid leadership, its not about debasing an entire race of people. Although Gibsons storytelling ultimately becomes the victim of too little context, it cant be totally ignored that Jesus, his family, most of his disciples, and the majority of his followers were also obviously Jewish. Is the film anti-demagogue? Definitely. Anti-Semitic? Not unless the fearful and manipulative priesthood, or the corrupt, self-serving monarchy stands for the whole of Judaism. Of course that point will be lost to a culture obsessed with oversimplification. Hell, it was probably lost on Gibson.
Context is clearly Gibsons satan here. Viewers are never exposed to Christs rise from obscurity to notoriety. We do not see him feeding the MULTITUDE, or throwing the moneychangers from the temple. We never see why he is such an awful threat to the Jewish priesthood. Guess you have to read the book for all that. All we get from the film is Jesuss capture, his abuse at the hands of the Jewish Priesthood, and far worse abuse at the hands of Roman soldiers. We watch as friends betray and deny Jesus. Only his family, a woman he once saved from certain death, and a few strangers he meets on the road to Calvary stand by him. Without the whys, and wherefores the torture just seems random, and it becomes easy to despise both the Romans and the Jews who were merely engaging in self-preservation and politics as usual. And, if the story is to be believed, they were also instrumental in the execution of Gods presumably perfect plan.
Nobody in the world of the film ever witnesses the resurrection. That visual treat is reserved for paying customers only. After two hours of non-stop carnage, we are quietly taken into the tomb where we see Jesus beautiful face restored to pre-scourge perfection. As he stands up in the shadows we can see the holes in his hands. He walks out of the shot as the credits roll. Its like something extracted from a John Carpenter film. Sure, were supposed to know about all the good things that happen next, but according to the language of popular cinema Jesus is a monster now, raised from the dead to take cruel revenge upon the living. From the imagery provided you just know that in the sequel hes gonna cut all the Jews and Romans up with a lawnmower blade. Or worse.
The greatest tragedy here is that if Gibson had shown only a modicum of self-restraint he really could have become St. Mel. If half-an-hours worth of gory and redundant footage was cut The Passion of the Christ
could have been a universal triumph of beautifully realized Christian iconography created in the spirit of the Renaissance masters. Instead, its just kitsch. But such is the inevitable result of too much sincerity, and the inability of an artist to distance himself from his subject.
The most shocking thing about The Passion of the Christ
is the cultural furor surrounding it. More amazing still is the fact that so many true believers stand so solidly behind it. The Passion
focuses on Christs humanness through the methodical, nearly pornographic destruction of his body. But a man is not merely his blood, thus Christ is denied his humanity. The ambiguity of the resurrection denies Christ his glory, and his godhead. What remains is merely sensational: a pretentious snuff flick, and nothing more. One would hope that even the zealots of the world could see this. Its the Christian believers Gibson has short-changed here, not the Jews, and most certainly not the godless liberal heathens of the world.