So I can’t decide if I will go see it or not. If I do, I’ll be buying a ticket to something else (anything else) and slipping into the cathedral to Mel Gibson’s ego at the last second.
The NYT’s A.O. Scott gives me pause:
“The Passion of the Christ” is so relentlessly focused on the savagery of Jesus’ final hours that this film seems to arise less from love than from wrath, and to succeed more in assaulting the spirit than in uplifting it. Mr. Gibson has constructed an unnerving and painful spectacle that is also, in the end, a depressing one. It is disheartening to see a film made with evident and abundant religious conviction that is at the same time so utterly lacking in grace.
The sublime David Edelstein’s review in Slate, which is even more negative, ends with a critical question:
What does this protracted exercise in sadomasochism have to do with Christian faith? I’m asking; I don’t know. Gibson’s revenge movies end with payback–or, in Braveheart, the promise of payback to come. When Jesus is resurrected, his expression is hard, and, as he moves toward the entrance to his tomb, the camera lingers on a round hole in his hand that goes all the way through. Gibson’s Jesus reminded me of the Terminator–he could be the Christianator–heading out into the world to spread the bloody news. Next stop: the Crusades.
I’ll ask another tough one: Shouldn’t a devout Christian thank the Jews for bringing about a horrible event that was entirely necessary to the completion of prophecy, the miracle of resurrection, and the intercession? After the Diaspora, centuries of persecution by Christians, and the Vatican-complicit Holocaust, can’t we say, “Wow, we’re sorry for all the trouble it caused you but somebody had to do it”? Apparently not, as Mel shows blood-thirsty Jews hissing for crucifixion through rotten teeth.
I cannot say it in any other way: It is hard to be, in the grey spring of 2004, a thinking, caring Christian–let alone a gay one. It is hard to look my Jewish friends in the eye these days (or my Muslim ones, or my atheistic ones). A movie this bloody and hateful resembles a Santeria ritual more than it represents the faith I hold.
If there is anything positive to come from a film that lingers on the most imflammatory and politicized (as in, polticized-when-written, by writers locked in a messy market-share battle against a much better-established multinational organization) and passages of the Gospels, it may be this. The film captures perfectly the dominant strain in current American Christianity. Paranoid, beset by a thousand enemies, triumphally convinced not just of its goodness but of its good-versus-evil-ness. In other words, a Christianity that has for decades been steadily distilling itself down from the worst dregs the religion ever had to offer–bitter as the cup Christ asked be taken from him, but devoid of the promise of grace and forgiveness the crucifixion really stands for. The Christianity that this movie both reflects and panders to is not real Christianity at all. To follow Edelstein’s phrase, it is “Christianatorism,” a perversion whose slogal should be “Jesus is coming back–and he’s pissed.” Bravo, Mel Gibson, for serving up the false prophet in such great Hollywood fashion.
Mix in a little crass commercialism, a little transparent demogogery, and it’s a spectacle as disgusting as the moneychangers in the Temple. (No, really… follow the link.)
I suppose I should see the movie before damning it, but even the clips turned my stomach. I’ve used the phrase “theological porn” here before, but nowhere does it seem more apt. In every quivering mortification of the flesh, in every ecstatic moan, in every glistening drop sacred bodily fluid, in every voyeuristic insistence that the faithful wash themselves in the hot, sticky blood of the Lord–the film’s incandescent realism leads its lambs not only to slaughter but also to an orgasm of spritual violence. In that empty moment after, there is no embrace or consolation–only incitement to the spirit of vengenace that, in the slander the film seems designed to deliver, Mel wants to pin on the Jews some two millennia later.