Oh no — not another post about Mel Gibson’s The Passion! Sorry, but I find everything about this topic compelling and extraordinary, from its inception to its marketing to its reception by various audiences to the controversy it has managed to arouse worldwide. It’s making waves even here in Singapore, where various Christian groups are lobbying the government to make sure it gets past Singapore’s uptight censors.
My fascination with The Passion started when I first heard of it in a post by Dave Neiwert (Orcinus), which focused on allegations of the film’s antisemitism. Now, finally, Dave reviews the film in one of the most detailed, well-written and well-documented articles I’ve read on the topic to date.
This is an important article for those who have commented, on reading my concerns over the film’s alleged Chainsaw Massacre approach, “But that’s what happened. The Passion is about Christ’s awful suffering.” Neiwert shows us how the latter sentence is accurate, but the former is false. Many, many of Gibson’s touches have absolutely nothing to do with the Gospels. They were thrown in for effect, to keep the action going. And the very first point Neiwert makes is that The Passion is, first and foremost, an action movie.
Mel Gibson has always had a flair for making action-driven revenge melodramas. Now, he’s made the ultimate entry in the genre with The Passion of the Christ.
Mind you, this is the first time anyone has made a film about the life of Jesus that conceived of it primarily as an action flick. Most of the other previous films about Jesus have been, by comparison, boring and talky. The Passion does away with all that inconvenient and boring talk and gets right to the nitty-gritty of the exciting stuff, which is to say, the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life, with all its beatings and floggings, culminating in a real gore-fest of a crucifixion.
So if we’re going to get any insight into the meaning of Christ from this film, it’s going to derive not from all those boring sermons he preached, but from the immense sacrifice he made for all mankind. And that meaning, in this telling, becomes very simple: Bad people brutalized Jesus beyond belief, and deserve to be punished for it.
It’s a revenge melodrama — without the satisfying catharsis of revenge.
About the specifc inaccuracies and made-up material that has nothing to do with the Gospels, read Dave’s review. They are simply too long to list. As always, he is specific and precise. What you see on the screen is not “what happened.” Period.
I’ve long said that Orcinus is my favorite blog, but maybe that’s because it isn’t a blog at all. Unlike bloggers who shower their readers with single-sentence posts and lots of links, Dave takes a more scholarly approach to his material, conducting painstaking research and delving deep into the subject matter. (Of course, this probably works against him, since many blog hoppers are more interested in pithy, punchy posts and a more fast-paced experience.) Today’s post on The Passion is Dave at his very best. If you really want to understand what all the fuss is about, you have to read it.
As noted, he starts by referring to the film as “a revenge melodrama — without the satisfying catharsis of revenge,” and he ties it all up neatly at the end by returning to his premise.
You see, there’s a reason there’s no cathartic revenge in this film: That is what the audience is supposed to bring to the table. That is their responsibility for this sacrifice.
Jesus is on the march, you see. He’s kickin’ butt and takin’ names. And the question The Passion wants everyone to answer is simple: Whose side are you on? Mel’s? Or the evil ones?
That is, after all, what the Culture Wars are all about. And The Passion of the Christ wants to be the loudest shot fired yet. The Birth of a Nation for the 21st century.
Amen to that.
Update: A review from my local newspaper in the US.
Update: UK’s Jewish community erupts over The Passion.
THE first UK screening of Mel Gibson’s controversial new film The Passion Of The Christ provoked a furious response from Britain’s Jewish community yesterday.
Representatives of the Jewish faith were invited to see the film a month before its nationwide release.
Many left the cinema branding it both “disgusting” and “deplorable”, and likely to incite racial hatred.
Depicting the last 12 hours in the life of Christ, Gibson’s blood-drenched epic has been accused of anti-Semitism.
Lord Janner, a former president of the Board of Deputies and now vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, said : “I hated it. The Jews come out of it as a pretty nasty lot and I believe it could cause very great harm in relations with the Jewish community.”
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.