Update on The Passion: controversial scene is cut

I don’t believe in using focus groups to determine what movies should cut or keep, and I don’t know of any other form of art that’s created this way. (Are movies a form of art? Can they be, if they are shaped by committee? But that’s another conversation.) Still, I can say I was not sorry to hear that due to focus group feedback and an outcry from the Jewish critics, the most controversial section of Mel Gibson’s The Passion has been excised.

Reading the write-up in the NYT, I’m more convinced than ever that something about this movie just isn’t kosher.

Mel Gibson, responding to focus groups as much as to protests by Jewish critics, has decided to delete a controversial scene about Jews from his film, “The Passion of the Christ,” a close associate said today.

A scene in the film, in which the Jewish high priest Caiaphas calls down a kind of curse on the Jewish people by declaring of the Crucifixion, “His blood be on us and on our children,” will not be in the movie’s final version, said the Gibson associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The passage had been included in some versions of the film that were shown before select groups, mostly of priests and ministers.

“It didn’t work in the focus screenings,” the associate said. “Maybe it was thought to be too hurtful, or taken not in the way it was intended. It has been used terribly over the years.”

Jewish leaders had warned that the passage from Matthew 27:25 was the historic source for many of the charges of deicide and Jews’ collective guilt in the death of Jesus.

Mr. Gibson’s decision to remove the scene could indicate that he was being responsive to concerns of Jewish groups that the film will fuel anti-Semitism. Mr. Gibson was the co-writer, director, producer and financier of the $25 million film, which will be released in more than 2,000 theaters on Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday.

Mr. Gibson also responded to a letter from Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who had requested a meeting and asked Mr. Gibson to consider a postscript that would “implore your viewers to not let the movie turn some toward a passion of hatred.”

Mr. Gibson did not respond to those requests directly, writing only: “I hope and I pray that you will join me in setting an example for all of our brethren; that the truest path to follow, the only path, is that of respect and, most importantly, that of love for each other despite our differences.”

Mr. Foxman responded in turn on Monday that “your words do not mitigate our concerns about the potential consequences of your film — to fuel and legitimize anti-Semitism.”

This reporter was shown a two-hour version of the R-rated movie this week. The film features agonizing passages as Jesus, played by Jim Caviezel, is mercilessly beaten by Jewish and then Roman guards, and jeered and hounded by a Jewish mob on his way to his Crucifixion. It is unclear how close this version is to Mr. Gibson’s final film.

In this version, the Roman leader Pontius Pilate is depicted as being reluctant to harm Jesus, who Pilate’s wife warns is holy. Largely to mollify a restive Jewish mob outside his window, Pilate agrees to a severe lashing and scourging of Jesus, but the crowd and the high priest demand more.

It sounds as though the movie is playing on lurid emotions that make the Jews look very, very bad. I know, I know — I’ll reserve final judgement until I see this work of art for myself. But everything I read about it makes me sick.

Read the rest of the article to see Gibson’s revealing remarks about the Holocaust. Like father, like son….

The Discussion: 15 Comments

The author in the NYT article points out that “passion plays historically preceded outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence in Europe. ”
He doesn’t mention that historically, passion plays were aimed at illiterate peasants who were easily manipulated.

One would hope that in a country like the United States, where almost everyone is literate and 40% of the population goes to college, our collective literary sense has been sufficiently cultivated to deal with something as simple as this. The educated imagination enables the individual to resist being amalgamated into a mob controlled by movies.

February 4, 2004 @ 1:15 pm | Comment

Mark, one would like to think so. But I think it’s still easy for people to get carried away by their emotions, and this is one topic with a proven trask record for robbing people of their critical faculties and arousing man’s darkest instincts. Should we censor it? No, of course not. It simply has to be balanced with reason and fairness.

February 4, 2004 @ 1:43 pm | Comment

The problem with so much on this debate, both here and elsewhere, is that it centres around something other than the film. Defenses of the film largely seem to be on the basis of a literal belief in the text of the gospels, and the desire for an accurate portrayal of said story, and ultimately a hope that it will have an evangelistic effect. Attacks on the film often appear to be based upon an opposition to said story and the implications contained within it and hostility to the Christian faith. In other words, it’s a religious debate over the merits of the biblical message and its interpretation. I thought the bit about cutting out the comment about the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children was especially telling. It’s an objection to the gospels, not to the movie. The most useful part of the quote (to me) that you include here was the reporter telling us what he personally saw of the film … and what he says seems to be a dead accurate portrayal of the bible story … with the exception of anything from Pilate’s wife, which I don’t recall. If the film is being condemned for giving a dead accurate portrayal of the bible story … then in fact this whole controversy becomes a case of anti-christianity, not anti-semitism.

I also think the Jewish community in the USA is barking up the wrong tree with this one … because so much of USA’s political support for Israel is founded upon the support of the fundamentalist Christians … the very people who are the ones to whom this movie will appeal. The more converts they get, the more secure Israel’s relationship with USA. Frankly, without them, I don’t think the Jewish vote would be enough to stop the US government getting fed up with the Israeli government and either cutting them adrift or demanding far more concessions to the Palestinians. Don’t forget the Lieberman’s participation in the last election meant that Bush hardly got any Jewish votes. Bush more than any other US President in years was in a position to persue a policy hostile to Israeli national interest. I have a good friend who is an Israeli born Jew. He was very nervous of a Bush victory during the last US election … and has since become one of the most pro-Bush people I’ve encountered anywhere. Fundamentalist christians accept that the Jews are the chosen people of god … and the Jewish community objecting to this film resemble to me (as an outsider) a bunch of people jumping up and down shouting “you hate us, you think we’re the enemy” … which looks like putting thoughts in people’s minds … doesn’t strike me as a good idea. Besides which … I’m tempted to see the movie now just to see what all the fuss is about … otherwise it wouldn’t have interested me at all.

February 4, 2004 @ 2:25 pm | Comment

Li En, I can only speak for myself here. First, I don’t criticize the movie for depicting what the Gospels say. My criticism is based on the movies’ marketing, its backers, and what I hear are vulgar, melodramatized and potentially (and intentionally?) inflammatory depictions of Jewish brutality to Jesus. Show what Matthew says. Show the Jews being cruel to Jesus as some were. But to dwell on the torture to the point where it becomes lurid, and in so doing to make the Jews look like monsters — sorry, I don’t like the sound of it. Again, I’ll wait to see it before my final opinion, but I definitely am not walking into the theater without some prejudice.

You talk about the movie and domestic politics. I don’t look at this from any perspective that is political, and I’m not sure how politically charged the discussion back in the USA has become. But since you brought up Bush and the Jewish vote, I’ll just say this: Bush is losing “market share” among conservatives, a real shift (Andrew Sullivan today refers to it as “a tipping point”). The Jewish vote is important to Bush, and it goes deeper than votes — many Jews are generous campaign donors — and it’s a time when he can’t aford to lose this support. Most Jews tend toward the liberal side, but older, more conservative (and wealthier) Jews like him, as they did Reagan, especially for ridding the world of Saddam. I wouldn’t dismiss their importance to Bush.

About the whole Fundamentaist Christian thing — I really believe you are over-estimating Jewish relations with and appreciation of Fundamentalist Christians. As a Jew, I can assure you that most other Jews I know are extremely wary — even frightened — of any kind of dogmatic thinking. And Fundamentalism of any kind, be it that of the clerics in Iran or the Evangelicals in Georgia, is perceived as a dogmatic and dangerous thing. The Fundamentalist Christians may support Israel and Israel must appreciate that, but to portray them as in bed together or anywhere close to being such intimate friends would be inaccurate, I believe.

You write:

The more converts they [Fundamentalist Christans] get, the more secure Israel’s relationship with USA. Frankly, without them, I don’t think the Jewish vote would be enough to stop the US government getting fed up with the Israeli government and either cutting them adrift or demanding far more concessions to the Palestinians.

That is a very strong contention, and I have never heard anything like it before. I try to be open-minded, so I won’t dismiss it categorically. Let me just say that for many decades, the Jewish lobby has held awesome sway over Congress when it comes to Israel. (And this is not something I see necessarily as a good thing, it’s simply a fact of life.) I can’t believe that losing the support of some Fundamentalist Christians would cause this all to fall apart.

February 4, 2004 @ 3:19 pm | Comment

I’m with Li En, the film, from what I have heard, and certainly what is being objected to, is an accurate protrayal of what is in the Gospels. As for showing “some Jews being cruel to Jesus”– that statement trivializes what the passion was and why it occurred.

The objections to this film don’t appear to me to be objections to the film as much as objections to the actual Chistian belief, to which I, as a practicing Catholic, have no sympathy for whatsoever.

Christ was a Jew. His disciples were all Jews. All of his early followers where Jews. However, he was also rejected by the Jewish religious and political establishment who ultimately insisted on his death, as well as by the great mass of the Jewish public, when they called to free Barabas.

That is the central story behind the Christian religion. It is not anti-semitic but neither is it subject to neogtiation or editing for the comfort of non-believers.

February 4, 2004 @ 5:36 pm | Comment

We aren’t disagreeing Conrad; it’s fine to depict what the Gospels say. It sounds to me, however, that this depiction has been made intentionally explosive through dwelling slowly and luridly on gruesome torture and sadism. It may have been ugly and cruel, and that can be represented. But it’s been made deliberately provocative by its garishness and lewdness. Or so it sounds to me.

February 4, 2004 @ 5:47 pm | Comment

What happened was brutal Richard, that is the entire point — that God came to earth in the form of man and suffered and died terribly so that sins might be forgiven. The nature and extent of the suffering is crucial to the story of the passion. The fact that God subjected himself to absolute agony on the cross is vital to Christian belief. There is simply no turning away from or glossing over that fact.

Yes, there were Jews on the scene demanding the crucifixion, but it was also a Jew on the cross being crucified. The heroes were Jews, the villains were Jews, hell, except for Pilate and a handful of centurions, everyone involved was a Jew. I can’t see how any reasonable person can turn that into an anti-semitic story.

I repeat, although limited by the fact I haven’t seen the film, it sounds to me like the objectors are doing something far more offensive than anything in the film — they are trivializing my faith by treating its central tenets as negotiable. Were to objections to extra-Gospel additions, put in by Gibson, I’d have no complaint. But they aren’t. The objections I’ve heard are almost all related to scenes from the Gospels themselves. Accusations from Jewish leaders, that the Gospels, and thereby the Christian faith, is anti-semitic are not only not going to achieve much sympathy from believers, they are far more likely than the film in inspire anti-Jewish feeling.

February 4, 2004 @ 7:40 pm | Comment

Conrad I hear you, and as I said I do not equate the story told by the Gospels to be antisemitic (although frankly I wish some of the wording in Matthew had been a bit less harsh — the “blood on you and your children” part). I’ve heard the way the story is depicted in this film is antisemitic, but I’ll hold off my judgement on that until I’ve seen the movie myself. As I said, I can only speak for myself, and the main points I am confident speaking out about (for now) are the film’s marketing and its backers. As to whether those scenes of Christ’s humiliation and death go too far, I’ll have to decide that after I’ve seen it.

What Jesus went through was, as you said, brutal. I only hope this movie doesn’t use that fact as a license to portray it pornographically, as I have heard it does. We’ll see.

February 4, 2004 @ 8:38 pm | Comment

Richard … with regards to my statement about US politics, I stick by it. I agree with you that NOW the Jewish vote is important to Bush, and I think it’s one of the reasons he’s likely to win reelection … however, what I was referring to was the fact that many Isreali Jews (sorry, I don’t know about American Jews) were quite terrified of a Bush victory. People were quite aware that a great portion of Bush’s support comes from the more religious of the Christian population. There was a false presumption that this was bad news for Israel, because Christians are anti-semitic after all, aren’t they? What % of the Jewish vote did Bush capture with a Jew as VP on the Democrat ticket? According to the perception that the Christian-right is anti-semitic, Bush was in a position to cut Israel adrift, if he wanted to. The point is, he didn’t want to. The fundamentalists among his supporters would immediately repudiate any president who did that. So Richard, you and I agree that the Jewish lobby is thoroughly entrenched and unlikely to be unseated … the point of divergence is about why this is so.

In every age Christian churches have chosen different aspects of the bible to concentrate on … there was a time when the verse about the sins of the fathers being visited upon the Jews was one of those central verses. The Normans just loved the verse about picking up your sword and going. However, the pendulum has well and truly swung within the charismatic Christian church … and the Jews as the chosen people of God has emerged as one of the parts they focus on. In other words, to persecute Jews would be a sin against God himself. I repeat … the more converts these churches get, the more secure Israel’s relationship with USA. It’s also because of them that Israel doesn’t have to fear being totally repudiated. If these Christian churches were anti-semitic it would be possible for a candidate to emerge who really planned to get tough with Israel, and said so openly. The last election showed that it was possible for a president to get elected without the Jewish vote, but I think it would be impossible to get elected without the Jewish vote AND the Christian-right vote.

As for the Jews being nervous about fundamentalist and dogmatic thinking … aside from the radical muslims who want to destroy Israel and kill all Jews, I’d say the next biggest problem are the fundementalist Jews in Israel. When I was in that country the crazy bastards were busy rioting and stoning people for daring to drive cars or ride bicycles along main roads that happened to run through their suburbs in Jerusalem. (It was the sabbath … surely you shouldn’t be allowed to riot on the sabbath either?) They’re also the ones most likely to try to pull off something truly stupid like blowing up the Temple Mount, which could only serve to inflame the Arab world against Israel in a way that hasn’t been seen since the Yom Kippur War. I gather they’re also exempt from compulsory military service! My Israeli friend is very anti-orthodox and his attitude sure rubbed off on me while I was there.

Finally with reference to your sentence: “I really believe you are over-estimating Jewish relations with and appreciation of Fundamentalist Christians.” (I wish I knew how to put quotes in those cool boxes you use) I think you misunderstood my point. I was saying that I think the outspoken representatives of the Jewish community who are complaining about this film have got it wrong. They are so convinced they are being persecuted that relations with and appreciation of fundamentalist Christians are not good at all. I am reminded of an encounter I witnessed some time ago. A private music teacher who held pretty fundamentalist beliefs would come into our high school to give free music lessons on various instruments. He had a student sent to him for lessons who was a Jew. In their opening conversation the student said to him “you know I’m a Jew?” in a challenging tone of voice. The music teacher replied, “really? Then that makes you very special. You’re one of the chosen people of God.” After that, they had no problems or need to discuss religion, and could get on with teaching / learning how to play the trumpet.

February 5, 2004 @ 10:37 am | Comment

A Zogby poll (if I remember correctly) from about a year ago showed a higher degree of support for a ‘pro-Israel’ foreign policyl among American evangelical Christians than among American Jews.

Consider that, despite the fact that Democratic candidates are ensured of getting the lion’s share of the Jewish vote, Republican policies are much more ‘pro-Israel’. One big reason for that is the influence of conservative Christian Republican vcters.

It’s an irony that, while non-Americans think ‘the Jews’ drive US Middle Eastern policy, it’s actually Pat Robinson supporters and the like (who greatly outnumber Jews in the US) who are largely responsible.

Of course, the evangelicals also believe that all Jews will have to convert to Christianity during the final days, or burn in hell. But, since they believe that about all non-Christians, that’s not anti-semitic.

February 5, 2004 @ 10:58 am | Comment

Funny (ironic) and all too true. Strange bedfellows; I can say with confidence that there are few groups the liberal East Coast Jewish community (including me) looks at more warily than Evangelical Christians.

February 5, 2004 @ 11:15 am | Comment

Li En, thanks for the clarifications. You would be surprised at how alike our perceptions of the fundamentalist Jews in Israel are. I find them dangerous, like all fundamentalists. At times I think they have the potential to do to Israel what their counterparts have done to Iran and Saudi Arabia. As to the pendulum swinging and Christians having a new perception of the Jews as the Chosen People, I simply don’t know. I sure hope it is true, and that this shift in turn helps reduce levels of antisemitism which seem recently to be at new highs — at least in Europe.

I think I understand our fundamental difference, and we can’t resolve it until we’ve both seen the movie. You see the hand-wringing and protesting as something based on a misconception, as an over-reaction to a perceived antisemitism that isn’t there. And that may be. I have often found the ADL and other Jewish groups to over-react to perceived and imagined “antisemitism.” I, on the other hand, see enough red flags to feel gravely concerned about this movie. I’ve enumerated them already, so we don’t need to re-argue the whole thing (the marketing, the backers, the allegedly lurid/vulgar moments). So I see real cause for concern. I just hope that those on all sides argue their points based on solid information (like seeing the movie first) and not in a knee-jerk manner.

February 5, 2004 @ 11:33 am | Comment

You’ve all missed the point – NONE of you have seen the movie.

And, yes, it is a dangerous movie because when it comes to religion, all common sense and logic are thrown out the door. So no matter how many education persons see the movie and have wonderful discussions, there will be bigots that see this as a free for all to riot and kill Jews.

February 10, 2004 @ 2:42 am | Comment

Richard, I thought you might be interested in this link http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4212740/


February 11, 2004 @ 1:18 am | Comment

Well…. I have seen the movie. The controversial “curse” scene does not appear and there are some things added that clearly indicate that not all Jews held a sentiment calling for hsi death. Mel Gibson added bits that aren’t in the gospel to show this.

In the trial before the High Priest there are priests who object to how Jesus is treated. When Simon the Cyrene goes to carry the cross for Jesus the soldier refer to him as a “Jew” in a very demeaning manner.

This movie is not anti-semitic, if anything it is intra-semitic, highlighting the struggle that was occuring within Jewish circles at the time.

The fact of the matter is that those who would be fueled by such a movie towards hatred don’t need this movie…. it will occur anyway. Just go to any KKK website to find that out… they will find any excuse in the most obscure places. Why should the rest of us be denied such a beautiful work just because of their ignorance?

March 6, 2004 @ 11:09 am | Comment

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