01 March 2004

Early thoughts about Mel's Passion

I posted earlier about looking forward to getting a look at Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ. Saturday I dragged some long-suffering friends to see it. I'm 1600 words into trying to articulate my thoughts about the picture and still going. In the meantime, let me offer a quick take.

There are a few things to like. The lead actors all have terrific screen presence, with the curious exception of Caviezel as Jesus. The pieta shot is truly magnificent, and there are some other lovely touches -- the opening shot of the night sky, the spooky androgynous Satan shadowing Jesus' steps, mother Mary clutching at the ground in her grief, Jesus' first miracle in the film.

But I'm reaching for nice things to say, because I disliked this picture on so many levels.

The violence is pornographic. The craftsmanship of the film is often clumsy and cheap. The antisemitism is there, mitigated only by the general misanthropy being even greater. The absence of the animating ideas of Christianity is disturbing. It adds up to a disconcerting Manichean view of humanity, where sympathy for Christ's suffering is the core of Christianity, while unbelievers are cold, or cruel, or both.

I made a point of going to a theater where I would be in an audience of believers, many of whom were clearly moved. I wanted to be sympathetic to their experience, but found it impossible. I am baffled by how many of these same folks undoubtedly rejected, with anger, Scorscese's The Last Temptation of Christ, a beautiful, deeply spiritual film which engaged seriously with the language and ideas of Christianity. And there were dozens of children in the audience: twelve, ten, eight years old, and younger. How could anyone think that was a good idea?

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