The Passion of the Christ

This movie is a travesty. It is simply a man being beaten and killed for two hours straight. Despite viewing it with excellent company, I couldn’t wait for it to be over. The violence is at an unbelievable level, and by that I mean I did not believe it possible for a man to endure such torture and survive to be crucified. If that is truly what Jesus endured, He was a stronger physical specimen than anyone I have ever seen.

I have heard many evangelical Christians speak of this film excitedly, that it was an opportunity to share their faith with unchurched friends. For those who see themselves doing so, first view the film yourself to see if it truly is the faith you wish to share.

A Chicago reviewer puts it more bluntly:

The charges of anti-Semitism and homophobia being hurled at the movie seem too narrow; its general disgust for humanity is so unrelenting that the military-sounding drums at the end seem to be welcoming the apocalypse…If I were a Christian, I’d be appalled to have this primitive and pornographic bloodbath presume to speak for me.

It worries me as well that Gibson’s portrayal of Christ will speak for all Christians, something I would prefer not happen. His Jesus is not the one I wish to follow or share, not because of what he does, but rather because of what he does not do.

Mel’s Jesus is only shown suffering. The very little background information is delivered as flashbacks, and shows “sound bites” from Biblical stories. You do not see the radical behaviors and incredible philosophy that Jesus used to create Life; you do see him suffering in silence, a humbled king, one defeated by his people. This imbalance renders Mel’s Jesus the savior of the downtrodden, a crutch for the oppressed encouraging them to resign themselves to their position. Jesus’ failure to speak in His own defense comes across as a desire to die, something that may be the case but clashes with the religious viewpoint expressed in the rest of the film.

It is pure suffering, no redemption, no grace, no love, something NYTimes reviewer A.O. Scott put well in his review of The Passion:

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.

As a movie it fails as well. Mel seems so insistent that you feel the way he does that he smothers you with the heaviest directing hand I’ve ever seen. Each point is drilled into your head until it is unbearable to watch any more. This is done often by magnifying tiny, Biblically-questionable details from the story, and even by manifesting them out of thin air (think John Woo’s doves in Mission Impossible were bad? Mel’s got crows pecking out eyes!). The acting, perhaps hindered by English-speakers forcing Aramaic, was exaggerated to a cartoon-like level. The intense Catholic rhetoric demands of Mary God-like powers of perception and instinct, and the Jews and Roman soldiers are unbelievably vicious. Other reviewers are correct in detecting a bias for the Roman governors–but if so, it is only because all others are ridiculous. The governors are merely rational.

Gibson’s insistence on absolute Biblical adherence is commendable; but less so his historical perspective. The Aramaic gives us a taste of the reality, but the actors are unconvincingly Caucasian. Another NYTimes article gives us an idea of how far Jim Caviezel is from the real Jesus, simulated here on the far right:

varying portrayals of jesus, from malibu jesus to a computer simulation of an aramaic jesus

My Christ is the one who lived and breathed, who created a new Life on earth and who lives it today. He is not only the bloodied and beaten corpse that Mel exults in. Though this may be our most accurate picture of what happened for Jesus’ final hours, His suffering is not where my hope lies.