Tuesday, March 16, 2004
Movie Unreview: The Passion of the Christ 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
After seeing The Passion of the Christ last night, I have to say I have rarely been as disturbed and angry with a movie as I was last night. This is one of the most pornographically violent, exploitative and misanthropic tales I've had the opportunity of seeing, and I've seen some pretty nasty strips of celluloid.

It's a film about the Redeemer, itself with no redeeming qualities. Before you reply, "But, that's what's in the Bible! That's how the events need to be portrayed!" I could describe to you many scenes in TPOTC having little or no basis in Scripture. This is the core of my dislike of the film: Mel Gibson plays fast and loose with Biblical text with a Hollywood sensationalist's eye, in the process coloring Scripture with his personal beliefs and prejudices and foists it off to the public as "Gospel truth". Seattle Post-Intellgencer's William Arnold points out,
Gibson is less a would-be martyr than a provocateur. There's something in his nature that delights in being abrasive and politically incorrect. He loves to taunt feminists. He loves to light up a cigarette in places where it's forbidden. He's a charismatic, persuasive movie star with a lot of power, but he's also an impressionable man who likes to surprise people by taking on ambitious projects that would seem to be beyond his range of expertise -- such as playing "Hamlet" or directing a big historical epic like "Braveheart." Whatever else he is, he's a natural showman and a born salesman who loves to manipulate people in general, and the press in particular. And with "The Passion of the Christ," he's done this on a scale that would do C.B. DeMille or P.T. Barnum proud.
In addition, I am quite surprised that a movie this gratuitously bloody made it past the MPAA censors. If a film with this much gleeful bloodshed and sadism had been made about other shameful chapters of human existence - say, two hours of mean-spirited leering at flayed, bleeding, oozing flesh of the Salem Witch Trials, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Holocaust, the Inquisition, it never would have made it to theaters unedited. Never.

For sheer gore, it's up there with Hellraiser, the Texas Chainaw Massacre or any Nightmare on Elm Street, only more realistic - and some people are taking their children to see this. I simply can't see how any loving, sensible parent, no matter how devout, would have a child watch this. Unfortunately, I think this will be the work for which Mel Gibson goes down in Hollywood history. Critic Jeffrey Westhoff of the Crystal Lake, IL Northwest Herald details,
With 'The Passion of the Christ' Mel Gibson doesn't redefine the religious film so much as he redefines overkill. Opening his film with Christ's agony in Gethsemane, Gibson focuses almost entirely on Jesus' brutal twelve-hour march to the crucifix.

To remind the faithful that Christ suffered and died for our sins is laudatory. But Gibson goes too far to prove his point. If Jesus (played by Jim Caviezel) actually received the amount of punishment dished out in this film, he would have been dead three times over before arriving at Calvary. Christ's horrible and excruciating death wasn't enough for Gibson and writing collaborator Benedict Fitzgerald. They find ways to make crucifixion even more sadistic: After nailing Jesus to the cross, the Romans drop him flat on his face a few times before driving the cross into the ground.

Earlier, after the Romans have finished scourging him, Jesus looks like the result of an explosion in a butcher shop. The brutality begins right away. As soon as they arrest Jesus in Gethsemane, the temple guards repeatedly belt him in the face, then drop him off a bridge and dangle him from the chains that bind him. These preliminary beatings do not occur in any of the four Gospels.

After his trial before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high priests aren't satisfied with simply condemning Jesus as a blasphemer. They spit in his face and crack him across the skull with their gold-tipped canes. They encourage the mob to pound him, too.
Yes, the film appears to be period-accurate in terms of dialogue, language, and costuming and scenery. Yes, I can see how the film is intended to portray the love of Mary for her son, of the disciples for their teacher, and the selfless love of Jesus for mankind - even the worst kind of men. However, to those who say this film is "what the world needs now...love, sweet love" - I say, the world does not need this type of inflammatory, excoriating propaganda marketed in the name of faith and Christian love. Not ever, but especially not now.

Newsweek's David Ansen sums it up well:
Instead of being moved by Christ's suffering, or awed by his sacrifice, I felt abused by a filmmaker intent on punishing an audience, for who knows what sins. Others may well find a strong spirituality in "The Passion"—I can't pretend to know what this movie looks like to a believer - but it was Gibson's fury, not his faith, that left a deep, abiding aftertaste.
Related: TPOTC: Drink This in remembrance of Me and Religion and Politics! Aristide, Jesus and the Dead Sea Film Cans.