The Passion

We saw Mel Gibsonís The Passion of the Christ yesterday and found it extremely powerful and suitably controversial. As you might expect, it was the highest grossing movie this weekend, pulling in over $76 million (and $117.5 million in the first five days). I didnít consider it anti-Semitic, but mom said she could see how it might be considered so.

The most difficult part of the movie is the scourging scene, which had me wincing at every blow and silently begging the Roman guards to stop. The most poignant parts of the movie for me were the flashbacks showing Christís tender relationship with his mother and his disciples. The only parts of the movie I didnít like were the appearances of the weird, sexless Satan. I thought these parts were not only unnecessary, but also detracted from the realism and artistic merit.

This movie has been called a masterpiece, but I donít necessarily agree. Jesus of Nazareth was a better movie because it told the whole story. Truth be told, Jesusí passion and death has never been the most compelling or dramatic part of His life for me. I accept His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection as the cornerstone event in Christian history, but I have always been troubled philosophically and theologically by the need for His death, and our need for redemption. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. At the risk of sounding heretical, Iím not sure we needed to be loved that much. Anyway, God didnít ďgive upĒ His Son, we took Him down, because we couldnít accept His message. God let it happen, of course, for reasons best left to the realm of ďmystery.Ē

Much more than the horrifying image of Christís death, we need the example of His life, with itís miracles and parables and compassion. His counterintuitive entreaty to love your enemies, and your neighbor as yourself, is what we really need. Itís the only philosophy of life that can work in this selfish world; the only one that has worked, albeit only partially, through the ages.

In the end, Iím not sure seeing The Passion of the Christ will make me a better person. As a Catholic, Iíve been forced to grovel in His death my whole life. And all the time, Iíve wondered how Adamís sin connected to the rest of us, how my sin connected to Christís death, and why Christís sacrifice was needed to redeem the human race. But I have never doubted the importance of Jesusí message of love. This commandment, as difficult as it is to carry out, is written in my heart, and will not be significantly reinforced by witnessing more vivid depictions of the violence and gore that characterizes Christís, or anyone elseís death.

DadReviews03/01/04 3 comments


Patrick • 03/01/04 3:44 PM:

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it’s interesting to me how quick people have been to take sides on it (most not having seen it either). I also wonder if The Passion’s anti-Semitism can compare to Gibson’s anti-Britishism in Braveheart and The Patriot and Pocahontas. Or his anti-South-Africanism in one of the Lethal Weapon movies. Not to mention his anti-Extraterrestrialism in Signs or his anti-Humanism in Chicken Run. I mean, does this guy have a chip on his shoulder or what?

Seriously, though, I think, yeah, this movie could spark anti-Semitism in the same way other movies can tempt teenagers to experiment with guns, sex, and drugs. I wish it wouldn’t, and I think if people really understand Christ then they’ll understand that 1) we’re taught that he had to die to save us, and 2) he died because of everybody’s sins, not because the Jews shouted “crucify him!” or because the Romans had this horrendous method of torture and death available.

But I know that people just don’t get that, and lots of problems in the world are caused by people misunderstanding their religions’ teachings (taking them too far, excluding others, etc.), so it wouldn’t surprise me if some skinhead nuts somewhere felt perversely “inspired” by The Passion. But, man, if we’re going to cede that The Passion can promote anti-Semitism, then why do we stop short of other films’ persuasive powers? Why do liberal folks jump on this bandwagon but scoff at conservatives who worry about the effects of so much sex and drugs and violence in other movies?

We’re a weird people. I don’t think we think very well.

Dad, your review made a lot of sense to me. You steered clear of the polemical and made a personal, rational argument. Bravo.

Patrick • 03/01/04 4:41 PM:

Roger Ebert wrote a surprisingly good review of the movie, making many of the same points I did.

David • 03/01/04 11:34 PM:

I didn’t read all that Dad wrote, deciding it best if I saw the movie first. I did skim over it and saw the part about not understanding fully the need for Jesus to die on the cross. I certainly don’t fully understand it either - but let me offer you the book - “The Life of Jesus” by Shusaku Endo. It’s the book I read last year during Lent in Uruguay. It is a great book with wonderful insight. I may reread it again this year. Some of what he writes about Jesus and His life and the purpose of His suffering is about the only comfort I have during the last five months. (more on that in person if you want).

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