This will be a longer essay than I'd
like, so I've divided it into sections. If I could summarize it in one
The Passion of the Christ is a two-hour film that ought to have
been three hours long.
Read the last section to learn why. Everything else is commentary.
Manipulating a controversy
Consider two recent films of Jesus' life.
- Film (A) is produced by a company founded by evangelical
Christians. It mirrors the Bible word-for-word, including some
controversial passages that, according to some Jews and even some
Christians, are the seeds of later Christian anti-Semitism. One leader
of the 1st-century Jews sports a villainous makeup job.
- Film (B) is produced by a stridently traditionalist Catholic. It
is not at all word-for-word from the Scriptures; rather, the producer
has removed one infamous Gospel quotation, while including highly
sympathetic portrayals of many Jews, portrayals that are not found in the Bible
I present three questions.
- Which film was a media sensation?
- Which film was lavished with praise by evangelical Christians?
- Which film was bashed by leading Jewish commentators (both
religious and secular) as anti-Semitic?
The answer to all three questions is film (B): Mel Gibson's The
Passion of the Christ
Film (A), Visual Bible's The Gospel of John
, is a word-for-word filming of the
book of the same name. Despite its high-quality production values --
rather unusual in contemporary Christian film -- it was by and large
ignored by the media, by evangelicals, and by Jewish commentators. The
only acquaintances I know who watched The
Gospel of John
are fellow Catholics whom I encouraged to watch
it. I don't know a single Protestant who watched the film. Most of them
never heard of it. I watched it twice around its opening day, and both
times the theater was half-empty.
is not at all
word-for-word from the gospels -- not that most people would know, since
the characters speak Aramaic and Latin. In fact, significant portions of
Gibson's film were inspired by, if not taken directly from, decidedly non
- the Way of the Cross,
a traditional Catholic devotion during Lent;
- The Dolorous Passion of our Lord Jesus
Christ, a recording of the visions of an early 19th-century
German Catholic nun;
- Gibson's personal, traditionalist Catholic faith -- and when I
say "traditionalist Catholic", I mean "old-school
traditionalist Catholic". Gibson is associated with the Society of Saint Pius X,
whom some of us less traditional types describe as "more Catholic than
the pope." (Admittedly, progressive Catholics tend to describe us the
Most of the Jews in Passion
protest Jesus' death, a fact that is certainly not
confirmed by the Gospels. Yet
the film became a lightning rod for controversy, drawing condemnation
from both academic ecumenists and Jewish commentators. William Safire,
Charles Krauthammer, and Richard Cohen (whom I often read, agreeing
often with the former two, rarely with the latter) all declared the film
anti-Semitic. Cohen went so far as to call the film "fascist".
Meanwhile, evangelical Christians are pounding the pulpits and packing
the theaters to view this decidedly Popish film -- and they leave the theaters delighted.
If ever I wanted a sign that the end is nigh...
This much is certain: a herd mentality is associated with any
controversy. The herd mentality of the otherwise "culturally
enlightened" usually helps Hollywood sell the most patently un-Christian
trash, including such badly-made films as The Last Temptation
, a film which, by the way, isn't nearly as shocking
as the book, which isn't nearly as shocking as people might think.
Indeed, the book is quite thought-provoking -- heretical, yes, but
This time, Hollywood fumes while the film at which they turned up their
noses outsells during its first
pretty much all the smut they peddled over the last year.
This may be a flash in the pan, since few people will care to watch the
crucifixion twice; all the same, $125 million is an astonishing amount
of money. That's the sort of revenue associated with blockbuster summer
action films, not with a religious film released on Ash Wednesday. [Edit: No "flash in the pan": in its second week,
the film earned another $50 million. Note that Mel Gibson spent around
$30 million to make the film.]
Someone did a masterful job of manipulating the media. Intentionally or
not, Mel Gibson employed the very same cultural forces that Scorcese did
in 1988 for The Last Temptation of
. In doing so, he has made not merely millions, but hundreds of millions of dollars
of evangelical Christians, many of whom consider Catholics like himself
barely Christian (if that). The film may thus do something to dispel
many evangelicals' misunderstandings about Catholicism -- or it may not
-- but it has certainly done something to better Gibson's bank account.
That genius should be saluted.
My opinion of some controversial aspects
of the film
I'll consider several major
Last year, one critic summarized the film Kill
as "a liturgy of blood." The description is far more apt
. I haven't watched Kill Bill
, but I can't imagine how
Quentin Tarantino could have used more blood than Gibson did in Passion
, nor how Tarantino's use of
it could be called "liturgy". In Passion
blood spills, spurts, and spatters over everything and everyone. In one
scene, so much of Jesus' blood puddles on the ground that one could mop
it up with towels. Moreover, flashbacks tie the violence and suffering
directly to the Christian liturgy: namely, communion.
Gibson considers the gore necessary to his vision. The argument is
along these lines: our modern, "soft" Christianity has forgotten the
meaning of the word "sacrifice". When they see a crucifix, a large
number of Christians think not of "sin" or "repentance", but of "social
injustice" and "self-righteousness". Passion
aims to reawaken for Christians the old conviction that Christ's death
was necessary for our salvation
the web page declares, "Dying was His reason for living." I would
suggest that Gibson also hopes to deflate the currently fashionable
theologies of communion, and re-emphasize the neglected connection
between the crucifixion and Christianity's second most important rite.
(Baptism would be the most important.)
In this respect,
Gibson's film is one of the most biblical films I
have ever seen.
Many viewers have expressed their horror at the gore. To some, it
deepens their appreciation for Christ's teaching that the second
greatest commandment is love
of neighbor. To others, the gore is counterproductive, revolting and a
turnoff; many commentators have denounced it as "religious pornography."
I had neither of these reactions, and I believe I know the reason. My
mother is Italian; every summer when I was a child, we visited her
parents in Gaeta
devoutly Catholic, in the classic, southern Italian tradition. Theirs is
a passionate and emotional Catholicism, colorful and chaotic. In the
room where I slept, she kept her own version of Michelangelo's Pietà
Michelangelo's sober, marble-white vision, Nonna's Pietà
exploded with vivid
color. Christ's body was covered in red; his knees were skinned and
bleeding from falling repeatedly under the weight of the cross. This
image struck me profoundly; its gory vision of the crucifixion has
accompanied me since my childhood, and visited me in many meditations.
Catholics were once encouraged to spend a significant amount of time
meditating on Christ's suffering and death. Abstaining from meat on
Fridays (the day of Christ's death); the Way of the Cross; the hanging
of a crucifix in church, in the home, and over one's bed; the First
Friday devotion; flagellation; hair shirts; all these practices sprung
from this tradition. Christ's Passion was one of those parts of
Scripture that Catholics read frequently and imagined vividly in their
art; combined with the later Ignatian spirituality of inserting oneself
into the scene of a Gospel passage, it produced a powerful spiritual
In my experience, Protestants have an aversion to meditating on the
Passion, preferring to emphasize the triumph of the resurrection over
the sorrow of the crucifixion. They also have an aversion to religious
imagery, let alone the sort of religious imagery that southern Italians
carry around in processions. Modern American Catholics are in a similar
situation. Since at least the 1970s, the American Catholic clergy, with
their eagerness to become "respectable" members of the mainstream
American religious scene, literally whitewashed their churches, and
added such immense amounts of saccharine to their spirituality that most
American Catholic liturgies are as pathetically bland as lukewarm water.
The reader needs to keep this in mind when reading some reviews by
clergy; what passes for modern Christian "spirituality" is how one feels
instead of how one acts
. Morality has been
redefined with "fundamental orientation" and individual crimes are not
so bad if they feel natural
Trapped in a wasteland barren of religious imagination, most American
Christians have never had a hint of the brutality of the crucifixion.
They have a notion of it, since the Bible relates it after all, but they
have never considered how serious and
the crucifixion is to Christian faith.
The result is that most American Christians are overwhelmed by the
amount of blood in this film. I am not at all surprised to read that
lifelong Christians weep while watching Jesus' suffering, sit stunned
for several minutes after the movie, and walk out saying they had never
before realized the horrors Christ endured out of love for them. Why should
they have realized it before?
Nothing even remotely comparable exists in the modern American religious
After we watched the film, I remarked to my
roommate that Anyone who thinks this
film is anti-Semitic needs to have his head checked.
agreed that it was not anti-Semitic, although he differed with my
qualifications to make such a psychological diagnosis.
Having thought about it several days, and having followed some of the
ridiculous shouting matches that pass for debate in our culture, I stand
by my statement. I divide my argument into several subparts.
edit: In mid-March 2004, the Institute for Jewish and Community
Research conducted a survey, and found that 83% of Americans said they
were neither more nor less likely to blame today's Jews for the
crucifixion of Jesus; 9% said they were less likely, and a paltry 2%
said they were more likely. In other words, my position has been
But first, I have to confess, as one of my agnostic friends rightly
points out to me:
In refuting charges of
anti-Semitism we must, I think, bear one fact in mind: none of us (you,
me, Protestant America) has ever been a member of a persecuted minority.
...While the Holocaust remains in living memory and The
Protocols of the Elders of Sion is in print not only in Arab
countries but also in Western Europe we must expect that Jew will remain
sensitive to their portrayals in popular culture. And of course
one cannot discount the role played in the controversy played by
Gibson's father which, while it may not be germane to the actual movie,
certainly casts a pall of suspicion over it under the premise that a
poisoned tree bears poisoned fruit.
I am not a Jew, and I have never lived under the persecution they
endured, and I likely cannot imagine it. Nevertheless, I am a Christian,
and I do care about my faith
a faith which must not be misrepresented, and which can have no common
cause with anti-Semitism. Christ, his holy Mother, and all the first
apostles were the Jews; the Christian Bible contains more passages
written by "pre-Christian" Jews than by "Christian" Jews. Christianity
was born not because there is something imperfect with Judaism, but
because there is something holy about it. If someone portrays the Jews
as an irredeemable race and an unholy religion, he is portraying my own religion as vain.
charge would after all be related to the Marcionist
heresy; so, the question of anti-Semitism is of great importance to me.
1. Anti-Semitism in itself
We need to ask ourselves: just what is anti-Semitism
anyway? I'll look at it from two perspectives:
- the secular, Nazi-style anti-Semitism that considers Jews to be
an inferior race controlling the world's resources and creating
artificial scarcity to enrich themselves, thereby "deserving"
- traditional Christian (and now Muslim) anti-Semitism (more
properly called anti-Judaism in
my humble opinion, as it is not racial) that stirs up hatred of Jews as
masters of evil and as Christ-killers.
The one example of Nazi-style anti-Semitism in the film is found on the
lips of a Roman soldier. He orders away a heroic Simon of Cyrene with
the words: Go away, Jew.
Hatred of the Jewish race
is quite clear in the soldier's face and voice. I don't know if this is
deliberate, but I do find it remarkable that I have not found this noted
by any other reviewer. [Edit: I found
a comment confirming my suspicion made in an interview by the
theological consultant to the film.]
As one might expect, the film
contains no assertions that "the Jews" control the world's banks and
diamonds and are manipulating the international money markets.
As for traditional, religious anti-Semitism, Gibson's detractors have
lost all sense of perspective. Many of them compare the film to the
Oberammergau passion plays, noted by some scholars to be a source of
anti-Semitism in Germany. This is a
very serious charge, and requires very serious evidence.
myself: Well, how exactly did the Oberammergau play portray
The answer I found: in a manner vastly
different from how Passion
portrays the Jews
. As an extreme example, here is an
example of what you might have seen in an old-school Oberammergau
passion play, quoted from a set of
recommendations for fixing latent anti-Semitism in the play
The hats that the Jewish leaders now wear do in fact make
them look very "evil" [some
commentators write "Satanic"], even ridiculous. However, there
is no historical basis whatsoever for these "horned" hats. They are a
medieval Christian misunderstanding of the Exodus description of the
"rays"--not the "Horns "--coming from the head of Moses. They
should be eliminated.
-- section 25, staging and costumes
Needless to say, Passion
features not one single Jew
a horned hat. Indeed, I am shocked that not one of Passion
's critics, when naming
Oberammergau, bothers to admit that Gibson's film reflects many of the
considerations of the document I quoted, although not all. This document
was composed by a group of American Christians and Jews. For example, Passion
exhibits the following
- By underscoring the Jewishness of the "founder" of Christianity
and that of all the first "Christians," a giant step toward the
elimination of Christian anti-Semitism will have been taken. One
significant way to do this is to have Jesus addressed by his followers
as "Rabbi," which was the case in the gospel narratives. [Jesus is addressed as Rabbi in the film.]
- Hence, for the sake of historical accuracy and in order to
emphasize the Jewishness of Jesus (Yeshua), it is likewise most strongly
recommended that in the Passion Play wherever the Greek words Christ or
Jesus occur that they be replaced by the true Semitic name "Yeshua." [The primary language of the film is
Aramaic, which leads us to the next example...]
- Another simple, but extremely effective, device for stressing the
Jewishness of Yeshua and his supporters is to have them occasionally use
- We know that throughout his political career Pilate looked out
for his own advancement, at times survival--resulting in the shedding of
much innocent blood. [Pilate is
portrayed as obsessed with his professional standing before the emperor.]
- Yeshua had supporters in Jerusalem, as is evidenced in Mark's
(14:2) and Matthew's (26:5) remark that the chief priests hesitated to
seize Yeshua "lest there be a disturbance of the people," and Luke's
statement that right after Yeshua's condemnation by Pilate "a large
crowd of people and women (poly plethos tou laou kaì gynaikon)
followed him" (23:27). [The film
depicts numerous Jewish supporters.]
Looking this over, I cannot but conclude that arguments invoking
Oberammergau-style anti-Semitism are simply wrong.
(As an aside, I'm not convinced that Oberammergau's new hats
are any less ridiculous.)
2. Portrayal of the Jews
The Passion of the Christ
officials as corrupt, but so do the Christian Gospels. Passion
also depicts them as
carrying out their religious duty; they are putting to death a man who claims to be the Son of God
-- indeed, claiming to be God himself. ("I AM.") It should be noted that
commentators claiming that Jesus never claims to be divine in the
Gospels are flat-out wrong.
(How exactly can Jesus "blaspheme" in such
passages, without claiming to be divine at least implicitly?)
I say that Gibson goes out of his way not
to be anti-Semitic. Some specific examples:
- Jesus himself is portrayed as a devout Jew: he recites verses
from the Psalms throughout the film;
- several of the Jewish religious
officials protest the sham trial and storm out, refusing to
condemn an innocent man (this is non-Biblical, but is found in
Emmerich's Dolorous Passion);
- the Jewish Simon of Cyrene
protests the Romans' brutal treatment of Jesus; he threatens not to
carry the cross further if they continue to abuse him; he supports Jesus
as well as the cross on the way to Golgotha;
- the Jewish Veronica
brings a towel to wipe Jesus' face, and offers him a drink from a cup of
water; a Roman soldier kicks the cup away and threatens her life;
- Jesus' mother Mary and Mary Magdalene are portrayed as
devout Jews, reciting some of the Jewish Passover prayers;
- crowds of Jews protest the
brutalization of Jesus. They follow him on the way to the cross,
mourning and weeping. Some cry out, "Won't anyone stop this?" and "He is
a holy man!"
Quite frankly, if people want to combat anti-Semitism, they should play up
these accounts of Jews,
rather than ignoring them.
Charles Krauthammer makes the argument that, since Satan walks among
the crowds of Jews, the Jews are being implicated as Satanic. Putting
aside the possibility that Krauthammer is reading too much into such
scenes, one wonders why he does not consider the implication that the
Romans are Satanic: Satan and a childlike demon stand behind them
during the flogging. Indeed the
flogging becomes so brutal that the Jewish priests cannot bear to watch
it, and walk away. Or again: why does Krauthammer not believe that
Mary's walking through the crowds of Jews, on the opposite side of the
road as Satan, in some parallel manner sanctifies the Jews through whom
she passes? At least try
apply the argument consistently.
3. Portrayal of the Romans
In the meantime, the vast majority
of the Romans
in the film are portrayed in an unflattering light.
Some specific examples:
- the soldiers who scourge Jesus go beyond their orders, taking a
truly diabolical pleasure in the act (the Jewish officials observing it
- the soldiers escorting Jesus to Golgotha mock Simon of Cyrene's
moral protests against their treatment of Jesus, in a manner similar to
the mockery many anti-moralists employ against moralists;
- the soldiers divide Jesus' clothes among themselves as booty;
- Pontius Pilate is more interested in saving his career than in
saving the life of a man whom he thinks is innocent.
Much has been made of Pilate's offering
Jesus a drink -- nevertheless, he also orders Jesus to be flogged, and
then crucified. When Jesus claims to have come to teach the truth,
Pilate mocks, What is truth?
If you think Passion portrays Pilate
sympathetically, let me ask you:
What is so sympathetic about knowingly condemning an innocent man to
just to save a job you hate?
Two -- that's right, all of TWO
-- Roman soldiers are depicted in an unquestionably sympathetic light.
One is the centurion; the other an unnamed infantryman. Pilate's wife is
also portrayed very sympathetically, but again, that is somewhat
consistent with the Gospel account.
4. The "blood curse"
A lot of ink has been spilled over the so-called "blood curse," by
William Safire, for example. This verse appears in the Gospel of St.
Matthew, and also appeared in a draft of the film, and supposedly in a
screening of the film:
And the whole people said
in reply, "His blood be upon us and upon our children." (Matthew 27:25)
In and of itself, the line is not anti-Semitic: the fact that the statement has been used
to justify anti-Semitism, does not make the line itself anti-Semitic.
This is an important distinction not made by quite a few people who
ought to know better. Their error is akin to the argument employed by
some: it is anti-Semitic to criticize Israeli counter terrorist measures
in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Such arguments empty
the term of any real meaning.
Reading such accusations leads one
to ask the question: do they believe Gibson's film is anti-Semitic? do
they believe that the gospels themselves are anti-Semitic? or (as it
turns out) do they believe that Jewish
customs of the time
were anti-Semitic? Indeed, from the source quoted above on reforming Oberammergau:
Furthermore, we now know that the phrase "his blood be on
us and on our children" is a kind of
technical juridical term meaning that the group involved is giving
its approval for the legal judgment just stated. In Jewish custom it was
obviously meant metaphorically.
In other words, it is a real phrase, used in real trials of Jesus'
time. Again we see that critics of the film would help their cause by
instead of negative
The questions I pose above are not such improbable questions. It wasn't
so long ago that a popular
Catholic cardinal in the United States
asserted that the gospel of
John contained within it "problematic passages" that led to
anti-Semitism. In some quarters, "scholarly" and "non-scholarly" alike,
the Gospel of John is considered blatantly anti-Semitic. Yet none of
these people denouncing Passion
bothered to mount mass protests against a film based word-for-word on that
This sort of "blame game" is wrong. Anti-Semitism, like all bigotries,
is a form of tribalism, an "us vs. them" mentality that sees "us" as
needing protection from "them", the "them" that is different
. It is not a product of the
gospels -- most of which were written by Jews -- indeed anti-Semitism
existed among the pagan cultures of Hellenistic times, as exemplified by
the Wars of the Maccabees. Likewise, anti-Semitism is not found in
Gibson's film, although it may be found in the people who watch Gibson's
film. The solution to anti-Semitism among Chrsitians is the same as the
solution to any other sin: turning one's eyes to Christ. Christianity
humanity, believer and
non-believer alike, as united in Christ, the tree of life who grew from
the root of David. As John reminds his readers through Jesus' dialogue
with the Samaritan woman, salvation
is from the Jews
. (John 4.22)
Nevertheless, all this spilled ink is totally irrelevant: the blood curse does not appear in
At the point where it should appear, one Jewish
leader is saying something, but it is drowned out by unintelligible
crowd noise. It certainly doesn't appear in the subtitles, and while I
am no expert of Aramaic, I can discern intelligible crowd noise from
unintelligible crowd noise, and so I repeat: the blood curse as depicted by Matthew
does not appear in Gibson's film
By the way, let's again compare Gibson's Passion
At the bottom of this page the priests and crowd say once,
"His blood come upon us and our children." This is a vast improvement
over the 1970 text, where the statement was
repeated more than four times.
In Gibson's film, the statement is heard at most once
, by one man
-- if that.
My opinion of the film
I didn't enjoy the film very much.
It has been dreadfully overhyped. It is neither as good, nor as bad, as
any review I have read. Then again, I didn't enjoy The Gospel of John
that much on
first viewing: I found it long and tiresome. I enjoyed The Gospel of John
much more on the
second viewing; likewise, I intend to watch Passion
a second time, and perhaps I
will enjoy it more. [Ed: In fact, I
did enjoy it much more on the second viewing.]
The film is not what I would call scriptural, as it departs repeatedly
from the text. I repeat what I wrote above: it baffles me that so many
evangelicals promote the film as some sort of "biblical epic", when it
is in fact a manifestation of a distinctively old-style Catholic
spirituality -- which in any other venue they would fall over themselves
It also disturbs me that the website promotes "authorized products": necklaces
with a nail
, &c. Ironically, the image that links
to the "authorized merchandise" has a photo of Judas.
However, also as I said above: there is
a scriptural theme to the film: that Christ's suffering is integral to
Christian faith. Many commentators who abuse the film for its graphic
violence are offended by the very notion that a Christian film should
dwell so much on human suffering. They suggest that the film teaches despair
instead of hope
. One wonders whether they
might take the same attitude towards Victor Hugo's Les Miserables
; nevertheless, I
humbly suggest that such critics spend some time contemplating my
Nonna's contemplation of La
. I can assure them with a most certain knowledge
that images of Christ's suffering comforted and strengthened her in her
final years, giving her hope
instead of despair
. She would
frequently kiss a bust of his head crowned with thorns; she identified
her suffering with his, and would offer her suffering in union with his.
She didn't enjoy suffering, but by contemplating Christ's suffering, she
knew that she could join her suffering to his; consecrating and
transcending her pain.
I suppose that modern Western theologians with access to high-quality
medical care, who sit in ivory towers and lock their dying parents away
from view, have little reason to contemplate the "problem of pain" and
how to face it. I can't blame them; it's a difficult question, not
easily answered. Yet this very silence exposes the great lie of
contemporary theology's new gospel: so many "answers" are based on the
shallowest reasoning, guided more by avoiding
than by turning
one's eyes to contemplate Christ
. Any honest contemplation of the
Gospels must include contemplation of his suffering, and why he suffered: we did this to him, and we continue to do
this to him, every day
. It doesn't surprise me that many
of these same theologians endorse the despair of abortion and euthanasia
over the hope of life, or of a truly dignified death.
Some critics complain about a lack of "balance": the suffering of the
crucifixion is overemphasized, the joy of the resurrection minimized. I
remind the reader that, according to their own modern scholarship, the
Gospel of Mark emphasized the Passion much more strongly than the
resurrection; most of the resurrection narrative that we find in Mark's
gospel was added later: verses 9-20 of chapter 16
, which gives us 8 verses
for the resurrection, and 108 verses for the crucifixion. Even with
the extra verses added, the
crucifixion outweighs the resurrection by more than 500%. I wonder
whether these scholars would sit in judgement on the author of Mark's
Gospel, accusing him of a sadomasochistic spirituality. It offends their
sensibilites to watch Christ's brutalization, just as it does to watch a
Pope crippled by Parkinson's disease. I cannot disagree with them more:
in her contemplation of Christ crucified, in the embrace of her cross,
my Nonna understood death in a way that no theological study can hope
to bestow; she loved her divine Christ, who had shared her human
sufferings, and she loved her suffering, crippled Pope, who smiled out
at her from the television. They gave her hope. But I must suppose our
modern theologians would condemn Nonna as sadomasochistic.
It may seem contradictory then when I agree with those who argue that
the blood and the gore become tiresome, that the raw violence loses its
shock value. Hear me out; my reasoning is not at all saccharine.
By using Aramaic and Latin, Gibson appears to want to create a film
that will transcend the modern, Western culture that produced it.
Unfortunately, the film seems to wallow
in a fault of modern culture: it seems "fascinated by blood," rather
than "grieved by suffering."
You see, what I did
affecting about the film was its dramatization.
Gibson is not only interested in showing the graphic nature of Christ's
crucifixion; he also tells a story. Much of the dramatization is
accomplished by peering into the memories of:
- Mary Magdalene;
- Mary the mother of Jesus;
- the apostles Peter and John.
Another reviewer has argued that Gibson's Christ is the most human and
least divine Christ we have ever seen in film. Indeed, Passion
emphasizes Jesus' humanity,
especially in the relationship between Christ and Mary. In addition,
Judas endures some highly un-scriptural visions that I personally found
more unsettling than the violence in and of itself -- but whose value to
the theme is highly questionable. Satan also appears in clever and
disturbing scenes. It should be noted that Satan does not appear in the
Gospels' account of the passion, but the value of these scenes to the
theme is great indeed.
These un-scriptural dramatizations are powerful. Some of them seem
mean-spirited, freakish, or gratuitous:the aforementioned visions of
Judas; in another instance a nasty crow (? some sort of black bird); the
depiction of Herod's court. Such flourishes seem to miss the very
message of forgiveness that Jesus recites as he is being nailed to the
cross, and helped leave the sour taste in my mouth, the feeling that the
film is more "fascinated by blood" than "grieved by suffering."
However, I found the other dramatizations compelling and
thought-provoking, far more than the "liturgy of blood." They
contributed very much to my enjoyment of the film (and I did enjoy it
somewhat). Alas, Gibson fails to develop them fully, in particular the
one involving Mary Magdalene's flashback. We receive glimpses and tastes
of an idea in Gibson's mind, a spectacular idea that sorely lacks
exposition. The dramatizations hang weakly off the film and give it a
feeling of losing focus, of being a
collection of stories
rather than one story
. It's a shame, and this
is why The Passion of the Christ
is a two-hour film that ought to have been three hours long.