Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The Whininess of the Critic: CCTV on Calvareeee

Let me complain about a film I haven’t seen and that everybody else has finished talking about: Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Opinions on the film have ranged from absolutely fantastic! to bloody anti-semitic Jeebus-porn (without a whole lot in between).

A sizable component of Christendom loved the film and found that it enhanced their faith by showing them ‘what Christ really suffered.’ Hollywood Jesus (not to be confused with Joe Eszterhas's Hollywood Animal) had this to say about the film :

Through the centuries Christian depictions of the Crucifixion of Christ became so decorative that they lost the original passion. Beautiful works of art indeed, but they became nearly bloodless with no evidence of real emotion or pain. Artistic depictions of the Passion were reduced to a mere religious symbols... All the characters look bored, even Jesus looks bored. Again, no passion.
Mel Gibson's artistic masterpiece restores the lost dimension of the suffering of the Christ in a very graphic manner.

Another supporter of the film (on a website devoted to those whose lives were changed by the film) said this:

I have always known what Jesus went through in his last hours but seeing it in front of my eyes was an entirely different and sobering experience than reading it in a book or learning about it in church. I saw the movie last night with my mother and became so affected by the suffering Jesus endured that I was sobbing uncontrollably and could barely catch my breath. Jesus was truly a remarkable man and suffered tremendously for humanity. My eyes are open now and I am forced to face the reality of what Jesus did for us all. Many people know the story of Jesus' death but do not face the 'truth' of his torment and tremendous sacrifice.

A lot of Christians appear to have had their lives changed and their ‘faith restored’ by seeing this film because it presents the ‘truth’ of what really happened to Jesus Christ. (I don’t want to get into a discussion of ‘what is truth?’ but I will if I have to, OK, buddy?).

I don’t want to question other people’s religious experiences (especially given that I am not a Christian) but this seems very dangerous to me. In the olden days, when things were simple (but also brutal and unfair), depictions of Biblical figures were forbidden as blasphemous idolatry (in the Protestant world at least). The theory was that it was impossible to properly depict an omnipotent, omniscient God who stood outside time. Any image of Christ would inevitably be flawed and show far less than the truth of God; such images would themselves be worshipped rather than the unrepresentable divine beings they depicted.

This was never really a Catholic perspective but is worth thinking about in the context of Gibson's film. The success of the Passion of the Christ has blinded many to the fact that it is simply one man’s account of events which took place two thousand years ago and which were only partially and conflictingly documented.

Right after he said, in Aramaic, 'Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?' Jim Cavaziel, the actor playing Christ might have said:
'Mel, Mel, what’s my inspiration here? Do I secretly want to bang Mary Magdalene? What about a tasteful, soft-focus dream scene, you know, to establish beyond doubt my ordinary humanity? Cos that Monica Belluci’s a hottie and I can’t stop thinking about her milky-white gazongas.’

Because he’s, you know, an actor and not really Jesus, as some seem to have forgetten.

Of course, Martin Scorsese’s Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ did find his mind turning to Mary Magdalene’s milky-white gazongas, for which Scorsese was accused of blasphemy. Mary Magdalene has long been associated with sexuality, chiefly because she is wrongly thought to have been a prostitute (her very name has become a codeword for ‘whore’). I’m sure Gibson was playing to this by casting Belluci in the role. (Interestingly, Satan in the film was also played by an attractive (and Italian) woman. I will, uh, try not to read anything into this.) But put Jesus Christ together with sexuality and you run into immediate trouble, despite the fact that he was supposed to have been a (kind of) ordinary man.

There is a body of scholarship that holds that Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ wife. This is (way) too radical for Gibson’s film but he is also apparently sufficiently a creature of the 21st Century to play down the hooker angle. And because it plays so strongly to many contemporary Christian perceptions of Christ (Jesus suffered a lot and not much else), it is fast on its way to being adopted as the 'true' depiction of Christ; indeed, one person described it as ‘almost like you’re watching CCTV of the crucifixion’. The gimmick of using the original biblical languages no doubt helped enormously with this.

Instead the Passion of the Christ should be seen as just one more account of the life of Jesus Christ… (Or maybe I should just go and see the freakin’ film and stop using so many parentheses).

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?