26 February 2004

Passion, like every other site on the web

I don’t have tons of time to blog tonight, even though I had a couple
of interesting conversations today (one somewhat strage one with a
student) that I do want to write about.

But I noted what Andrew Sullivan said on his blog on the Gibson film.  Here follows an excerpt:

[The film] brings this simple but
awe-inspiring story to life in a way very difficult to approximate in
the written or spoken word….
The Gospels do end in extraordinary drama,
pathos, plot, agony. Portraying them vividly may, we can hope, bring
some people to read the Gospels and even to explore further what the
redemptive message of Jesus really is.

At the same time, the movie was to me deeply
disturbing. In a word, it is pornography. By pornography, I mean the
reduction of all human thought and feeling and personhood to mere
flesh. The center-piece of the movie is an absolutely disgusting and
despicable piece of sadism that has no real basis in any of the
Gospels. It shows a man being flayed alive – slowly, methodically and
with increasing savagery….
Yet for Gibson, it is the h’ors d’oeuvre
for his porn movie. The whole movie is some kind of sick combination of
the theology of Opus Dei and the film-making of Quentin Tarantino.
There is nothing in the Gospels that indicates this level of extreme,
endless savagery and there is no theological reason for it. It doesn’t
even evoke emotion in the audience. It is designed to prompt the
crudest human pity and emotional blackmail – which it obviously does.
But then it seems to me designed to evoke a sick kind of fascination.
Of over two hours, about half the movie is simple wordless sadism on a
level and with a relentlessness that I have never witnessed in a movie
before. And you have to ask yourself: why? The suffering of Christ is
bad and gruesome enough without exaggerating it to this insane degree.
Theologically, the point is not that Jesus suffered more than any human
being ever has on a physical level. It is that his suffering was
profound and voluntary and the culmination of a life and a teaching
that Gibson essentially omits. One more example. Toward the end,
unsatisfied with showing a man flayed alive, nailed gruesomely to a
cross, one eye shut from being smashed in, blood covering his entire
body, Gibson has a large crow perch on the neighboring cross and peck
another man’s eyes out. Why? Because the porn needed yet another money

…The central message of Jesus – of love and
compassion and forgiveness – is reduced to sound-bites. Occasionally,
such as when the message of the sermon on the mount is juxtaposed with
the crucifixion, the effect is almost profound – because there has been
an actual connection between who Jesus was and what happened to him.
But this is the exception to the rule. Watching the movie, you can see
how a truly powerful rendition could have been made – by tripling the
flashbacks and context, by providing a biography of Jesus, by showing
us why he endured what he endured. Instead, all that context, all that
meaning, has been removed for endless sickening gratuitous violence.

And here’s an explanation for all of this, courtesy of the Times:

As an actor and successful director, from “Mad Max” (1979) through “Lethal Weapon” (1987) and its sequels to the Oscar-winning “Braveheart”
(1995), Mr. Gibson has long been a Hollywood pet. But he has also been
known as a prankster and a self-confessed abuser of various substances.
Many in the relentlessly secular movie industry see his recent
religious conversion — he practices a traditionalist version of Roman
Catholicism — as another form of addiction.

Sorry that we’re just doin’ quotes tonight.  More Nate-substance soon.

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2 Responses to “Passion, like every other site on the web”

  1. bobf Says:

    I don’t agree with Sullivan’s account of The Passion. Pornography implies something sexual. This most certainly was not. I do agree that it’s extremely graphic and that some people’s sensibilites are going to be assaulted when they see this. But there is a point to all of this, to all things in the film which we may wonder about.

    To specifically mention here the scourging is important. We live in a relatively civilized and polite society, where, unlike many people in third world nations, we’re insulated against this sort of sadism and cruelty. I for one think this is a quite accurate portrayal of the Roman attitudes of the day. Picture yourself as a poor dumb grunt, a Roman footsoldier, sent of to the ass-end of the world, someplace called Judea. You probably don’t want to be there, as do neither your peers nor the centurions. What are you to make of these “natives,” with their curious customs and religious rituals. I suppose that a real hatred and prejudice could easily simmer under all that armor. I would be surprised if the two footsoldiers who flailed at Christ didn’t thoroughly enjoy it, venting their hatred and frustration in such a way. Gratuitous violence? Perhaps. Likely? Highly.

    Why does Gibson show us this?, asks our critic. Isn’t it bad enough that, theologically, Jesus suffered more than any human? No, it’s not. We forget, probably have no comprehension of the suffering Jesus took upon Himself to save us, all the while Satan is hissing from the crowd– “One man cannot do this . . .” Sometimes we need to get past the intellect of theology and see what the results of a thorough scourging look like.

    This film has given me much to think about and ponder; I was fortunate to have seen it on Ash Wednesday (I went to church in the morning). There are many scenes in the film I’m still pondering, trying to search for meaning. One is the aftermath of the scourging where the Marys are mopping up the blood with the white cloths given to them by Pilate’s wife. Another is the pecking out of the one robber’s eye. Another was the blotting of Christ’s face with a white cloth by whom a Roman Catholic friend tells me is St. Veronica (it’s one of the Stations of the Cross). Yet another is the scene where Satan appears to be holding an infant and it turns out to be some sort of midget demon. I am not a Roman Catholic, nor a student of relgious customs, so my search for information may be long and arduous. My Benedictine friend also mentioned that Gibson read some of the works of Christian visionaries, one I saw mentioned was a German nun who was given a vision of the entire episode by Christ Himself.

    I did not see this film to be mindless cruelty. It was a stark reality check and reminder of the Sacrifice of Christ. If I had wanted to see a biography of Jesus’ life and teachings, they’ve already been done. No, this isn’t King of Kings. And it doesn’t pretend to be so. I beg to differ that, “. . . all that context, all that meaning, has been removed for endless sickening gratuitous violence,” to quote Sullivan’s blurb. He obviously left before the end credits. The point was in the sound of the stone rolling from the tomb, the light entering that chamber of death, the Risen Christ seated at the foot of his burial platform. That’s what it’s about.

  2. Nate Says:

    Sorry, but I have to disagree with some of the previous comments.We
    DO live in a world of such gratutitous violence and cruelty, and it’s
    simply that we’ve become inured to its present forms. The scourging may
    seem super-violent to us now, but it’s because we’re not used to it.
    But we are used to thousands of gun deaths a year, we are used to
    state-sponsored forms of violence, we are used to Palestinians and
    Israelis killing each other with near indiscrimination, and we are used
    to the violence of “action” films where people die left and right and
    buildings and lives are blown apart. And do the purveyors of these
    forms of violence enjoy it as much as the Roman grunts portrayed in the
    film. I’ll bet they do. The consumers seem to.I do not believe
    that Jesus had to suffer more than any other human to accomplish our
    redemption. I reject a theology of an angry God needing more blood than
    has ever been required. You are free to disagree, and that’s fine. But
    such a theology is not required by the Gospels or the rest of the
    Christian New Testament. I believe (and I can play Scripture
    proof-texting with the best on this — if there’s anything that my
    born-again heritage taught me, it’s how to do a “sword drill”) that our
    redemption was accomplished primarily through Christ’s Very
    Incarnation, not primarily because of his suffering in the

    The God who needed satiating on the cross was the god that we as human
    beings had turned ourselves into.  What the Passion did was for
    God to tell us that God loved us so much that not only would Jesus die
    for us, but he’d submit himself to our will so completely that he’d
    allow us to brutalize him and try to vanquish God forever.  It
    wasn’t that Jesus had to become God’s sacrifice — it’s that we’d only
    understand the hyperbolic love of God after we killed God and he still
    continued to show love to us.  Even after we satisfied our own
    blood lust (not God’s, I think), God still vanquished death for
    us.  I think you need it all — the Incarnation, the Passion, the
    Resurrection — and focusing on any one aspect exclusively removes the
    salvation of the story.The German nun. Sorry, I don’t think
    that her visions (and I think it’s arguable that she received these
    from Christ Himself, as at least it completely undermines the belief in
    the Canon of Scripture) should receive the priority of the Gospel
    accounts. It’s deceptive to claim that you are making a “true” account
    of the last hours of Christ, and then to add extra materials like Mary
    Catherine Emmerich as if they were on the same level as the Gospel
    accounts.Pornography does not have to imply something sexual, I
    think. In this case, the focus on the violence seems to indicate that
    the filmmaker has such a level of excitement and stimulation upon
    seeing and creating the violence that it excites to an orgasmic level.
    It’s like leather-culture sexual imagery, in that the excitement seems
    to come from the portrayal of violent actions, not of sex, strictly
    speaking. Lust isn’t just a sin of sex organs. Lust can manifest in a
    visual of violence.Finally, the point that the film is about
    the Resurrection is debatable. In visual imagery, that which you wish
    to emphasize is given more space (time) and intensity. The Resurrection
    receives so little time and emphasis in the film that it’s debatable
    whether it’s the point. It does come at the end, so it’s what we may be
    left with, but the imagery is so understated that it’s hard to imagine
    it’s what you’ll remember very well in the end.
    Wow.  I’m not sure I meant to be so orthodox here.  And
    I’m not sure how much of this I wanted to hang out here in my
    blog.  Part of it is that the original argument contained
    contradictions that needed pointing out, and I guess part of it is that
    my own beliefs fell into the post.

    Glad this is down in the comments section…. *grin*