2 March 2004

A Passion lacking humanity

So I went to see the Gibson version of the Passion narrative the other day.

For a good review of all the artistic issues, take a look at this
article in the New Republic
.  I’m not gonna recapsulate
all of that.

For me, I can’t say I really believed it.  I was never able to
suspend disbelief and get lost in this.  It just seemed like a set
of scenes with lots of gruesome pain as their motif.

I mean this on a very basic level.  The movie was a cartoon: all
that blood and violence and savagery and for what?  It wasn’t
particularly believable.  It looked and impressed at about the
same level as a Schwarzenegger or, well, Gibson action flick. 
There’s no sense of empathy there.  Christ suffers, and I can’t
understand why I was supposed to care.  We never really got to
know him (I guess it’s assumed we were supposed to before we walked
in), and we just see Him suffer a lot.  It’s gory, but to what
effect?  In the end, I think, my reaction has come to be something
close to “Who cares?”

I mentioned to my monk friend that I felt more about the Passion of
Christ when we recite or chant the narratives in church on Palm Sunday
and Good Friday then I did in this film.  I care then.

It may be that, as an American, I am inured to violence on such a level
that this had no effect on me.  What it seemed like was just the
next step in the envelope pushing that we get used to in the
movies.  Special effects, violence, sex, all that stuff gets made
more and more fantastic, more and more graphic, more and more “real”,
but in the process of so doing, it becomes surreal and unreal. 
This film did not seem much more than the progression of that
trend.  I didn’t understand, feel, or relate better to Christ’s
suffering and death by seeing the film, and I guess I don’t understant
why some people do, unless they have so little imagination and feeling
of their own that they need a movie to do it for them.  

I don’t know what it is that the movie is supposed to show me. 
That Christ suffered for my sins?  Yeah, I already knew that. That
crucifixion was really bad?  Yeah, i already knew that too. 
That this is a true account of Christ’s death?  Well,
hardly.  It’s certainly not “literal,” like he maintains, as it
contains the “visions” of an 18th century German nun and all sorts of
extra-biblical material.  That Christ was a human sacrifice for
sin?  That’s a theological position, a theory of atonement that I
find less persuasive than a more incarnational one.  And the movie
doesn’t make anything beyond gallons of blood very clear (no pun

Besides that, the acting was flat, and the only thing that Gibson seems
to have to say about the life and death of Christ was that there was a
death and, boy, was it horrible.  He seems to be so “literalist”
in his interpretation (a point about which many have argued over the
last week, so I’m not going to plunge into that discussion right now)
that he’s made a hollow life of Christ.  It’s like he doesn’t know
the person he calls his Savior.

Gibson, in focusing so hard on Christ’s human suffering, failed to give Him any humanity.

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2 Responses to “A Passion lacking humanity”

  1. bill Says:

    I felt it was rather uninvolving myself. I am glad to hear that i was not the only one. Most everybody seems to either love it or hate it.

  2. Matt Says:

    Your lukewarm response to the film deserves a kiss.

    Apropos the question of Gibson’s Passion: The large photograph on the cover of today’s New York Times — the caption reads, “Ali Hadi, a professional body washer, prepared the body of a bombing victim for proper Muslim burial in Najaf while the man’s relatives watched.” — quotes from image-repertoire we associate with representations of Christ. It underscores the fact that we do not need a blockbuster bloodbath to locate the affective power of violence, death, and (crucially) redemption in our world. It clarifies the point that whatever may be worth preserving in the concept of Jesus Christ is not even the property of Christians (certainly not those of Gibson’s persuasion) per se. And among the many other things it eloquently conveys is the way the heated attention to Mel Gibson’s well-financed fantasies amount to only so much wasted time in a world overflowing with suffering. When almost two hundred people are blown up in an Iraq street, we really don’t require the body Christ to organize our attention. Tattered, tired, Hollywood-trained sense-systems be damned: We can surely do better than that.

    You may find the photo here: http://www.nytimes.com/pages/multimedia/index.html