Maybe I’m prepared to write about this now. It has been 3 days since I saw Mel Gibson’s Passion film. It probably takes three days to sort your emotions out. Leaving the theater was oddly reminiscent of leaving Mystic River. You were overwhelmed with feelings, but you were experiencing so many conflicting ones you couldn’t really sort them out. Warning, if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want any spoilers, then bail now.
On the other hand, if you’ve read the gospels or even managed to stay awake through an Easter service, then you already know the basic story. In fact, I was surprised how much the movie assumed you already knew the story. Many characters were never even introduced. For example, neither Pilate nor Mary Magdalene are ever referred to by name; it takes awhile to figure out who John is; and other than Peter and Judas, the remaining Apostles are almost generic. It also takes a wee bit to figure out Satan, and I’m still struggling with some of the Satanic imagery. Who was the huge baby in Satan’s arms and what did he represent? And why was Satan the most (if not the only) obviously Caucasian character in the film. I learned watching the credits, Satan was actually played by a woman. I’m not touching that one.
Now while I can understand why some are claiming the film is anti-Semitic, I didn’t feel that. Caiaphas comes off pretty calloused, but he probably was depicted realistically. He was a man of local power being threatened from beneath by the rebellion he feared Jesus would incite and also threatened from above by Rome. Honestly, his 2nd (and as far as I know – unnamed) banana comes off as way more hateful than he does. I also find it unlikely that a Jewish leader would have demanded crucifixion for a fellow Jew, regardless of his crime. By and large, the Jews hated and feared the Romans. Crucifixion was a Roman punishment designed to subjugate the survivors more than punish the victim. It was widely hated by the non-Romans it was inflicted upon. Also, the Jewish mob is reminiscent of most any mob, and probably not more culpable than anyone else swept away by mob mentality.
And as long as we mentioned the Romans, Pilate got a softball down the middle. He came off as some sort of morally conflicted middle manager who sought solace and counsel in his lovely wife. Ironically, his troops were portrayed as bloodthirsty ghouls. To start, Pilate was widely regarded as one who would torture you as soon as look at you. Not an uncommon characteristic for one who rose to a position of Roman power. However, anyone as weak as Pilate was drawn would have been eaten alive by men as violent and uncontrolled as his Roman soldiers were portrayed. But in fairness, Gibson was not attempting to create an historically accurate film, so I’m probably nitpicking.
How was the movie, you might ask? Violent. Horrifically, gratuitously, almost unimaginably violent. Were this any other story, people would be calling for this film to be rated X and pushed out of the mainstream market. It’s that violent. I saw it with my friend Kim who bore the double burden of being Christian and a mother. That lent two whole new elements, and she felt the more powerful was having to view the torture from the perspective of Mary watching her son be abused. Now, I do believe this sort of torture wasn’t all that uncommon at that time. Even in the movie, the Romans were well equipped to carry this assault out. Clearly they had done this before. However, and perhaps as a way of showing the divine power of the character, Gibson shows Jesus enduring almost continual pain and agony for so long that any mortal man would have long since succumbed to the injuries.
Did I like the movie? I don’t know. I’m glad I saw it, but I’m not sure I can say I liked it. I don’t want to see it again. As an atheist, I probably have a different perspective than most of the viewers. Some Christians are saying this movie is reaffirming their faith. Curiously, I think it has reaffirmed my lack of it as well – although I’m not quite sure why. I’ll need to think on that.
On a final note, anyone allowing a pre-teen child to see this movie should be charged with abuse. It’s that simple.