I can’t tell you yet what I think about the film– I haven’t seen it. But I can tell you something about what I think about the controversy so far.
First of all, the thing that is most curious about it all to me is that the film is extremely gory. Everybody who has seen it has commented on that: lots of blood and lots of sound effects of blood and flesh being ripped and thunked and beaten. This is part of Hollywood’s tradition of using ridiculously unrealistic sounds to add intensity to scenes in films that are otherwise “realistic” (like “Panic Room”). I’ll be listening and asking myself why Gibson would film the story in Aramaic and Latin with sub-titles– to preserve realism– and then use extremely fake sound effects.
I don’t mind if the purpose of the gore is to make the film realistic. Amen to that, brother– let’s have a realistic execution. But I thought about the fact that thousands and tens of thousands of people were executed by crucifixion by the Romans, including, of course, the legendary Spartacus. So if Gibson’s point is that Christ died a horrible, mind-numbingly painful death, well, so did many others. What’s so remarkable about this story?
Well, what’s so remarkable is that Christ suffered for all of humanity’s sins. That means his suffering was greater than that of the others who were crucified. But you can’t really show that, can you, by showing the crucifixion in excruciating detail. You can only show that with some kind of creative genius, with some kind of image or event that suggests to the viewer a suffering beyond all imaginable suffering. Gibson, apparently, shows us all the suffering that you can create with special effects. It’s like Cecil B. DeMille’s “10 Commandments”. The crossing of the Red Sea is visually spectacular but the film itself is pointless and trivial.
Maybe that artistic moment is there, in the film. I’ll look for it when I go to see it later this week.
The other thing I noticed is that many churches are promoting this film. In fact, a lot of Christian web sites are promoting it too, along with posters and “ecards” and nail necklaces and other stuff. You would almost think that Gibson is using the church to make a profit on this film. Maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s not true. But when you observe the way this film is being …. well, marketed… it is clearly at least enmeshed with the idea of making money.
Now I don’t mind if Gibson makes enough money from paying customers to cover his expenses for the film. But when free tickets are given to church leaders and promotional materials are distributed at the Sunday service, it strikes me as a little unseemly. What’s going on here? Gibson’s film production company is not a charity. The money that it collects from paid attendance goes to pay Gibson’s expenses, and then to provide a profit for the film’s investors– Mel Gibson. It is not a charity, but people are being asked to promote the film as if it was a kingdom cause.
That’s a U.S. thing, of course. You see it all the time: web sites on Christianity with links all over the place to books and tapes that you can buy. That’s not religion: that’s commerce.
Why are you going to see the film? Because it’s a worthy work of art that deserves your attention? Or because it helps promote the gospel? If it’s because it helps promote the gospel, what gospel exactly is it promoting?
Not the one I know of.
And the fact that he only previewed it for conservative Christian audiences, is an item of concern. I like free and open debate.
Finally, of course, the big issue. Is the film anti-Semitic? Some Jewish critics have objected to the inclusion of the line “his blood be upon us and our children” delivered by the Jewish high priest. But that line is in the bible.
You can argue that even though that line is there, it might have been incumbent upon Gibson to leave it out, out of sensitivity to Jewish people who have, after all, suffered somewhat at the hands of devout Christians who took that line a little too literally. Here we can’t help but aware of the fact that Mel Gibson’s father denies that the Holocaust even happened, and Gibson himself refuses to distance himself from those views.
It’s like the word “nigger” in Huckleberry Finn. But I object to the Disney version of Mark Twain’s classic that removed the word. It was an anti-historical gesture. And so I would object if Gibson left it out for the same reason.
After seeing the film, there is not much I would change here. The controversy is rather beside the point: the film really isn’t all that good. It’s fine at times, and generally well-acted, but the obsessive constant gratuitous display of blood-letting becomes tiresome and dramatically pointless.