The 'Passion' reconsidered

Mus Zibii

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The DVD for 'The Passion of the Christ' is coming out no-frills this Tuesday. I had resigned myself to ignoring it (I deliberately viewed a pirated copy so as to avoide giving Mel Gibson my money), but my mom was curious so I may very well rent it at some point in the future for her benefit. I feel somewhat like I fell into the same snare the fundies caught themselves in during the release of The Last Temptation of Christ. I gave Mel Gibson too much credit with my anger - especially considering he probably got off on it, being a sado-masochist and all. I still cringe at the clips from the movie, but I imagine I might have done the same for films like the King of Kings, or Greatest Story Ever Told. And even Last Temptation, had I been old enough to care at the time. Now that time has passed, The Passion has surely made its place in a long line of Jesus-movies and at best is remembered fondly by its pious audience. No hate crimes were committed despite Mel Gibson's open doctrine of Holocaust Revisionism. The Christians who sold their souls to the director, came out mostly unchanged in their beliefs (none went racing to join Gibson's elitist cult). Maybe even coming out for the better in some cases. I can definitely say I underestimated the intelligence of the pious Christian audience for the most part.

Anyway, I thought for the heck of it I'd make a list summarizing my take on the movie. I've divided it into: inaccuracy, farce, and heresy.

The worst choice concerning the attempt to be historical in the film was obviously the complete lack of Greek dialogue. Actually, maybe the worst was the exclusive use of white actors. Third would be the damn friendly occupying Romans who apparently in Gibson's world were simply police for the Jewish population.

The Passion was definitely the most humorous Jesus movie ever made. If James Caviezel's terribly racist fake nose didn't crack you up, you must be a robot. Then you have a Satan who looked like she stepped out of a George Michael's video. Within the first thirty minutes its established that Jesus was the inventor of tables and chairs. Also, never would I have guessed that a scraped knee would've been such a cause for worry in 1st century Palestine, what with the ignorance about germs, etc... oh, and the numerous bloody conflicts and mortality rate.

The highly unorthodox (at any speed) Christian views in the movie shook me the most. First and foremost virtually all of Jesus' words in the passion narrative were missing. After 9/11 one of the most consoling lines from the gospel for me was the line from Luke, that Jesus delivered to his supporters standing among the guantlet - who in the movie were non-existent: For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?

Often times in the movie Jesus seemed more perplexed by his words than his audience. Shrugging with incredulity during his sermon on the mount. Writing what many now consider scripture in the dirt with his finger. Apparently identifying the 'comforter' as the Roman nation (which in early heretical writings was common) though the Gospel of John unambiguously acknowledges the Holy Ghost as the comforter. Worst of all is the ending of the movie with its doctrine of Docetism, which - with all due respect to Ben - isn't typical among Christians.

All in all, the scene with the young Herod Antipas was cool. First time I ever saw a movie or anything actually acknowledge his likely youth. Seemed like a nice enough guy. Reminded me of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Oh, yeah.. the hairy midget guy. That was cool. Dwarfism is awesome. Satan's mini-me.
Thanks for the thoughts. :)

Never actually seen the film, but I'm afraid it's just not on my list. But interesting to note that people came away from it as themselves, and not Mel's robots. :)
Well, unless you're just a movie nut I wouldn't recommend it. I would recommend Paulo Pasolini's 'Gospel of Matthew'. Took a homosexual communist to get it right, apparently.

i actually did the same as you, mus zibii - didn't want to give mel my money up front. a mate of mine had one (actually, i thoroughly disapprove of DVD piracy because it finances people-trafficking among other nasty things, but at least i wasn't creating the market; my kabbalah teacher [who is a little bit media for a rabbi] managed to get invited to a press screening by the BBC, which was a lot more ethical, but we can't all be so well connected) so i got to see it in the comfort of my own home - i ended up agreeing with him (my teacher, not mel) that it was a bit like the tree of the dark side of the force on dagobah - you get out what you take in, so if you expect it to be antisemitic, it probably is. to give mel his due, it's actually his father that's a bonkers holocaust-denier, so i don't think that's an especially helpful accusation.

there were a couple of good things:

1. the aramaic - actually, they went to sufficient trouble over the accents to get an authentic[-ish] one; at any rate it was definitely a middle-eastern one, no doubt based on modern syriac/peshitta accents although obviously we can't tell how old that accent actually is. at any rate, the accent is extremely close to my own, which is traditional baghdadi, so i could follow it rather well and found it really refreshing to hear it done properly. unfortunately to a western ear it all sounds rather snarly and evil, but that's because europeans find middle-eastern accents threatening.

2. the authenticity of the punishments - actually, if, as i did, you focus on the fact that these are roman penalties, not jewish ones, it is a sobering experience given that we remember in our prayers every day the "ten martyrs" of the hadrianic persecutions who were done to death in very similar ways for teaching Torah in public in contravention of a roman ban. rabbi akiva, one of the greatest rabbis of the Talmud, was actually scraped to death with red-hot iron combs, which i dare say mel would have loved to do justice to on film. if, instead of jesus qua jesus, you consider him merely a jew who is being murdered by the romans, it brings home to you just how much the ten martyrs suffered and that is, i suppose, a humbling experience - albeit not exactly what i'd call a spiritual one, jews not being big on the mortification of the flesh and martyrdom being a last resort, not an aspiration.

there were a lot of bad things:

1. the fact that all the "baddies" were ugly and swarthy, had bad teeth and so on, while the "goodies" were all relatively good-looking (monica bellucci and jim caviezel, i ask you!) and pale.

2. it was staggeringly unsubtle as a theological statement, powerful in its crudity and sheer brutality. i can't find any beauty in it, as christians can.

3. the fact that the sanhedrin were all dressed up in prayer shawls, but nobody else was, when everyone would have had to wear fringed garments. as it happens, there was a lot of stuff like that that really flies in the face of reliable documentation of 1st century jewish religious practice. now, i don't know that much about sanhedrin procedure, but frankly i know enough to know that what was portrayed was either inaccurate in terms of court procedure and standard of proof, or was basically a kangaroo court, in which case it wasn't a kosher, representative sanhedrin - now the rabbis themselves do say that the romans and the herods did their best to subvert and suborn the sanhedrin, but if that's the case, it no longer counts as a sanhedrin. so someone's playing silly buggers either way.

there were also a couple of things that made me laugh at (i'm sure) inappropriate moments:

1. the fact that satan looked like death as portrayed in "bill and ted's bogus journey" (i know that's based on ingmar bergman, but death and satan are two different things annyway)

2. the fact that the production design was so close to that of "life of brian". i kept expecting pilate to say "thwow him to the floor, centuwion! now stwike him, vewy woughly!" and so on.

i didn't notice the drawing of scripture, but yes, you're right, that would have been not on. ditto the thing about romans as police.


LOL I never saw Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, but I remember now. I thought she looked like Sinead O'Conner and wondered if that might not be deliberate, but then remembered Gibson's dad hates the Pope, too.

I don't know much about Aramaic. Before watching the flick, I actually went through my peshitta bible and transliterated the lines used in the movie, somehow taking for granted that they might not use a modern ecclesiastical dialect (though they did with Latn). Anyway, all the actors sounded like actors reading a foreign language so I'm glad there was a positive nuance to miss.

I might've enjoyed the violence more (that sounds odd) had I not been constantly reminded of Lethal Weapon or Braveheart.

All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
The Aramaic is the one things I'd really want to watch this film for (that and I'm a sucker for general Roman history).

However, I can't get it out of my head that Jesus was one person - one being - no matter your theological position. And to that I keep thinking of Sparticus and the thousands of his followers crucified all the way to Rome. I think even showing that number being crucified in close camera shots would be too much even for Mel Gibson. If I ever watch the pasion, I think it'll be my perception of Sparticus and his crucified following I'll come out with greatest respect for.
Mus Zibii said:
All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
one word for you:

Back to "Life of Brian" I see - how did I miss that? :)
i presume i've already mentioned the Talmudic discussion of "what have the romans ever done for us?" - i've been trying to find out from terry jones for years now if he's aware of it...


bananabrain said:
i presume i've already mentioned the Talmudic discussion of "what have the romans ever done for us?" - i've been trying to find out from terry jones for years now if he's aware of it...


I don't remember seeing that - sounds like a good idea for a new thread. :)
I don't remember seeing that around here, either. Ditto.

I watched the Passion DVD today. Clean, illuminated, formatted screening did nothing for it. I had missed the worm crawling in the nose of the devil, the rock n roll-esque soundtrack (and I thought Peter Gabriel's score for Last Temptation was bad) and the glued-on beards--and I hadn't noticed how phoney the Madonna's old lady make-up was. I must've downloaded a rough cut or something.

Still, as far as Jesus movies go, I can definitely say this one's the most recent. Its no worse than the others and not really better. I still say Paolo Pasonili did the best one yet.
Re: The 'Passion' reconsidered ala South Park

I have not seen the "Passion" for many reasons, but mainly because I am squeemish. I think Mel was a marketing genius for going to the big Evangelical churches and flogging "the Passion" to them. A lot of those big ministries try and make films. TBN has made some really terrible stuff and so has John Hagee ministries. (It really sounds like I am a religion junkie). I also think it's funny because the Protestant Evangelical Churches have always been so anti Roman Catholic and Mels a Pre Vatican II ultra supper mega Catholic. However, I did see the "South Park" bit on "The Passion" and that is really ultra supper mega funny:D .
Mus Zibii said:
No hate crimes were committed despite Mel Gibson's open doctrine of Holocaust Revisionism.
Um, I think it's Gibson's father who is the Holocaust revisionist, not Gibson himself. In the interviews with him I saw and read around the opening of the film a few months back, Gibson would not openly criticize his father's views, but it seemed that he was doing this out of respect for the fact that it is his father, and not necessarily because he agrees with his father. After all, some believe that one should not criticize one's parents publicly even when one disagrees with them. But I do believe that Gibson has also emphasized that those views are his father's and not his own.

I'm not trying to defend those views or Gibson in general, and I haven't seen "The Passion", nor do I have any immediate plans to do so. It's just that I don't remember his statements on the subject of Holocaust revisionism in the same way you do.