MArk Roberts has given me more reason to regret that I cannot yet make my own mind up about this film!
“I don’t think any movie has ever inspired more emotionally charged and widely varied responses. In this sense at least, The Passion of the Christ is very much like Jesus himself.
Almost nobody who has seen this movie responds to it in a detached manner. Though the responses to The Passion of the Christ have been all over the map, they share one ironic quality: profound passion.
The diversity of responses has been seen, most obviously, in the divide between some prominent Jewish leaders and some prominent Christian leaders. As I’m sure you know by now, notable Jewish leaders have blasted the film for its unhistorical anti-Semitism. While many Christian leaders have denied this charge while praising the film’s historical accuracy and spiritual profundity.
But this only begins to scratch the surface of the distinct responses to The Passion of the Christ.
If you look carefully at Jewish responses, for example, you’ll see that there’s no party line here. While the loudest Jewish voices have condemned the film, many others have praised it and warned Jews against over-reacting to it, for fear of inspiring anti-Semitism through their own over-reactions. And in one of the most stunning responses to the movie, The Orthodox Union of American Jews warned their followers that The Passion of the Christ is a threat to their own Jewish faith. They fear that the powerful portrayal of Jesus in this movie might actually cause Jews to doubt their Judaism and to be drawn to Jesus. (Talk about a backhanded compliment to Mel Gibson!)
We’ve seen a similar breadth of response among Christians. Of course most Christians have been deeply moved by the film and have praised its cinematic and spiritual power. But some Christians have publicly criticized The Passion of the Christ for being too gory, or too Catholic, or too commercial. Some have even alleged that it violates the Second Commandment by making a “graven image” if Jesus.
Though a few secular movie critics have commended the film, the most prominent have blasted it with language that feels almost as violent as the violence in the movie they so abhor. I’m speaking here of reviewers from Newsweek, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and most of all, The New Republic, where one reviewer wrote:
“The notion that there is something spiritually exalting about the viewing of it is quite horrifying. The viewing of The Passion of the Christ is a profoundly brutalizing experience. . . . It is a repulsive masochistic fantasy, a sacred snuff film . . . . Gibson’s faith is finally pre-theological, the kind of conviction that abhors thought, superstitiously fascinated by Satan and ‘the other realm,’ a manic variety of Christian folk religion.”
Notice that this reviewer is criticizing, not on the movie, but the faith of Mel Gibson, which, as it turns out, is shared by the vast majority of Christians in America today, including me.
This review, like so many, responds not only to The Passion of the Christ, but to the Christ it portrays. Like I said, Jesus Christ inspires the most diverse and impassioned responses of any figure in history. ”