Flashback: Steyn on The Passion

Mark Steyn is both a political pundit and an arts critic, so his review of The Passion of the Christ — re-posted on his website to coincide with the release of The Passion Recut — starts with a typical conservative denunciation of the forces that rallied against Mel Gibson’s movie. But, unlike most other conservative commentators, Steyn does not quite go on from there to sing the movie’s praises — instead, he actually puts on his film-critic hat and makes a few astute comments about Gibson’s limitations as a filmmaker. My two favorite observations of his:

The idea of embracing Christ’s life within His death is smart moviemaking, and a suppler director would have done more with it. But Gibson is something of a stolid storyteller and his picture settles into an almost mechanical rhythm: flaying – flashback – beating – flashback – nailing – flashback.
. . .
That’s another limitation of Mel’s movie. Although they’re speaking Aramaic and Latin, its real language is Hollywooden. So, for example, one of the flashbacks shows Jesus the carpenter making what seems to Mary like a “tall” table. Jesus explains that it’s for a rich man who likes to eat sitting down on “chairs” and mimes the position. “This will never catch on,” says Mary.

FWIW, there are things I like about this particular flashback — the way it paints the relationship between Jesus and Mary in almost romantic terms, a la the Renaissance artists; the way it emphasizes the physicality of Jesus, also a la the Renaissance artists; etc. — but the conversation about the table has always bugged me. It reminds me too much of the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where a soapbox prophet in the background predicts the invention of jumbo jets. So, nowadays, I generally refer to this flashback as “the jumbo jet scene”.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his award-winning film column for that paper, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He has also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005) and The Bible in Motion: A Handbook of the Bible and Its Reception in Film (De Gruyter, 2016).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05198804427250453835 Denny Wayman

    I had an uneasiness about that scene and this has helped me identify what it was. I thought I just was caught up in the intensity of the film and thought the scene was a “comic relief” that didn’t work.

  • http://t48i.com/~christoper-bish Christoper Bish

    I have some great ideas :) Nevermind. Next time.