Just in case anybody didn’t notice — and you probably didn’t — The Passion Recut, a.k.a. Mel Gibson’s attempt to milk just a little more money out of his death-of-Jesus movie by trimming out some of the more gratuitous violence, was a flop this past weekend, grossing only $223,789 in all of North America, for a ranking of #28 and a per-screen average of $234. At, say, seven bucks a ticket, spread out over three days, with at least four screenings per day, that comes to only 2 or 3 patrons per show.
I have always had mixed feelings about The Passion of the Christ. Back when it opened, I reviewed it for Christianity Today and ChristianWeek, and I think my ambivalence comes through pretty clearly there.
The film does have its strengths: I wrote an essay on the film for a book, Re-Viewing The Passion, in which I argue that the film strikes a better balance between the humanity and divinity of Christ than most of its predecessors, through its creative blending of objective and subjective cinematic techniques.
But I also question Gibson’s practically sado-masochistic obsession with blood and gore, partly because it comes out of a Catholic form of piety and perhaps even a Catholic theology that don’t work for me (my apologies to any Catholics out there), and partly because it seems to me that Gibson is on some level just making Christ in his own image (though I guess this is to some degree unavoidable for any artist). I am also concerned about the way the film buys into the obsession with explicit violence that has cropped up in war movies over the last decade or so; I wrote a paper addressing this topic a few months ago, an excerpt of which appears here.
A lot of people have talked as though Mel Gibson’s film could “change Hollywood”, but to me, it seems his film buys into a lot of Hollywood ideas already. And one of the strangest experiences I’ve had was attending a press junket for Racing Stripes a few months ago, and hearing some of my fellow Christian critics ask if the success of The Passion would lead to a lot more “family films”. Huh? Not all films appropriate for a Christian audience are “family films”. And The Passion, regardless of whether it was a good film or not, was most definitely not a “family film”, either. If anything, one of the most noteworthy things about Gibson’s film was how it broke the R-rated barrier among Christian moviegoers — a fact that T.D. Jakes tried to exploit a few months later with Woman Thou Art Loosed. What we should be asking is whether the success of The Passion will lead to more films that aren’t afraid to explore faith matters in a fearlessly mature or grown-up way.
But now I’m seriously off on a tangent.
Anyway, once this new version of The Passion comes and goes, I hope Gibson finally gets around to putting out a DVD with both versions of the film and some serious extras. A film that was this hyped, and this financially successful, and this much a part of the cultural conversation, surely deserves some sort of commentary, or making-of documentary, or thematic featurettes, or something of that sort.