Thinking about this, I inevitably started thinking about Jesus movies, and I began to think about the fact that the recent mini-series The Bible has joined Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in taking a step back from recent “historically accurate” depictions of the Crucifixion towards a more traditional sort of iconography.
The Passion of The Christ may be the most artistically and commercially ambitious feature film about Jesus to come out of Hollywood since the 1960s. It is certainly the most devout, though at first it seems odd that Mel Gibson should be the one to produce, write, and direct a film about the Prince of Peace.
From the buddy-cop Lethal Weapon franchise to revisionist epics like The Patriot, Gibson has specialized in playing violent action heroes who take bloody revenge for the deaths of their wives, children, and girlfriends. In Braveheart, the 1995 film for which he won the Best Director Oscar, Gibson kept the fatal wounds inflicted on William Wallace and his wife just out of frame, to spare his audience the full brutality suffered by these heroes, but he reveled in the gory details with which Wallace executed his personal enemies.
In some ways, The Passion seems like a repudiation of much of his career to date: last year, Gibson, a traditionalist Catholic whose faith has surfaced in recent films like Signs and We Were Soldiers, told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly he wanted to promote faith, hope, love, and especially forgiveness through this film. But The Passion also dwells, at considerable length, on the physical pain inflicted on Jesus. Has Gibson found a way to baptize, as it were, the sadistic or masochistic impulses of his other films? Is it possible he is indulging himself under the cover of religious piety?
EVERYTHING you know about The Passion of the Christ is wrong. For over a year, the film’s most vocal critics have said Mel Gibson’s movie about the death of Jesus is anti-Semitic, while its most vocal supporters have said no, it’s only an accurate representation of scripture and history. In truth, the film is neither.
First, the charges of anti-Semitism. It is true that Gibson’s film tends to divide the Jewish race into those who follow Christ and those who try to have him killed; and it is true that The Passion, like many other films in this genre, is too soft on Pontius Pilate (in contrast to the callous, vicious figure portrayed by Luke and Philo), which has the unfortunate effect of making the Jews seem just that much more responsible for Jesus’ death.