I’m sticking with my hot-and-cold stance on The Passion of the Christ. I think it has moments of brilliance, but needed more of a Hitchcock approach to temper the numbing literalism of some of its images. I think Mel Gibson could have made a film that hit just as hard, without becoming such a festival of violence. I know what Gibson was trying to do with this film (stations of the cross for a media-soaked age), but I still question the theological balance of 15 minutes of flogging and 90 seconds of the Resurrection.
That said, I think it is interesting to watch the rage of many critics rise with the box-office numbers. Some people out there in elite-blue media land are getting really mad at folks in red-state pews. For a fine update on this media storm, I can only send you — once again — to the Christianity Today’s Film Forum. Jeffrey Overstreet ranges all over the cybermap, then says:
(W)ith each passing day, more and more film critics are publishing opinions on the film that will, eventually, show them up as reactionaries. … They are so troubled by the intensity and focus of this work that they reveal a great deal of ignorance about Christianity and the way it has been represented in art throughout history. Many — perhaps even most — are showing themselves far more guilty of discrimination and prejudice than the filmmaker they seek to condemn. If they are so willing to assume that Gibson is anti-Semitic, in spite of his claims to the contrary, in spite of the way in which Gibson’s film incriminates those who despise Jews, then why have they remained silent, or even praised other films that exhibit obvious, undeniable prejudice against Catholics and Christians?
In a Baylor lecture the other day on “The Passion and the Press,” I suggested a critical standard for consumers who are still trying to decide whether to see the fim and, thus, are seeking solid reviews. There is no doubt in my mind that Gibson reveals the thesis of his movie in the gripping shot at the end in which Mary is holding the body of her son while gazing out of the frame into the eyes of each and every person in the audience.
This is the defining moment. The meaning is clear: You did this. Each and every one of you.
If a reviewer does not at least mention this image, then I say “move on.” Seek the input of some other critic who is willing — for better or for worse — to wrestle with the actual content of Gibson’s work.