How to Watch The Passion

Some of the best words about The Passion of the Christ that I’ve ever read.

Steven D. Greydanus, in a casual conversation about the film today:

I actually think that a big part of the reason The Passion is off-putting to people, looking past the violence and the charges of anti-Semitism, is the same reason that films like 2001: A Space Odyssey are off-putting: We come to films with certain expectations rooted in the dramatic conventions of our age, and it’s hard to know how to respond to a film that’s doing something ELSE.

The Passion is almost completely uninterested in ordinary narrative conventions of character development, plot-driven storytelling, and so forth. It doesn’t do any of the things Gospel films typically do — doesn’t try to fill in the gaps in character motivation, psychology, historical setting, etc. It offers iconic images (e.g., the bag of coins flung to Judas) without any regard for modern dramatic issues (WHY did Judas agree to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver?). It not only looks like a painting, it has about the same level of interest in characterization and critical concerns. Like 2001, or even Koyaanisqatsi, it’s more interested in creating a particular sort of experience than in relating or explaining a certain sequence of events.

I think that if the same filmmaking technique had been used to tell a story without the religious baggage, it would be much more widely hailed by critics (and of course much LESS widely hailed by conservative Christians!).

But I DON’T think that it would have gotten an Oscar nomination. It still would have been too adventurous a film for the Academy voters.

Yes.

Exactly.

I wish it made me like the film more. It doesn’t. I’m still frustrated with its rough spots. But Greydanus’s remarks give us excellent language for defending what the film is. I wish other critics who condemn the film would take this to heart and consider looking at it in a whole new way. Maybe there are varieties of cinematic experience that they don’t appreciate because they don’t stop the read the label before they gulp it down.

 

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.


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