"The Passion of the Christ"
To write a review of "The Passion of the Christ", the new movie by Mel Gibson, would seem to be a little counter-productive. After all, there have been plenty of reviews written, many of them by people who could spell much better than I. Still, it's the kind of movie that begs response. So, I'll give mine.
To begin with, as I told my wife, it was the best movie I never want to see again. Now, granted, I don't watch R movies or violence movies (this is the first R movie I have seen since "Conspiracy Theory" and I saw "Braveheart" in about an hour because I fast-forwarded through all the violence), but this movie didn't seem excessively violent to me. Not compared to what I had gone in expecting from all the reviews. Therein lies one of the thoughts I want to bring out which may or may not be related to this particular movie (depending on where this sentence winds up--I never know at this point): the world is full of movie reviewers these days. Thanks to a myriad of web sites which allow "regular Josephines" to post their reviews, not to mention a veritable tidal wave of movie festivals nation-wide and film review classes at almost every college, university or trade school. Anyway, this leads to a remarkably large culture of people who consider themselves qualified film reviewers.
[Note: they are qualified if they saw the movie!]
Unfortunately, these qualified reviewers seem to have, almost to a man, lost their ability to enjoy a movie. Every movie they view is scrutinized with ten times the intensity a proctologist would devote to a patient, with each nuance (real or perceived) sifted through a mosquito net ad infinitum until it's unclear whether they watched a movie or participated in a study of mineralogy. This being America, they are of course more than welcome to do so. The rest of us being in America as well, we are more than welcome to write them off as pretentious snots. (If they are writing their reviews on-line, they also seem to be afflicted by some sort of literary version of Tourette's Syndrome--or, they're just not bright enough to think of a better word, a possibility we cannot discount out of hand--so we can regard them as pretentious ill-mannered snots, as well.)
As they used to say on the channel 8 afternoon movie when I was growing up, now, back to the movie. Yes, it was violent, but not even as much as "The Fly" (which says a lot about how long it's been since I regularly went to Rs). What I thought was amazing was how much violence we didn't see. I thought the scenes where we heard the flogging but saw the crowd were more powerful than the ones where we actually saw the flogging. Perhaps they wouldn't have been if we hadn't had the visual reference of the actual flogs we had witnessed, but that is a question of the film-making.
The question has often been raised of whether children should be allowed to see this movie. I won't let my sons see it until they are at least ten, but then I won't let them see LOTR until then, either.
I have heard and read several people--especially some of the on-line reviewers, who by their own admission have seen many more movies than I--remark about the supposedly amazing scene of the cat-o-nine-tails ripping the flesh away and am really surprised. I watched for the scene and I know what they're talking about, but you and I could have done that bit of special effects. It was good, but nothing groundbreaking. It's already becoming one of those urban legends, though, of "how did they do that I actually saw his bones that was amazing" when it was just a routine bit of SFX work combined with excellent camera work and great sound work. So the scene worked, but it's interesting that it's working better in the minds of those who saw it than in reality it did. Since movies create their own reality, though, perhaps it did work that well. I'm just surprised people think so.
There have been many complaints, from various directions, that the movie didn't tell enough of the story. That we're only given the end of Christ's life, and not all the build-up to it. To this, I have several answers. First off, the movie is only two hours and you have to show something. Gibson condensed twelve hours (or so--there's some debate here) into two hours, so he still didn't tell the whole story of those twelve hours. One recently-read review compared the number of pages the four gospels devote to the passion of Jesus to the number of pages in the gospels entirely, trying to make a case that a movie depiction of the crucifixion should follow a similar percentage. Well, let's say that's done. Given that it took Gibson two hours to tell the 5% of the gospel narrative (by page count), is the reviewer asking for a 40 hours movie? Not that I'm against that idea, but I do hope they serve food when they show it (and cots would be nice). I also believe that Jesus did nothing that was unimportant, but all he did before the cross was subservient to his purpose of dying for us on the cross.
The main answer, then, is that Mel didn't choose to tell all those other things. He told the story--and the part of the story--that meant the most to him personally, which can probably said of everyone who tells the gospel message to a friend (or, maybe, who tells any story). Why didn't he show the various miracles, or have more of the sermon on the mount? I don't know. I'd have to ask him. Given the constraints of time (even if you add an hour or two to the accepted norm of 90-120 minutes like Peter Jackson or Kevin Costner do), every movie maker--and especially those movie makers who adapt from source material--has to ask, "What do I want tell here? If my audience walks away with one thought, what do I want it to be?" Gibson chose the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus and chose to do them in the way that he thought would give them the most impact. Here's where the audience gets to step in and decide for themselves whether he succeeded or not.
As a writer (and whether I am any good is up to debate and almost completely a matter of conjecture), I also know that there comes a point when, after all the critics, editors and helpful friends. one has to just say, "I'm going to tell the story I have to tell." It may please no one but yourself, and it may not please you like you would like for it to, but it you have to be the final authority to have any integrity in the matter at all. Mel Gibson has said he felt led to make this movie. I hope he has made the movie God called him to make. If he has, wonderful. And even if he has, that doesn't mean it's wrong for someone else to dislike it. They may be right, it may be a matter of perception, or it may just mean that what God needs to say to some people at this moment--or just Mel--isn't the same message He's sending to everyone else. (This is not an endorsement of relativistic truth. Truth is truth, but it holds different importance to different people. The fact that a building is on fire--a truth--has a much different impact to those in the building than to those outside.)
It's at this point that the reviewers jump in and, brandishing their pretentious snot-hood like a rapier in the hands of the lesser of the two brothers in "Zorro the Gay Blade", tell the rest of us what to think. Having read many reviews, by both professionals and amateurs, from respected and disrespected sources, I have been told I must see the movie, I should see the movie, I shouldn't see the movie, and that it would be a terrible thing if I saw the movie (and several other opinions which more or less fill in the gaps between those extremes). It's at this point that I feel compelled to say that they're all wrong! I am glad I saw "The Passion". It has spurred much thought and many discussions in my life since seeing it--and I'm sure has done the same for many others. If you go to this movie, you will probably be moved to thought, too (but even the fluffiest of movies inspires some thought--I hope). The reality is that you (the generic you of a potentially large audience) don't have to see this movie, or need to see this movie. I like movies, but if I never see another one, my life won't be any poorer (in fact, if I stopped going to movies, it would probably be because my life had filled up with other things, things which simply by definition of existing, are more important). The same with books that are labeled "important" or a "must read". With one notable, millennia-old exception, they're neither. They might be great books (or movies), they might help you financially, relationally, occupationally, spiritually or in some other way. But not one of them is a necessity for living. It is even possible to live and breathe without the Bible, though I wouldn't recommend it (especially if you'd like to live and breathe for eternity).
Is this a perfect movie? Nope. No such thing--not for every audience, anyway. There are things in this movie, for instance, that aren't going to make sense to a person who hasn't read the gospels, or at least heard them talked about. The sign over Jesus's head (which is erroneously printed in only one language), for instance, is given no translation. I know what it said, but if you haven't read the book, you won't. In fact, if you haven't read the book, I concede that it is fully possible that none of this movie will make sense. For such a person, it will be seen as just a violent movie about some guy who is a arrested and executed and then, inexplicably--shows back up before the credits.
And yes, there are things in the movie which are not specified in the gospels--or even implied in the gospel account. No, Jesus didn't fall off a bridge. There's no record of a crow pecking out a person's eyeball. The Bible doesn't specify that the woman caught in adultery and Mary Magdalene were the same woman. Not even counting the flashbacks, some of the dialogue which is biblical does not follow the biblical chronology. This is a movie. Does that excuse liberties with the written account? I don't know. Maybe not. But if you're basing your reality for any event on a movie account, we have a much larger problem with your perception of reality than with the movie industry itself.
That being said, this movie is being heralded by some as a great witnessing tool. Maybe, but only if those of us who know the rest of the story are willing to sit down and lovingly talk about the truth and fill in the gaps. This, of course, is a recurring theme with me: are we willing to get involved in the lives of the lost? If we're just going to hand over the business of evangelism to Hollywood--even a good movie, which I think this is--we have abrogated our duty and might as well join the side of evil because that's who we're serving. The fact that this movie is sparking cries of, "That wasn't in there!" or "Was that in there?" is a good thing, providing we're willing to run with it and keep the dialogue going.
So, if the target audience of this movie is the unsaved or the biblically uneducated, then I would say it failed. If, however, the target audience is the saved--the person who wants to see the sacrifice of his Lord in a way that makes it more real than the printed page has, or the person who wants to recapture that sense of gratitude they once felt when they first realized what Jesus did for them--then this movie was a success to me and, judging by the response of those in the theater with me (and in church with me later), a success for others as well. I'm not going to look at a cross again the same way, or read about Pilate handing Jesus over to be flogged and just skim over the words without a thought to their meaning.
For that, I say, "Thanks, Mel. I needed that."
Posted by bestfiction
at 12:33 PM CST