Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Passion of the Christ

Today's violent entertainment with a message is: The Passion of the Christ. It is surprisingly difficult to find YouTube clips of the movie that aren't crucifixion montages set against Hoobastank or Nickelback songs. What that means about Christ's social media presence is a different debate. In any case the following is a scene from the film portraying a ten minute flaying:

The Passion of the Christ was directed by Mel Gibson and released in 2004. It generated $223,789 on the opening weekend and has since grossed $611,899,420 worldwide. It is the highest grossing non-English film ever created and its popularity is only matched by its controversy. The film depicts the final hours and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The source of controversy is located at the film's almost nonstop graphic violence. Roger Ebert said in his review:
"The movie is 126 minutes long, and I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned specifically and graphically with the details of the torture and death of Jesus. This is the most violent film I have ever seen."

As a disclaimer: he gave the film four out of four stars.

The reason for dramatizing the event in such a bloody way is to highlight the depth of Christ's goodness. Gibson:

"I wanted it to be shocking; and I wanted it to be extreme ... So that they see the enormity — the enormity of that sacrifice; to see that someone could endure that and still come back with love and forgiveness, even through extreme pain and suffering and ridicule. The actual crucifixion was more violent than what was shown on the film, but I thought no one would get anything out of it."

So the filmmakers argue that an extreme focus on the gore makes Christ look better as a religious figure. Many viewers felt the onslaught of torture blotted out any rational acceptance of the message:

"'The Passion of the Christ' is so relentlessly focused on the savagery of Jesus' final hours that this film seems to arise less from love than from wrath, and to succeed more in assaulting the spirit than in uplifting it."

-- New York Times

In a nutshell: fundamental Christians and people with financial stakes in the film argue that blood and guts makes Christ look like a wholesome and altruistic figure. People who take the film as an historical drama rather than a sermon see it has gratuitous and indulgent.

I fit in the second category. I think if I were a Christian I would rather have the story told in an accessible manner. For example, World War II contained much more carnage and many more atrocities, but people can learn about it through films that have a "normal" amount of violence.


  1. Biblical scripture has many examples of graphic violence in addition to the story of the crucification of Jesus Christ. 2 Kings 2:23-24 tells us of God sending two bears to tear up 42 children who mocked a man for having a bald head. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were consumed by fire and brimstone for the sins of the citizens. In Ezekial 6:4-5 God threatens to decorate the altars of false idols with the corpses of their heathen followers.

    I don't think it's possible to separate the telling of the Christian religious myth from its violent parts. The Passion may be seen as excessively violent, however Jesus certainly died a violent and bloody death in the Bible as well. A film adaptation that meant to be true to the text would have to be just as violent.

  2. Though I thought that certain parts of it were brilliant, on the whole I didn't like the Passion of the Christ. The violence was just too much. While I understand Stephen's point that it's impossible to separate the telling of Christian religious myth from its violent parts, I found that the violence got to the point where I stopped sympathizing for Jesus's suffering (which I'm sure is what Mel Gibson was getting at) and started to just be sick of it and wanting to leave the theater (which I'm sure is not what Mel Gibson wanted). While it might be a very accurate literal depiction of what happened, I don't think this necessarily means that it is a good adaptation of the Bible. The Bible definitely does not have long passages describing Jesus's torture to the tee. Maybe it has a few sentences giving us the general outline of what happened, but it definitely doesn't describe portions of Jesus's back being torn off as he is whipped which Mel Gibson's films painstakingly focuses on in one grueling scene.


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