a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The Passion of the Christ [sic] (2004, Mel Gibson)

Following countless demands from plebians sick of deeming it villainous sight-unseen, Mel's Xtreme Jesus Movie has finally landed. Discuss.

Curiously, Salon has yet to pipe up. But Roger Ebert went the reliable route, trotting out his "I prefer to evaluate a film on the basis of what it intends to do, not on what I think it should have done" mantra -- which I can only assume means that if it doesn't want to add something thoughtful to the pile, that's cool with him. In a rare case of the Onion's A.V. Club being less than a pillar of eloquent bite (but still very much so), Keith Phipps, in his denouncing it as a simpleminded reduction, verved all over the place -- a fate which also met the New York Press' Matt Zoller Seitz (ditto, though). Then again, Sean Burns, from the alt-rag I write for, admitted to his own apparent full-on re-conversion (surely -- okay, arguably -- what Mel's out for) and then announced that, in the end, it's all about love. Not so, claims Slate's David Edelstein, who cites Mel's history of tortured heroes in movies and then says the final shot of J.C. Arisen suggests he's "heading out into the world to spread the bloody news. Next stop: the Crusades."

Even more intriguingly, Edelstein posits "What does this protracted exercise in sadomasochism have to do with Christian faith? I'm asking; I don't know." Why, to depict that Christ was beaten really hard. I mean, really, very, very hard. So very, really hard that the term "very, really hard" hardly fits the bill so really, quite horribly beaten he had been by people so incredibly, mind-bogglingly cruel in their horrifyingly horrible torture. Surely, traditional definitions of the word "hard" should be altered, revealing the dichotomy between being normally hard and the abnormally, psychotically hard that was so very absurdly unleashed on Christ. I mean, there's really no words in any languages for how really awfully he was beaten.*

Okay, so this all means something more to, say, die-hard Catholics. If Passion has any discernible reason to exist, it's to remind them of the toxic levels of guilt they should feel for the mire he went through to save their souls. I won't begrudge die-hard Catholics their emotional reactions to the film -- it succeeds only for them. Everyone else, though, has been left out of the equation. For it to have any impact -- apart from the obvious "gee, that looks like it hurts" repeated ad nauseum -- you have to believe that J.C. was no mere man but in fact the Messiah. Certainly, you can't look to the mucked-up politics: Caiphus is now the handlebar-moustache-twirling bad guy while Pilate some poor schmuck who's just doing his job, and not happily at that. And you can't look to Jesus either, since Jim Caviezel does little else but act vaguely uncharming and then zombie-like. Then again, if you like snuff films, and you like the New Testament...

More where this came from, apparently: Mel has claimed that if this one's in the black, he'll be making other religious films, presumably with the same You Are There approach. Oh, goody. Because we can't have our religious films displaying thought or interpretation, can we? As someone raised Lutheran and Episcopalian before heading over to agnosticism, I can't say I see the gospels as anything but more myths. But their ideas, naturally, seem right and warrant exploration. For all its inconsistencies, Last Temptation of Christ remains one of the most fascinating takes on Christ, painting him as a neurotic everyman who discovered he had this magnificent burden to carry. And The Gospel According to St. Matthew -- made, however improbably, by committed Marxist (and thus atheist) Pier Paolo Pasolini -- lobs him into a neo-neorealist movie, turning him into a rebel for society. (Not, alas, a rebel without a cause -- that was Nicholas Ray's handsome but inert King of Kings.) Mel's movie expands on nothing except the rating system, and the tedious, monotonous, unquestioning and regressive system of Christianity. Maia Morgenstern makes a pretty kickass Mary, though.

This Gay-Marriage Nonsense

Awesomely, Mel's monolith of celluloid wasn't able to wrest the front page in nearly all papers from this slice of actual news. Obviously it's just a stunt to distract the public from more pressing concerns and round up some extra votes (was there ever a worse liar than Dubya?). Unfortunately, his notion seems to have legs. One thing I kind of don't get, though: is the "voice of the people that must be heard" the one that's just a bunch of homophobic fuckheads? News item after new item, live appearance after live appearance, I've gotten no sensible reason to not let gays be married other than that it's (as per Pat Buchanon, helpfully) "absurd." Everyone against it is impenetrably vague, tossing around meaningless terms like "the sanctity of marriage" and pussyfooting statements about altering the constitution so that we can preserve "the most enduring institution." No wonder the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has interpreted this as a declaration of war. Anyone who can fill me in on what I'm missing out on will then receive a dollar from me. I'm willing to learn.

* In a scene dutiful atheist Luis Bunuel -- who, were he still with us, would have to make a satire on it posthaste -- would've appreciated, a couple people behind my friend were heard to exclaim a kneejerk "Jesus Christ!" at random instances during the 100-minute non-stop block of pain and torture and de-eyeballings. Remember that scene in Diary of a Chambermaid where Jean-Claude Carrier's priest gets so frustrated at trying to pry open a locked door that he mutters "Jesus Christ!"? That was awesome.


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