Friday, February 27, 2004

2 obsolete : SUFFERING

The Passion of the Christ is sort of a strange cultural event movie. I'm far more interested in reading about it, and about people's reactions to it, than I am in actually seeing it. I have no intention of seeing it at all, frankly. Much of what's been written about the film has addressed concerns about the depiction of the Jews; while I recognize there are plenty of good reasons to be concerned about how a major motion picture addresses the issue at the root of at least one strain of anti-semitism, I feel like the questions and answers here don't involve much heavy lifting: if the movie depicts Jews as depraved, hook-nosed sub-human cariacatures, it's not hard to see what the problem is; if not, then there won't be much to get worked up over. What's more interesting to me is Gibson's motivation, whether it will be interpreted as intended, and what reaction it will provoke among Catholics ("It is as it was ... er, or not."), Fundamentalists, etc...

By virtually all accounts, the movie is as gorey and violent as any Tarantino film. Most critics express the concern that the emphasis on the violence and suffering is meant to make the viewer hate Christ's tormentors (the Jews, to lesser extent the Romans). I wonder if the intent of showing the suffering so graphically was instead meant to cultivate a feeling a compassion in the audience ... I haven't seen this offered as a possibility and would hope that's what Gibson intended, compassion obviously being a Christian message, hate not so much. What little I've heard of Gibson's faith (ultra-conservative Catholic, brought up that way by this father, rejects the reforms of the Second Vatican council) isn't encouraging.

There's really only one passage from the bible that ever resonated with me, it's the one you see over the lintel when you an exit a church (at least at South Church in Hartford, where my family took me as a kid): Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God. (Micah 6:8) If I were to make a movie, it's probably well known that it would be a martial arts move with giant monkey-controlled robots and a Yo La Tengo soundtrack, not a movie about Christ. However, if I were hired to make a movie about Christ and was forbidden to have him use martial arts, or romp through the jungle with gorrillas, or even if I were allowed to be true to my vision -- I would definitely ask myself about every scene and every line of dialogue, "does it meet the Micah 6:8 litmus test?" What I've heard of Gibson's motives, it sounds like his aim was accuracy, a true depiction of those last 12 hours. Hence, the Aramaic and Latin with subtitles, hence another white Jesus (?); but, that's all got to be a smokescreen, right? Because what any project that's going to try to present the events of the bible as historical fact is really just selectively someone grabbing the bits they want and making it suit their interpretation of the stories.

It's the whole pretense of "it is as it was" that's put me off the thing. I don't buy for a second that a film made in 2003 about events that happened nearly two thousand years ago, based on accounts written hundreds (?) of years later from an oral tradition can make any claim to accuracy. I also feel that the a movie about Christ that represents itself as "true" can only be valuable if it advances the best (according to me) aspects of the Christian message (love, compassion, mercy, justice); even if Gibson's intent is to cultivate compassionate feelings for the suffering of Christ, I don't feel that anyone who's lived long enough lose friends and family gets any new insight into compassion from watching someone get tortured. I don't see how it can be any of use to me, therefore no desire to see it.
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