The Relentless Sadism of 'The Passion of the Christ'
The suffering of Christ is bad and gruesome enough without exaggerating it to this insane degree.
BY: Andrew Sullivan
Well, I went last night to see the movie everyone is talking about. I'm writing this not long after leaving the theater so these are my raw and immediate impressions - not a fully considered review. I was of course deeply moved in parts. If you are a person of the Christian faith, it is impossible not to be moved by a rendition of the passion of the Savior that is not a travesty. The very story itself, embedded in the soul and the memory, stirs the emotions and prayers and meditations of a lifetime. To see it rendered in a believable setting in languages that, however inaccurate, give you an impression of being there, is arresting. It brings this simple but awe-inspiring story to life in a way very difficult to approximate in the written or spoken word. You can see why Passion plays were once performed. The Gospels do end in extraordinary drama, pathos, plot, agony. Portraying them vividly may, we can hope, bring some people to read the Gospels and even to explore further what the redemptive message of Jesus really is.
At the same time, the movie was to me deeply disturbing. In a word, it is pornography. By pornography, I mean the reduction of all human thought and feeling and personhood to mere flesh. The center-piece of the movie is an absolutely disgusting and despicable piece of sadism that has no real basis in any of the Gospels. It shows a man being flayed alive - slowly, methodically and with increasing savagery. We first of all witness the use of sticks, then whips, then multiple whips with barbed glass or metal. We see flesh being torn out of a man's body. Just so that we can appreciate the pain, we see the whip first tear chunks out of a wooden table. Then we see pieces of human skin flying through the air. We see Jesus come back for more. We see blood spattering on the torturers' faces. We see muscled thugs exhausted from shredding every inch of this man's body. And then they turn him over and do it all again. It goes on for ever. And then we see his mother wiping up masses and masses of blood. It is an absolutely unforgivable, vile, disgusting scene. No human being could sruvive it. Yet for Gibson, it is the h'ors d'oeuvre for his porn movie. The whole movie is some kind of sick combination of the theology of Opus Dei and the film-making of Quentin Tarantino. There is nothing in the Gospels that indicates this level of extreme, endless savagery and there is no theological reason for it. It doesn't even evoke emotion in the audience. It is designed to prompt the crudest human pity and emotional blackmail - which it obviously does.