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Critiquing Critiques

posted by awelborn

Just a quick, incomplete rundown of my reaction to specific critiques of the film:

Film is weakened because of lack of context

Well, as countless have pointed out, it’s a Passion Play. But what gives this critique weight is that the film is being presented by viewers as an evangelization tool. Passion Plays are generally not viewed as serving that function. So, as a film of the Passion, it doesn’t require the context it’s faulted for not having, but as an evangelization tool, it probably is weaker for not having it.

Too violent

I suppose that is in the eyes of the beholder, but I don’t have any fundamental problem with the violence. It’s a crucifixion, and since Jesus died relatively quickly once he was on the cross, this leads credence to the thinking that his pre-crucifixion treatment was particularly brutal.

And as I pointed out below, the treatment of the crucifixion is the fruit of a creative mind that is, for whatever reason, interested in violence. For him, the depiction of the violence done to Jesus emphasizes the point – the impact of sin. Others might emphasize different aspects – isolation, abandonment, etc. Gibson emphasizes violence. The violence probably happened in a way very much like this. I think the level of violence portrayed is defensible both artistically and theologically – not as a product of the magisterium or divine revelation, but as one person’s meditation.

It is not pornographic. Pornography is the use of a human person as an object for the sake of arousal. That’s not what this is about. The violence, as I stated below, serves two purposes. First, it serves to show what happened. Gibson obviously feels that his portrayal of the crucifixion is historically accurate, and further, that showing this is an important thing to do. We wear them around our necks and sing songs about its power, but we done so while pushing its reality from our minds.

The second purpose is theological, of course, and if you don’t understand this, well you don’t understand this. In being this graphic, Gibson lays before us the true nature of sin and what, in turn, God is willing to do to save us from it.

It’s so medieval. The emphasis on the crucifixion’s nature as a bloody sacrifice isn’t consistent through space and time.

What’s true is that throughout history, Christians emphasize different points of contact with Jesus. So? Big deal. Modern Christians emphasize Jesus as a non-judgmental teacher who just laughs and hugs kids and encourages us to be the best we can be. That’s an emphasis unique to 20th and 21st century American Christianity. Can we critique that, too?

The gospels were reticent on the details of the crucifixion

The Gospels were reticent on many details of many things. Most things, as a matter of fact.

Early Christianity didn’t go for this bloodbath. They emphasized the resurrection

What they emphasized was what God had done through Christ, which includes passion and resurrection and future hope and present power of the Living Lord. As I said above, different eras emphasize different points of contact. If early Christians didn’t emphasize the Passion as an element of personal spirituality (which is what I think the issue is) that is because they happened to be living it.

More later. My refigerator’s empty.



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Neil Dhingra

posted March 1, 2004 at 11:03 am


Dear Amy,
I saw the film and was rather disappointed. Gibson did not even attempt to communicate Christ’s divinity and therefore lost the real center of a Passion Play – that God himself is suffering before us. Instead, Gibson tried to communicate the religious dimension of the events with an intense and graphic focus on the horrific extent of Christ’s suffering, giving us merely a superhuman Christ whose divinity comes from his ability to withstand astounding amounts of torture and still indirectly visit violence on his enemies. Jesus here is not complete in divinity and complete in humanity – for Gibson, it seems, Christ’s divinity comes from being humanity stretched to the very extreme, from being the masculine heroic figure par excellence. What is the Christology here? Is this a very good Unitarian film?
I think that the best critique was expressed at the Methodist blog Scandal of Particularity, which I excerpt in full:
http://scandalofparticularity.blog-city.com/read/511433.htm
_____________________________________________
“It cannot be ignored that many men have suffered grievously…in the course of world history. It might even be suggested that many men have perhaps suffered more grievously and longer and more bitterly than did this man in the limited events of a single day. Many who have suffered at the hands of men have been treated no less and perhaps more unjustly than this man…[Suffering] has in it as such something which in its own way is infinitely outstanding and moving and in its human form and its more or less recognisable or even its hidden divine basis something which we can even describe as shattering. This is true of the passion of Jesus of Nazareth, but in so far as it is a human passion it is not true in a way which is basically different from that of any other human passion.” Barth, Church Dogmatics v. 4.1 p. 245-6)
I saw The Movie, and this is partly my response to it and some other comments I’ve seen floating around the blogosphere. First, a while back, a story Dash told on Camassia’s blog about a Kurdish man, Ali, who had been torturted for his politics, and a Christian man named Robert:
“…Robert would ask Ali to explain what he had suffered under torture. As an artist, Ali could express his experience in drawings, but it was very difficult for him to actually describe it with words. By the bent of his young friend’s questions, Ali figured out that what Robert wanted from him was evidence that the kind of torture Jesus suffered was the ultimate: the worst, most agonizing kind of physical torture a person could endure.”
This is, of course, evidence that bad theology can not only hurt you but others. With this horrible conviction that Jesus suffered worse than anyone else, Robert inflicted suffering on Ali. It doesn’t end with that story; here’s another one. And, finally, the comments of Mark’s students:
“What troubled me was the tone of their reaction to the Jesus being portrayed — they clearly were impressed with it as a show of strength and endurance, like the world’s sickest episode of Fear Factor. These guys are junior religion majors and not unsophisticated, so if that’s what they pulled from the film, then there are theological issues to be addressed.”
I can’t believe it’s even necessary to say this: the point is not HOW MUCH Jesus suffered.
“The mystery of this passion, of the torture, crucifixion and death of this one Jew which took place at that place and time at the hands of the Romans, is to be found in the person and mission of the One who suffered there and was crucified and died. His person: it is the eternal God Himself who has given Himself in His Son to be man, and as man to taken upon Himself this human passion.” Barth, CD v. 4.1 p. 246.
The point is WHO suffered.
____________________________________________
Thank you. I do not mean that anyone should take offense from this message. I should also note that Fr Robert Barron disagrees with me:
http://catholicnewworld.com/cnw/issue/passion_022904.html
- Neil



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Mark Kasper

posted March 1, 2004 at 11:12 am


Dear Amy,
I particularly like your comment on “Jesus as a non-judgmental teacher who just laughs and hugs kids and encourages us to be the best we can be.” You go, gal!
I saw the movie on Saturday and found it to be extremely strong. Even with the flashbacks, it is far less preachy than other Jesus movies. The ‘lack of context’ complaint is hilarious. If there had been more context, the movie would have been criticized as preachy and didactic.
Going into the movie, I was expecting a blood and gore fest the likes of which I had never seen. There were some moments that were difficult to watch, but the klaxxons ringing to warn us of overwhelming violence were nothing more than red herrings. I’ve seen far more violent movies than this one, and I am not one to go out of my way for such fare.
As a cradle Catholic, I found nothing out of the expected with the depiction of the passion. Raised with the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross and the Mass, I really didn’t see what all the controversy about this movie was about. Hyper-realistic? True, but why is that so objectionable? We know well what happened to Jesus on Holy Thursday and Good Friday – after all, we did it to Him. Why is that suddenly too much for our fragile stomachs?
Ultimately, what critics of the movie object to is not the movie itself or to Mel Gibson. What they reject is the Incarnation and the moral challenge demanded by Christianity. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is more important than His own words, priceless though they are. His passion, crucifixion, death and resurrection are the cornerstones and lynchpins of Christianity. Oh, but how that is hated. How that is despised. His very existence as the God-Man is more that can be beared. This movie puts the God-Man in full view and tears away the foolishness of the mild, compromising, ineffectual, undemanding Jesus that we all so desperately want. The anyone would put faith in the belief that this man was truly God, that He appeared uniquely at that point in history (the hated Scandal of Particularity), and that His moral demands consist of the most serious substance, worthy of changing our lives….nothing, but nothing can reveal the slavering jaws of opposition better than this.
Was it the best movie I have ever seen? Not necessarily, but it isn’t what I would call ‘a flick.’
Mark Kasper



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Phil

posted March 1, 2004 at 11:57 am


Although I had mix feelings about it, I intended to see the film. However, after reading Terry Mattingly’s most recent column I decided that I will not–the “Gone of the Wind” reason is not a trivial one.
As to this whole debate about the movie, let’s remember that it is perfectly all right for reasonable Christians to have disagreements about this movie. You can be a devout Christian and not like the movie at all and have perfectly legitimate reasons for not liking it.
As to violence in movies, let us remind ourselves that in real life people don’t die in slow motion. One thing is too emphasize the violence, another thing is to exaggerate it. In my view, exaggeration is a form of lying. I know that we all do it. In our telling the fish that got away is usually a few inches longer. But the fact that we all do it, the fact that Hollywood does it, is not a good excuse. Perhaps it is art or perhaps it is gratuitous gore, but it is not “as it really was.”
I have seen bloody and mangled bodies of people killed only a few minutes earlier. I have stepped over their blood running down the pavement. Do I think that people who have not seen such scenes gain something by looking at close up photos of such bodies? No.
I have seen people die right in front of me. I have seen my good, strong and stoic father die a hard death. Would those who didn’t witness his death gain something by somehow seeing his agony in slow motion detail? No. Those slow motions pictures would not show his death as “it really was.” Those pictures would show a distorted and exaggerated view of the dying process.
To end on lighter note: have you ever seen a slow motion video of a bad tumble you took? Fascinating. You discover things and details you were not aware of as you were tumbling down. But does slow motion conveys *experienced* reality better? No. By slowing everthing down, it distorts it.



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Anastasia

posted March 1, 2004 at 1:08 pm


Phil,
First of all, I do not like the excessive sentimentality of our culture. i.e. news coverage that goes for a cheap emotional reaction (interviewing the parents of a missing or murdered child on the Today show).
But having said that, our emotions can distort events. Footage of the destruction of the Twin Towers records precisely what happened in a purely factual sense. Yet how did witnesses actually experience it? My cousin who was in the building recalls some events happening very quickly, some happening almost in slow motion -he fixated on innocuous details and missed other, larger events. And yet his story is as valid as the news footage of the planes and the collapse. Is it “distorted and exagerrated” – yes, by his experiences; is it untrue – no.
Obviously, it is fine if the film doesn’t interest you; it should not be used as a litmus test of faith. If you do not believe you would gain anything by seeing TPOTC, don’t go.
I did gain something: an understanding in my soul that I am a party to His suffering and death and that I am a party to the Resurrection. I needed that and had not experienced this conviction so profoundly before.
If you feel the object of criticism, it may be because it seems that a lot of people who are really critical of the film are rejecting the idea of their culpability, and/or a discomfort with experiencing this truth and its consequences in their life. But we have no right to make these assumptions about anyone. It is just a movie.



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Mike Morley

posted March 1, 2004 at 1:41 pm


Just curious: how many of the professional film critics who are condemning The Passion for its violence gave four stars/two thumbs up to Kill Bill? I don’t have time to plow the databases today, but if anyone else out there does . . . the results might be interesting.



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David Kubiak

posted March 1, 2004 at 2:43 pm


I saw the film over the weekend and found it deeply moving beyone any expectation I had developed beforehand. The reason relates to the remark attributed to the Pope: ‘It is as it was’. This has been taken to be a comment about the movie and the gospels. But I would suggest that judgments based on the Scriptures, whether positive or negative, are basically wrong-headed.
‘It is as it was’. And what the ‘it’ is a theological and devotional tradition that developed in the Middle Ages, was confirmed by the Council of Trent, and from that point spread throughout the whole Catholic Church until the religious revolution of the 60′s. It states that the suffering and death of Christ won the possibility of our salvation, and constitute the ‘treasury of merit’ from which God dispenses grace to us; that graphic meditation on the Passion is the chief way to produce in ourselves increased sorrow for sin; and that by uniting whatever suffering we have in our own life with that of Christ we do something that is spiritually meritorious.
‘It is as it was’. The film was pure and simple the most faithful depiction I can imagine of what inspires the devotional life I was trained at my mother’s knee to aspire to. Catholics who share that childhood come away, as I did, moved to the very center of their religious being. How many postings I have seen from people who have left the theater and gone straight to Confession and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Through the whole of the Via Dolorosa scene I kept repeating to myself the Act of Contrition, and I think that I meant those words more than I ever have in my life.
God bless whatever effect the movie has on the world at large, but I think that the only way one can truly understand it is to see it as a film made as a devotional offering of one old fashioned Roman Catholic to other old fashioned Roman Catholics. In that context I most definitely see it is a work of art that is a channel of God’s grace.
There have been a lot of jokes about ‘St. Mel’, but given the present state of the Church what a beautiful irony it is that this Lent it is not a priest or bishop who has turned me more single-mindedly towards the Lord, but a wacky Australian actor, the good thief who only wants to be remembered in the Kingdom, and gets so much more.



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Phil

posted March 1, 2004 at 3:09 pm


Anastasia, thank you for your comment. I especially appreciated your tone and I’m glad that you got something positive out of seeing Gibson’s film.
As to violence (once again), my objections to how Hollywood commonly portrays violence are long standing ones (they preceded Gibson’s TPOTC by many years.) I think those portrayals actually falsify reality. My views on this have nothing do with what film critics say. It has to do with my own experiences. This does not mean that I object to all movies that show violence. Some films do come close to how it really is, and they are all the more powerful for it (btw, from what I remember those films do not offer slow motions shots.)
I agree with you that we should not make assumptions about people who criticize TPOTC. True, some of those critics may have an axe to grind or may even have an anti-Christian or anti-Catholic agenda. But many others don’t. As I wrote, you can be a devout Christian and have perfectly legitimate reasons objections.
For what is worth, I have not seen most of Mel Gibson’s movie, neither I have seen a single Tarantino movie–I have no interest in doing so. As to what I have seen in real life, let me say that although I have not seen combat I probably witnessed more violence and death than most Americans my age. (Of course, there are many, many Americans my age who have seen much of it than I had.)



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Anastasia

posted March 1, 2004 at 4:39 pm


Phil,
I can well imagine that being exposed to real-life violence would greatly influence your perception of it on screen.
Perhaps that is part of why early Christians and the Gospel writers did not choose to focus on the bloody details of cricifixion. That kind of violence was something with which they were all too familiar.
Indeed, my greatest concern about putting such a realisitic portrait of the horrors of the Crucifixion on film is that we become desensitived to the Passion through over-exposure (via video/DVD).
I hope you see less violence and death in your life or at least that you see more beauty and kindness.



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Cornelius

posted March 1, 2004 at 4:41 pm


Mike Morley: Just curious: how many of the professional film critics who are condemning The Passion for its violence gave four stars/two thumbs up to Kill Bill? I don’t have time to plow the databases today, but if anyone else out there does . . . the results might be interesting.
Good question. You can definitely see some hypocrisy if you look at Metacritic.com.
Consider, for example, Rick Groen of the Toronto Globe and Mail. Here’s what he said about “Kill Bill”: “Yes, the gore is ubiquitous — sometimes graphic, usually stylized, occasionally comic. But, thanks to the graceful pacing, it never feels assaultive. In fact, complete with that peaceful coda, the film’s achievement is nothing less than symphonic.”
Now consider what he says about “The Passion”: The Gospels “all gave the blood short shrift, treating the stuff with aesthetic restraint and leaving the Church to sort out the metaphor of Communion. By contrast, like all fundamentalists, Gibson is no fan of either subtlety or metaphor — he prefers his cup of blood literal and overflowing. … Looking to heaven, Mel Gibson has made a movie about the God of Love, and produced two hours of non-stop violence. We can only pray that next time, looking to Mars, he’ll make a movie about the God of Violence, and produce two hours of non-stop love. That might be porn worth paying for.”
Or here’s David Ansen of Newsweek on “Kill Bill”: “Now, I had no problem with the violence—it’s all so stylized. But there’s a lot of blood in the movie. There’s a whole motif of spraying, spurting blood.” On “The Passion”: “From a purely dramatic point of view, the relentless gore is self-defeating. I found myself recoiling from the movie, wanting to keep it at arm’s length … Instead of being moved by Christ’s suffering, or awed by his sacrifice, I felt abused by a filmmaker intent on punishing an audience, for who knows what sins.”
So in other words, meaningless “stylized” violence is great fun, but truthful depictions of violence cross the line.



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Phil

posted March 1, 2004 at 5:23 pm


Hi Anastasia. I’m afraid that I was unclear. I don’t think that I have been traumatized by the violence and death I have witnessed. Also, I don’t you to get the wrong impression. Compared to combat veterans what I have seen is very little. Furthermore, I personally know many others that have witnessed much more gore and violence than I have (my father, a WWII veteran was one of them) and none of them became quivering wimps and most of them are capable of enjoying life, beauty and kindness.
One of my main objections to the portrayal of violence in so many Hollywood films is that by being so over the top and “artistic” (slow motion, close-ups, etc) they actually falsify violence. It is not the way it really is. And yes, I confess that in my view there is something creepy and unhealthy about filmmakers (and moviegoers) that have a predilection for such violent scenes. Once again, this does not mean that I’m against the showing of all violence in films.



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Fr. Brian Stanley

posted March 1, 2004 at 6:52 pm


Reaction to the criticism that the movie ignores Christ’s divinity:
Well, what does one make of Jesus’ healing of Malchus’ ear after the sword fight in the garden of Gethsemane? Malchus is pretty much convinced of Jesus’ divine healing, so convinced that he fails to rejoin the cohort of temple guards.
And what about Jesus’ testimony to Caiaphas, Annas and the partially-assembled Sandhedrin? It is at this time when He declares definitively that He is the Son of Man, and “‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’” This is the “blasphemy” which is pretext for his conviction.
These comments about Mr. Gibson failing to establish Jesus’ divinity make me wonder: did these particular critics want more dogmatic statements from Jesus, i.e., the lengthy discourses of the gospel of John, Chapters 14-17? Even these do not “establish” or “present” Jesus’ divinity. Did they want more “miracles” performed for the camera? I’m afraid that such presentations would come across more like parlor tricks than credentials that He is Who He says He is, the Holy One of God. I think Mr. Gibson wants us to respond in faith, which is why he has Satan ask Jesus in the garden, “Who are you?” It’s Mr. Gibson’s verson of Matthew 16: “Who do you say I am?” I think the criticism here about failing to present Jesus’ divinity is a dog that won’t hunt: how would anyone present Jesus’ divinity without Him looking like the Amazing Whizzo?



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Jeff Miller

posted March 1, 2004 at 7:00 pm


Wasn’t St. Paul an early Christian?
“but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles”
“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. ”



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Sulpicius Severus

posted March 1, 2004 at 9:50 pm


Looks like the secular press critiques may be catching on:
“Yet, amid all the sound and fury, the most contemptible phenomenon is the trahison des clercs. The Catholic Church will not embrace this film, despite the Pope’s verdict on it (“It is as it was!”), because it expresses a faith it now finds embarrassing. The Passion was made with as much religious dedication as the crafting of an Orthodox icon. The Tridentine Mass was celebrated on the set every morning and there was at least one conversion to Catholicism during the making of the film. Small wonder that modernist Roman theologians are galled by the fact that Tradition has produced the most triumphant artistic articulation of faith and that evangelical Protestants are flocking to experience it.”
Right on, Mr. Warner. UIOGD,



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Christopher Rake

posted March 1, 2004 at 10:00 pm


Like some others out there, I came to this move well-disposed to like it, and came away disappointed.
As Amy said a few days ago, it’s a movie. So.
I found it much too unremittingly, incredibly and disgustingly violent. Look, there’s nothing pretty about crucifixion and scourging. And yes, it’s the Passion after all. So who am I kidding. Maybe I should just accept that on its own terms.
But for all practical purposes it never let up, so it became one big wall of noise that made it impossible for me to experience anything else. The last Lord of the Rings movie had several endings. This film had one violent climax after another and my ability to respond was exhausted long before the conclusion.
Secondly, as to anti-Semitism. In comments boxes on several blogs, I have argued both that charges of anti-Semitism seemed extreme and that many Christians need to be more sensitive and informed about the plain history of Christian anti-Semitism. Now that I’ve seen it, I’d say you can make an intellectual case that Mel Gibson balanced things out, with good Jews and evil Romans, but I will merely stipulate for the moment that the atmospherics left more room for charges of anti-Semitism than I am comfortable with.
Pontius Pilate, strange. Great guy, trying to do a difficult job–you can’t please everyone. Easy to criticize those who don’t bear the heavy responsibility of governing….
I have mixed reactions to Darth Satan. Sometimes I found it effective, especially the perverted mocking of Madonna & child. Personally I would have liked to see more alarm on his face as Jesus refuses to lay down His cross.
Some of it was wonderful. I join everyone else in admiring the remarkable Maia Morgenstern as Mary–great acting, great direction, great penetration to the truth. Not to get too personal here but I cried.
But I cried during the scene when Mary runs toward Jesus in the “I am here” scene, with the flashback to his stumble in childhood. And that scene comes after one of the virtually nonstop rushes of gore, during which a young couple walked out for good. And though sensibilities vary–clearly, because the violence isn’t too much in the view of several people I respect, definitely including Amy–though sensibilities vary, I imagine that more than a few of us mentally checked out long before the too-brief triumph of Christ over death and sin.



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Therese

posted March 1, 2004 at 11:24 pm


I have long maintained that Hollywood critics tend to get sensitive about violence when it is presented in such a fashion as to cause one to recoil in horror at its cruelty. I remember when Romancing the Stone came out and critics went out of their way to say that it was too violent and traumatic for children while hardly mentioning the violence in Indiana Jones which came out at the same time. The difference between the two films? In both the violence was directed towards the “bad” guys but in Romancing the Stone the bad guys were empathetic if flawed humans while in Indian Jones the bad guys were sub-humans.
I think the trauma of the violence in The Passion is that we come to understand more deeply the violence that sin wroughts. The Passion awakens us to the magnitude of the violence that our personal sin brought to Jesus who is Love. It challenges us with the message of the Cross. Not all are comfortable with that. Not all are ready to walk in Jesus’ footsteps and embrace their own crosses. Not all are ready to truly believe that Jesus is truly who he said he was.



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Christopher Rake

posted March 1, 2004 at 11:40 pm


Therese, you risk saying here that people with reservations about violence in a movie are “not comfortable” with the “message of Cross,” or “not ready to truly believe that Jesus is truly who he said he was.” This may or may not be true for any random sample of people, but it doesn’t have very much to do with personal reactions to a movie.
This is a film, not a sacrament or a test of faith.



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Neil Dhingra

posted March 1, 2004 at 11:58 pm


Dear Fr Brian,
I have no doubt that Mel Gibson believes in Jesus’ divinity. The question is whether Gibson’s artistic responsibility to Chalcedon is fulfilled by simply showing Jesus’ performance of a miracle and a recitation of Luke 22.69 (“‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven’”). After all, saints perform miracles, and while we Christians today read Luke 22.69 with Christology firmly in mind, that reading is hardly obvious. The conservative evangelical exegete Darrell Bock, for instance, says, “Anyone who understands how the Jews felt about the holiness and uniqueness of God’s presence would appreciate how unusual (and offensive) Jesus’ claim sounded. Neither is it incidental that the New Testament later used the phrase ‘at the right hand’ 14 times to proclaim Jesus’ authority as the promised one of God.” But he still has to concede, “A few Jewish works did contemplate the possibility of a great luminary such as Moses or Enoch going into God’s presence to aid in his work, but such claims were highly controversial.” Your examples cannot bear the weight that you wish to put on them.
I would suggest that Gibson’s responsibility to Chalcedon extends to his actual depiction of Our Lord. Does the very cinematic and graphic depiction of the extent of the suffering – Jesus turning to the camera during the scourging to show us exactly how many wounds he has, the blood spurting up in slow motion during the nailing to the cross – tend to show us someone already fully divine and fully human, or someone whose divinity comes from the intensification of a particularly admirable human quality – namely, the carefully documented ability to withstand pain? I would suggest that the latter is true, which makes the film less than satisfactory.
Depicting Jesus’ divinity is of course challenging, which is why liturgy and film are rather distinct genres. But the claim that such a depiction is simply impossible is far from obvious; I recommend carefully reading a recent article by Rowan Williams:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/features/story/0,11710,1135472,00.html?83%3A+Arts+latest
Thank you.
Neil



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Joan M

posted March 2, 2004 at 12:33 am


I look on this movie as a message from God
aimed specifically at all of us now living.
This movie could not have been made without
the development of modern movie technology nor without modern medical knowledge that was not available to people who lived in ages past.
We are a generation that has forgotten the
enormous price Jesus paid for our redemption.
Too many of us have grown cold and ungrateful, blase and unappreciative.
God has used in times past stranger messengers than Mel Gibson.



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Mark Kasper

posted March 2, 2004 at 7:40 am


Dear Amy,
Another category of criticism is offered today by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post. The movie is ‘fascist.’ Here is his quote: “This is what I mean by a fascistic sensibility. The violence was the message. It overwhelmed the message of Christ, which even a non-Christian can admire and endorse.”
The so-called ‘message of Christ’ is all that is heard yet today, two thousand years later. We no longer need to hear this attenuated, edited version of Christ’s message as a moral philosophy. It is still incorrect, but closer to the truth, to say that Christ Himself is the message. But Christ is not a message, not a discrete communication or bit of information from the Father to mankind. He is God. He is the second person of the Trinity. God was pummeled, beaten, tortured and killed. He suffered, willingly, to overcome human evil.
Mr. Cohen misses a simple fact. Without the person of Jesus, his teaching is meaningless. His ‘message’ has no special claim to superiority without His divinity. Turning the logic upside down, many conclude that Jesus’ teaching is uniquely powerful (i.e., divine), and that is what gives Jesus an uncertain level of regard to this day.
If Jesus was not God, if He did not suffer and die for our sins, if He was not resurrected from the dead, then….to put it in the words of Flannery O’Connor….to hell with it.
Mark Kasper



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Mark Kasper

posted March 2, 2004 at 7:59 am


Let’s deal with Mr. Cohen’s thoughts further. “The violence was the message. It overwhelmed the message of Christ, which even a non-Christian can admire and endorse.”
People admiring and endorsing the ‘message of Christ’ is an utterly sickening prospect. It should be no goal of Christians to persuade non-Christians to contemplate the moral teachings of Jesus and find them approvable. Placing ourselves in superiority over Christ, sitting in evaluation of Him and His words, and finally standing in munificence and pronouncing “After extensive analysis and through the use of deductive logic, I hereby agree with and ratify in my own personal life the teachings of Jesus bar Joseph of Nazareth”….this is what passes today for conversion and religious faith.
Mr. Cohen’s programme is transparent. Take Christianity, take Islam, take Buddhism, take Confucianism, take whatever religious and ethical system you can find on the planet and reduce them all to the uncorrupted core of ethical truth – only there will you find truth. Mr. Cohen knowlingly applies an attractive exercise in mathematical set theory. The intersection of two sets is always smaller than either of the two original sets. By performing additional intersections, the remaining set always becomes smaller. Pile up the intersections and what is left is vanishingly small. The practitioners of this moral algebra aren’t stupid. By intersecting the many and multiform religions and ethical systems found on earth in the purported goal of finding what is true among all religions, they successfully reduce the remainder to an infinitessimal. The moral demands of religion and ethics can be progressively trimmed down to an acceptable bite sized piece, or even down to nothing at all. The only thing finally required is to have tea and crumpets on every other Tuesday with the vicar.
Mark Kasper



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Mike Morley

posted March 2, 2004 at 8:18 am


Cornelius:
Thanks for taking the time to do the research I wanted to so I don’t have to! The results appear to be what I expected–many of the critics who find the violence of The Passion have no problem with the violence in a Tarantino film. Therefore, one might reasonably surmise that the violence isn’t their real probmen with The Passion.



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Mark Kasper

posted March 2, 2004 at 8:32 am


Mr. Dhingra,
I have to take issue with your line of argument here. Your comments sound as if you went to the movie with a notepad, four sharpened pencils, a pile of books on Christology and an attitude of hunting for bear. To what extent does Mr. Gibson have an “artistic responsibility to Chalcedon”? What obligation does he have to the seventh section of the Council of Nicea? Is Gibson’s work completely in harmony with the 14th article of the Catechism of Trent? What I found particularly outrageous is that Gibson failed to include the insights on pneumatic theology in Edward Schillebeeckx’s “Jesus: An Experiment in Christology.”
I see TPOTC as analogous nothing less than the Pieta or paintings of the Crucifixion. This was a work of art in which Mr. Gibson made the choice to focus on a certain aspect of the Gospels. Far be it from us to look at the numerous paintings of the Madonna and Child, wrinkle our noses and state dismissively “Where is the cross?” Mr. Gibson, in my estimation, was not attempting to hold a seminar on Christology or be encyclopedic in his treatment of the life of Jesus. It is a certainty that TPOTC does not represent the entirety of Mr. Gibson’s beliefs in Christ, in the event that this was a concern of critics. Nor do I believe that the entire faith of Bernini was expressed in “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa.” TPOTC was a specific part of the Gospels that he wanted to emphasize in his work of art. You have every right to not like the movie. There is no mandatum that TPOTC must be enjoyed or approved of. We can say that we would not have chosen to make the movie in that way, but in what sense is that valid criticism?
Mr. Dhingra, you are a very intelligent, scholarly, and wise commentator on Amy’s blog. Yet, I do not think the dry and analytical approach you brought to TPOTC is advisable. I don’t think anyone would claim that Mr. Gibson’s motivation was scholarly or intellectual. This movie was not an occasion for checking our emotions along with our coats as we came into the theater.
Mark Kasper



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Neil Dhingra

posted March 2, 2004 at 11:24 am


Dear Mr Kasper,
Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I assure you that I didn’t go into the theater with “a notepad, four sharpened pencils, a pile of books on Christology and an attitude of hunting for bear.” I didn’t go into the theater with a big tub of popcorn, like some of the Missouri Synod Lutherans who rented the theater and with whom I saw the movie (I am a friend of one of the ministers), but that’s another question.
But I did go into the theater on Sunday afternoon, shortly after going to Mass, where, as part of the Second Antiphon, we sang -”Christ, our God, You were crucified but conquered death by death. You are one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit – save us.” And after receiving Holy Communion, we sang, “We have seen the true light; we have received the heavenly Spirit; we have found the true faith, worshiping the undivided Trinity, for the Trinity has saved us.”
I did not expect Mel Gibson to be encyclopedic in his treatment of the life of Jesus, but I did expect to see a treatment of the life of Jesus that was accountable to the faith of the Church. And, as the lines from the liturgy show, an essential part of the faith of the Church is that Jesus is “glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit” and one of the “undivided Trinity.” And this is what saves us. It isn’t a matter of pedantry.
So it is fair to ask: How did Mel Gibson show Our Lord’s divinity? I think that a fair reading of the film is that Gibson, doubtless with sincerity, tried to show Christ’s divinity through documenting the horrific amount of torture that he was able to withstand. For reasons that I have given above, I think that this was a poor choice.
Thank you again.
- Neil



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Mark Kasper

posted March 2, 2004 at 1:34 pm


Dear Neil,
Thanks for your polite reply. Again, I do not take issue with you or anyone for liking or disliking TPOTC. It is not an article of faith.
Could I, however, take issue with your statement: “So it is fair to ask: How did Mel Gibson show Our Lord’s divinity? I think that a fair reading of the film is that Gibson, doubtless with sincerity, tried to show Christ’s divinity through documenting the horrific amount of torture that he was able to withstand.”
I’d suggest the following:
1. Mr. Gibson, already believing in Our Lord’s divinity, wasn’t focused on demonstrating that divinity for the viewer. Rather, Gibson was showing what lengths divinity would stoop to in order to save human souls.
2. I do not see TPOTC as claiming that Jesus was divine because He was somehow uniquely capable of bearing immense amounts of torture. Determining who the Son of God by the last one standing in a Texas Chain Match is not how I saw the film. To Mr. Gibson, the divinity of Christ is already a given. The point is not to prove or demonstrate Christ’s divinity by His sheer endurance of pain, but to document that Christ did in fact suffer that torture for us. That he did in fact suffer for us is of the most incredible importance to Christianity, and it is what Mr. Gibson chose to display.
Some would claim that Mr. Gibson’s film would have been a better tool of conversion if it had done a better job at convincing the viewer of Christ’s divinity. But is that Gibson’s duty, to convince the unbeliever? What if his goal was to convince the believer, the lukewarm believers such as myself, who know the Stations of the Cross and know that Jesus is part of the Trinity, but am just too enthralled in my own day-to-day life to do anything about it?
Mel Gibson’s creation isn’t the be-all and end-all of Christianity. It doesn’t replace the Gospels. It doesn’t represent the fullness of Christ and His divinity. How could it? The Catechism of the Catholic Church would never make such a brazen claim even on its own behalf. Gibson focused our attention on a small slice of Jesus’ life and death, a not inconsiderable slice, but only a piece.
Mark Kasper



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Therese

posted March 2, 2004 at 2:52 pm


Chris,
Fair point. I should have qualified to hypothesize that perhaps that is why some were revolted by the violence. Of course there plenty of folks who really do believe he was who he says he was but whom have such a natural aversion to violence that this film is just too much for them to endure. I was directing my comments (in my mind if not on the screen) towards those critics who obviously don’t have a problem with violence (they can watch Saving Private Ryan or Kill Bill).



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Christine

posted March 2, 2004 at 3:40 pm


Neil,
The liturgy you quote from is distinctly Eastern — may I ask if you merely attended an Eastern liturgy or if you are an Eastern Catholic? I suspect part of what is at play here is the difference in Eastern and Western sensibilities. Because of my (ironically, Missouri Synod) Lutheran roots the Passion and the Cross have been a deep part of my spirituality since I was a child. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but from what I’ve been reading about it and comments so far I don’t think I will have a problem with Gibson’s nuances. His movie is an interpretive work, to be sure, and like all art will reflect something of the artist.
Nevertheless, we can’t reach the Glory without first passing by the Cross. And it’s not a pretty sight.



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Neil Dhingra

posted March 2, 2004 at 5:04 pm


Dear Mark and Christine,
I suppose that this will have to be my last post. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments, for which I am very grateful. I did in fact quote from the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom and attend St John of Damascus Melkite Catholic Church here in South Bend, Indiana. I suppose that I am speaking then from a particular perspective.
To me, Christ’s divinity cannot simply be taken for granted – it cannot be “already a given,” simply put on hold while we contempate something else about Christ. This is because the central, inescapable fact about Christ is that in Christ the Word was united with flesh, so that Christ’s humanity perfectly receives what his divinity completely gives. Our salvation is derivative from his human receptivity. Any portrayal of Christ must show -in some way – this dynamic.
Thus, alongside his Jesus’ humanity, any Christian film or art must also somehow try to show, as Athanasius writes,
“He was not enclosed in the body, nor was he in the body but nowhere else. Nor did he move the latter while the universe was deprived of his action and providence. What is most wonderful is that, being the Word, he was contained by anyone but rather himself contained everything. And as he is in all creation, he is in essence outside the universe but in everything by his power, ordering everything and extending his providence over everything. And enlivening all things, separately and together, he contains the universe and is not contained, but in his Father he is complete in everything. So also being in a human body and enlivening it himself, he according vivifies everything and was both in all and outside all. And although he was known by his body through his works, yet he was not invisible by his action on the universe.”
This is doubtless challenging to show, but it is necessary.
Thank you again.
- Neil



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