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.
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.