Thu - February 26, 2004

This Is Passion?

Ash Wednesday has come and gone, and Mel Gibson has released his religious snuff film. Based on the reviews that I've read, it seems that it's every bit as divisive as many feared, and worse. Not only are there the incendiary historical and theological inaccuracies (much-discussed elsewhere), but there's also Gibson's blood lust, as described, for instance, by David Denby in this week's New Yorker:

In the climb up to Calvary, Caviezel, one eye swollen shut, his mouth open in agony, collapses repeatedly in slow motion under the weight of the Cross. Then comes the Crucifixion itself, dramatized with a curious fixation on the technical details--an arm pulled out of its socket, huge nails hammered into hands, with Caviezel after each whack. At that point, I said to myself, "Mel Gibson has lost it," and I was reminded of what other other writers have pointed out--that Gibson, as an actor, has been beaten, mashed, and disemboweled in many of his movies. His obsession with pain, disguised by religious feelings, has now reached a frightening apotheosis.

There's only one plausible moral or aesthetic justification that I can imagine for such a vicious and retrograde portrayal of what is supposed to represent the greatest act of sacrifice ever committed, an act that Gibson believes has brought universal redemption to all who would properly accept it: Gibson wants us to understand the enormity of Christ's Passion, the degree to which He suffered on our behalf. But such an angry and literal-minded portrayal of the Passion can only undermine that point. I don't believe that twelve hours of physical and emotional suffering, no matter how persistent or degrading, would be sufficient even to expiate my sins. If I were given the option of undergoing such a trial to have myself and my loved ones morally redeemed, I would do it tomorrow--countless individuals have allowed themselves to suffer far worse for far less. And yet, this suffering by one man (for Christ was a man in his suffering) is supposed to answer for the transgressions of us all? And who precisely is the Judge who would want such tawdry suffering in exchange for spiritual guilt? All of this makes Christianity much smaller than it means to be.