A Cautious Man
February 25, 2004
 
Cryin' in the Theater as the Credits Roll
The Mel Gibson Passion opened today, and I guess it was an emotional experience for some people. Not those who are upset by the film, but for people who say that it will influence their religious faith. So, I have to ask myself, do I want to see this film? Since even favorable reviews makes the movie sound like a cross between the four Gospels and Tarantino's Kill Bill, I guess I really don't want to see it. I'm not a big fan of violent movies.

I think that another reason I don't fell like seeing it, is that I don't feel a need to see it. Maybe it's because I'm a Catholic, so every Sunday my worship space has a crucifix, Stations of the Cross, and other reminders of the Passion in addition to those which arise in the Liturgy. But, all those reminders exist within the context of other symbols of the faith. Stained-glass windows (which in my parish illustrate scenes from the life of St. Joseph) are a fixture of Catholic churches, but not of all Christian denominations, not to mention the statues and images of saints from throughout history. In addition, the worship space is just that, a place where the parish gathers for Liturgy and other events. What I'm trying to convey in my imperfect way is the fact that, while the Passion narrative is a significant presence in a Catholic church, it resides within the larger context of the Church's past, present and future, through images, words, and the people of the parish. That is very different from the way the narrative is presented in the newly-released movie.

By the way, I don't think my hypothetical capsule review (see below) was so far off from the real USCCB one:
Unflinching dramatization of the final agonizing hours of the earthly life of Jesus Christ (Jim Caviezel), from the garden of Gethsemane to his crucifixion and resurrection, intercut with flashbacks to his childhood and public ministry. Although the film's brutality poignantly conveys the depth of Christ's love by showing him freely enduring such extreme agony for the redemption of all sinners, the graphic nature of the raw visuals is played to diminishing returns. Following the basic outline of the gospel passion narratives, director Mel Gibson embroiders his interpretive retelling of scripture with extra-biblical sources as well as his own imagination, to craft an at times profoundly moving movie which succeeds in stripping Christ's sacrificial suffering of its Sunday school sugar-coating. While it is the film's assertion that responsibility for Christ's torture and death rest squarely with the Roman authorities, and away from the collective Jewish populace, the movie presents a historically skewed depiction of the Temple elite's sway with their imperial overlords. Subtitles. Gory scenes of torture and crucifixion, a suicide and some frightening images. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III -- adults.

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