A reader writes:
I am as far from Mel Gibson's theological and political world as one can get. He is quite obviously a deeply troubled man with extreme views. But I think calling the Passion of the Christ an "attack on the Gospels" goes a little far. For one thing, I'm pretty sure you would never refer to "The Last Temptation of Christ" that way, even though that film takes far more liberties with the Gospels than Gibson does. And let's not forget it is the Gospels themselves that contain lines like "His blood be on us and on our children." A director should be allowed to make whatever interpretation of Jesus they want without being lynched, from the Left in Gibson's case and from the Right in Scorsese's.
And let's be totally frank here: the Passion's depiction of a Roman crucifixion was spot on.
I majored in Latin so I feel fairly qualified to speak on this. People on the outer reaches of the Empire condemned to execution by the Romans were not treated nicely. Roman guards flogged their victims senselessly before putting them on the cross. It was a sport to them, similar to the cruelty shown by the Nazis in the camps.
I think you can question making a film about several sentences in the Gospels. You can question whether God wants us to live that horror of the crucifixion in such a visceral way. But you can't say that Gibson is inaccurate in depicting a barbarism that occurred millions of times over throughout the outer edges of the Roman Empire.
Should we re-evaluate the Passion now that we see the person who made it in a more revealing light? Maybe, but maybe not. You never cared for it, but two of the more decent, caring and yes, liberal Christians I know saw it and were deeply moved (I never saw it myself). Separating the art from the person is always a tricky business at best and impossible at worst.
When I first read your description of the Passion, I just assumed that you didn’t like it because it depicted the torture and execution of Christ too graphically. But then I thought about all of the depictions of other forms of torture that you have posted on your blog, and now I'm at a loss as to why you hate the film so much. If the crucifixion really was that bloody and violent, then isn’t re-creating it as Gibson did the most honest way of driving home the message of the cross? I honestly don’t see it being any different from you publishing pictures from Abu-Ghraib (or photos of dead children in Gaza, which you continue to post over reader objections). Is there some other reason you seem to despise the film?
The point is that the extreme violence that Gibson added is not in the Gospels, and the treatment of Jesus as depicted would have killed any human long before Gibson's endless pornographic violence reached its conclusion. It was a sadistic fantasy, with barely a word about Jesus' message of love and forgiveness. Here's a link to my impressions immediately after seeing the movie in 2004. Money quote:
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. But then it seems to me designed to evoke a sick kind of fascination. Of over two hours, about half the movie is simple wordless sadism on a level and with a relentlessness that I have never witnessed in a movie before. And you have to ask yourself: why? The suffering of Christ is bad and gruesome enough without exaggerating it to this insane degree. Theologically, the point is not that Jesus suffered more than any human being ever has on a physical level. It is that his suffering was profound and voluntary and the culmination of a life and a teaching that Gibson essentially omits.
One more example. Toward the end, unsatisfied with showing a man flayed alive, nailed gruesomely to a cross, one eye shut from being smashed in, blood covering his entire body, Gibson has a large crow perch on the neighboring cross and peck another man's eyes out. Why? Because the porn needed yet another money shot.