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A snuff movie for Christians

March 13 2004 at 12:34PM

By Angela Aschmann

The Passion Of The Christ is a pointless and sick film. It has been mired in controversy ever since devout Catholic Mel Gibson first announced that he was making a movie about Jesus Christ’s Crucifixion. At first the project seemed praiseworthy: unknown actors were to be cast (instead of buff starlets with impossibly perfect teeth), the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were to be consulted and the dialogue was to be rendered in Aramaic and Latin.

So far, so good.

But something went wrong. And instead of making a film that explains why Jesus was persecuted, or reinvigorates Christian faith, or even clarifies some aspects of Christianity to non-Christians, Gibson has made a snuff movie – with the Son of God as the victim.

Much has been made of the flogging. And it is the most memorable image from the film. It goes on and on and on and on...

In fact, by the time we get to the really important and symbolic wounds that Jesus suffered – the embedding of a crown of thorns in his skull, the hammering of nails through his hands and feet and the plunging of a sword into his side – you’ve already seen so much blood and guts that they have no impact whatsoever.

Endless and relentless gore desensitises one. It’s almost as though your brain shuts down to protect from the horror. Remember how outraged the country was about the “first” baby rape? And are we still so outraged and vocal now that we hear these stories every week?

If the flogging had been cut down to the initial strokes, the other injuries would have been far more shocking. And its hard to believe a man who ends up looking demonic – dripping blood, his one eye swollen closed so that he peers out of the other like Quasimodo’s first cousin – would have been able to carry a heavy wooden cross through the town and up a hill. It beggars belief.

And when Jesus, by now a putrid lump of oozing mincemeat, says that he’s thirsty, the Romans’ cruelty in offering him a sponge soaked in vinegar loses all its power because the audience has a case “compassion fatigue”. You just CAN’T care anymore.

What was the point of this film? If you are a Christian it will sadden and confuse you. There are bizarre and cringe-worthy incidents of the writers’ own imagination, like a "funny" scene where we’re supposed to believe that every dining room suite on sale at Furniture City was “invented” by Jesus.

And Herod is portrayed so camply that he looks as if he’s off to the Mother City Queer Project party. (So how did Salome seduce him into cutting off the head of John the Baptist?) As a friend quipped to me, Mel’s done "a Peter Jackson" on a fine piece of literature.

If you’re not a Christian and want to know why millions of people are, I’m afraid you won’t increase your knowledge much. There is so little contextualisation that if you are not familiar with the New Testament you’ll simply be bewildered.

Another gripe is that Gibson digs out all sorts of special effects and imaginary characters, one of whom looks a little like the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back crossed with Darth Maul from Episode IV. Why does supposedly the greatest story ever told need gimmicks like John Woo-style slow motion or children’s faces morphing into screeching devils? Why do we need stirring music all along (was it just my imagination or was the soundtrack “Arabic” when something sinister was afoot and “European” when some happy was happening?)

Yes, the cinematography is stirring, the settings magnificent, the costumes marvellous and the actors realistic enough – but so what? Today's cinema audiences take high artistic standards for granted.

And I burst out in indignant laughter at the second credit – Screenplay by. No “Based on a true story”. No “Inspired by the Gospels”. No “Adapted from”. Just the names of two publicity hungry men.

Think of the really affecting films you’ve seen. Perhaps Life Is Beautiful, Schindler’s List, Lemumba, Dancer In The Dark or Gandhi. Simple stories about suffering that are shocking in their accounts of man’s inhumanity to man. They have a humanity that even the most cynical among us grudgingly admit.

But the story of man’s inhumanity to the Son of God?

The Bible for the Terminator generation. Expect the computer game soon.


How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?

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