The Passion of Christ According to Mel

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Post by Fin » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I'm surprised I'm the first to post on this. I saw Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ today (technically yesterday), the day it arrived in theaters. First of all, I recomend that everyone here sees it, if not every adult in the traditionally Christian Western world (definitely for mature audiences only though). Yes, it is graphic. I don't think I'm giving away a spoiler by saying that because its been so publised. Its probobly not historically correct. Its definitely a controversial portrayal. But I think as Campbellian scholars we can get alot out of it anyway and I think that it will have an overall healthy effect on our culture's experience of religion, if only because it generates so much interest, thought and discussion in a dark contoversial corner that is still an large part of our culture.

SPOILERS ahead. Do not read unless you've seen the film.



Now, I am no Biblical scholar. I haven't even read most of it. But I did go to Methodist church school and have heard a modest ammount of Catholic and Methodist sermons. I am no Christian and my interest in Campbell largely focuses on the appearance of old stories and symbols in new forms and reincarnations. So correct me if I say something stupidly ignorant of the Bible.
As you know if you seen it, Satan is in this movie. He fascinated me but I do not remember much discussion of him specifically in regards to this part of Jesus's story before, except while reading Campbell's Masks of God: Creative Mythology where there is an image of Jesus on the cross being dangled like fishing bait over Satan the serpent, God tricking Satan into giving up the souls of humanity that he tricked them out of in Genesis. In the movie Satan is hairless, almost albino (I think he had blue eyes), and I can easily imagine a forked tongue behind those teeth. He presides over the horrid children stoning Judas. He presides over the flailing and crusifixion of Jesus. He walks through the crowd unseen except perhaps by Jesus and at one point Judas. At the end, he stands on the mountain where the cross was, in the middle of a perfect circle, wailing in agony.
To me, this movie could have been much less humanistic - the way the Catholic interpretation is often portrayed. It showed it as Jesus being God's bait to the devil, an opportunity for the devil to do his worst. Jesus was bait laid for the most evil side of mankind to come out: envy, greed, indifference, sadisticness and self-interest. The worst side came out to meet the compassionate side and like two dragons, the good and the evil, rising above the plains of men to do battle. And to the last Jesus wanted for their forgiveness and the evil dragon fell. Jesus stared unflinchingly into the eyes of the devil in men, just as we must see the darkest side of ourselves to bring forth the light.
Sex was not the evil here, nor earthly pleasures; women were not portrayed as evil or corrupt at all. The devil was a sexless, raceless serpent. He was the evil one, not even the men who raked Jesus's body with barbed whips. Those men were portrayed just as earthly as the two Marys were or in many parts as Jesus himself. This to me seems to be a more humanistic portrayal and very far from any stark medieval interpretation. I also found it a very relevant myth for our time. I found it much more effective in conveying the meaning of the story than most sermons, polite discussion groups or reading it.
I do not think it will be ripe for any fanatic's interpretation and I don't think it will generate anti-semitism. I think Jesus crying, "Father, forgive them. They do not understand." as he is gruesomely hung from the cross overpowered my feelings of hate for the clerics who captured him or the soldiers who murdered him. I think alot of people would have missed the point if it was not as graphic as it was.

Edit: I just read Orson Scott Card's review and it has alot in common with mine above. It is here: http://www.ornery.org/essays/warwatch/2004-02-29-1.html
He looks at if from various perspectives: as a film critic, as a believer (he is Mormon) and as an American.

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Post by Manuel_Otto » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Dear Fin,

Congratulations on being the first to post on this film and thank you for including Orsen Scott Card's review.

I found this film to be quite good. It certainly met all my expectations of a faithfull rendering of the story that I'd been taught in the religion of my upbringing.

With no investment in the historical authenticity of the events portrayed, I was very satisfied with the delivery of mythic imagery without making what I would have considered a poor directorial choice of giving it a pervasive dreamlike quality--AND...the surreal segments were well placed.

In my judgment, it was the attention to the VERY human suffering that made one of the strongest points of that chapter of the story of Jesus the Christ. During the scourging, if not for the hyper-realistic quality of the scene, I could not have connected it as effectively with the suffering of the bodies of all men and women as limbs are hacked off with dull machetes in an African genocide; or the ingenious devices of torture to "purify" the souls of heretics in the Christian middle-ages; and so on.

I felt that the flashback scenes of Christ's teachings and typical life were essential and I would have definitely missed them if they had not been included. Ultimately, this is the story of a Bhodisattva...of one who took on the suffering of the world to teach the ultimate lesson of compassion and forgiveness. I walked away from this film having experienced this message to the core.

Despite the difference in the way I believe and the popular Christian interpretation of this story, I thought that Mel Gibson did a fine job and I intend to see this film a few more times in the theatre--and will proudly add the DVD to my collection along with "The Lord of the Rings," "The Matrix," "Star Wars (IV-VI)," "Harry Potter," and the rest.

I could go on, but time does not permit. I look forward to reading more posts on the subject of this film.

My best,

Manny Otto
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Post by Clemsy » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Fin,

Thanks for bringing this up. Yours and Manny's impressions are instructive. To tell you the truth, I had no intention of seeing this movie at all and now I am reconsidering. Of note, and a serious one I believe, is the context within which this movie is being received by the evangelical Christian right. Literalists to the core, this movie is viewed as a validation of their perspective. It was marketed to this audience, eliciting the obvious reaction from the other side of the spectrum (for example:LINK). This movie needs to be used to bring the subject into the public dialogue. It shouldn't be owned by those whose views are considered extreme by most people. The last thing we need is for the most repressive and intolerant segment of our society, which already has too loud a voice IMO, to use this as reinforcement. This group sent The Last Temptation of Christ into oblivion, and almost did the same with The Life of Brian. While they decry the violence out of Hollywood, I've heard of plans by churches to bring children to see this movie. Inappropriate in the extreme.

William Rivers Pitt has penned a worthy opening for this dialogue: LINK.

I'll be interested to read other's views here.

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Post by OliveBranch » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I don’t think that I will be seeing this film Clemsy. I liked the links you posted above, especially the point about all the 'white people' in the ancient middle east. What scares me about this movie the most is that it will be used to convert people back to Christianity. In the following quote from the Power of Myth, Campbell makes a good point about going backward.
Moyers: You've seen what happens when primitive societies are unsettled by white man's civilization. They go to pieces, they disintegrate, they become diseased. Hasn't the same thing been happening to us since our myths began to disappear?

Campbell: Absolutely, it has.

Moyers: Isn't that why conservative religions today are calling for the old-time religion?

Campbell: Yes, and they're making a terrible mistake. They are going back to something that is vestigial, that doesn't serve life.
Next time Gibson plays with mythology, let’s hope he devotes his efforts towards taking us forward. Perhaps this will happen in the sequel, “The Passion of Christ Part II - Jesus as Metaphor!” :smile:
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Post by Fin » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Having seen the film, I think reviews like the one from Commondreams.org are rediculous. Its as if the reviewer went into the theater intent on seeing it in negative light. The only people who might be made more anti-semitic by this film are already anti-semites. But it seems the reviewer was just itching to focus on what might incite anti-semitism, and ignore what would dispel such accusations. I know people have already read reviews like these and have made up their minds about it without seeing it. There are two things wrong with this: 1. their opinions would be ignorant. 2. that would imply that the experience of a movie, a myth, could be captured in the words of a reviewer. This brings to mind a quote by Stanley Kubrick that I have always aggreed with in regards to art like this, "The truth of a thing is the feel of it, not the think of it." And the feel of it can not be communicated by a reviewer. This is why I'd prefer people didn't read my review without having seen it, but since people already have I guess we have to work from there.
That said, I can see how this movie validates Christian faith on a very emotional level. I see it validating very specific aspects of Christian belief, aspects which I do not think are outdated. If the Christian evangelical right is reinforced by this movie, I think it is primarily in good ways for the more moderate of them, and the rest will remain as ignorant as they were before they saw this movie. I do hope this is not used by evangelical parents to indoctrinate children, because it would be near impossible for children to understand the context of the violence. I like Orson Scott Card's idea that Mel Gibson should use the proceeds from the movie (remember, he spent $24 million of his own money to make it) not for charities but to make more religious movies showing other segments of the story, hopefully some that are more child friendly, but not castrated. I would just as much like to see a movie about Mohammad done as well as this one was.

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Post by Susie » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

I agree with you Clemsy. I do want to see the movie though, mainly out of curiousity and to hear the languages spoke. I find it interesting that Mel Gibson based a great deal of this movie on the visions of Sister Anne Emmerich, a german mystical Nun.

I think I need to post the link to your article about all the white people cast in this movie on beliefnet.com and see what all the fundamentalists on that site have to say about that.


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Post by Clemsy » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hi, Susie! I think Pitt's article is excellent... but then I also consider him one of the more brilliant political writers, along with Thom Hartmann, today. That's my point here: this movie was heavily politicized months before it was released.

Personally, I'm real fed up with Christ being kicked around like a political football from either end of the spectrum. Fin, I can't respond to the CommonDreams article (originally published in the Boston Globe) either way. I think it stands as a good example of the diviseveness that's been stirred up around the movie.
If the Christian evangelical right is reinforced by this movie, I think it is primarily in good ways for the more moderate of them, and the rest will remain as ignorant as they were before they saw this movie.
One hopes there are enough moderate evangelical Christians! My concern is that here we are, once again, illustrating, rather graphically, the historical Jesus. The word 'historical' is deceptive, though, isn't it? The Gospels are so contradictory that the church long ago stopped trying to accommodate each with the others. Indeed, according to a very interesting Public Television series called From Jesus to Christ the Pharisees weren't in political control of Jerusalem until after the destruction of the temple. So the very element that seems the most controversial isn't even historically accurate! LINK. Apparently, Matthew, who lived a half century after Christ, may have been inserting the political tensions of his time into his Gospel. The Pharisees were his enemies. Interesting, no?

So which Gospel is Gibson portraying? Or is he cherry-picking from all of them? If so, is this just? Does it then become the Gospel according to Gibson?

I may find the movie deeply moving personally, but if it becomes a banner for this side or that I'd rather it was never made. Scriptural literalism is a huge problem in the United States. So is the visceral, anti-religious reaction against it. Polarization is antithetical to the true message of Christ. Such may or may not have been Gibson's intent, I don't know.

I can imagine Joseph Campbell looking at the impact of the movie, if not the movie itself, and saying, "Oh no. Not again."

Clemsy

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Post by Siddha » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Before I post my two cents worth I would like to mention that I love movies. I see them as art and whether I like one I am watching or not I tend to wait for the end just to see what the artist tried to accomplish. Having said this if it wasn't for the fact that I invited several friends to join me I would have walked out after the first 10 minutes! (something I have never done before)

This has to be the worst movie I have ever seen, let me list a few of the reasons why...

1) Gibson portrays most characters as one dimensional caricatures... (a sure fire way to get me not to like a movie). If I was watching Zena Warrior Princes I might have overlooked this, but this story is complex, it’s not a he is dressed in white = good guy, the other is dressed in black = bad guy type of tale. For example, he doesn't present an adequate context to why the Jews wanted him crucified so badly, why he was so dangerous to them, etc.
2) I couldn't agree more with OliveBranch, this is a "the bible as historical fact as interpreted by me" movie
3) Mel Gibson could have scored at least a point with me if he would have stuck to his initial vision not to use subtitles. They where completely redundant, the emotions and actions spoke for themselves (even if you didn't know the story)
4) The extreme violence was redundant. I can't believe anyone would want to take children to see it. Then again there is nothing like being 8 and seeing someone tortured while being told that this happened because they/we are all sinners! The magic of guilt! If you want to see a violent movie with complexity and meaning rent Fight Club instead!
5) The devil makes no sense whatsoever in this movie. If the devil was "presiding" over these events, why would he get children to stone Judas after he did the devil’s bidding, shouldn't he be rewarding him? Even if Judas had had a change of heart, rewarding him would have been especially tormenting... (much more evil than a simple stoning, much too unimaginative for Lucifer). For being so smart the devil is pretty dumb, he plays right into Gods plans…
6) Jesus as innovative carpenter… relevance?
7) Pontius Pilate? Give him the Nobel Peace Prize for being such a humanitarian!
8) Why are so many Jews (and devils come to think of it) portrayed as deformed people. As if there isn’t enough stigmatization already.
9) But what I disliked most about this movie is the fact that it betrays the beauty that can be found in Christianity when explored metaphorically. For example was Jesus test mainly physical or spiritual suffering? Again, Mel takes the simplistic route. In my part of the world torture isn't that big of an issue, but there sure seems to be a lot of spiritual emptiness. This literal interpretation removes people from realizing the metaphorical value that can be gained in their present life.

It felt like a fire and brimstone sermon that I unwittingly paid $30 for. Maybe Mel like Judas will repent for his actions and send me something in the mail… I can only hope.

OK, If you loved/liked this movie as several of you have indicated then all the power to you. As Dan Millman once said “there is only one true light, but many lamps” People are bound to like a lamp I didn’t at all. However, if you are having second thoughts about this movie… can I suggest renting “Whale Rider”?[/b} A movie that in my opinion does an infinitely better job at portraying the Christ/Buddha/etc. within.




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Post by Siddha » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

PS I couldn't agree anymore with Clemsy's comments.
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Post by OliveBranch » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

On 2004-02-27 16:28, Clemsy wrote:
So which Gospel is Gibson portraying? Or is he cherry-picking from all of them? If so, is this just? Does it then become the Gospel according to Gibson?
I like your cherry-picker metaphor Clemsy. I too would like to know which Gospels were used and upon what basis. I’ve been searching for interviews on the web that might reveal Gibson’s sources. So far I’ve not turned up anything, but I did find the following interview. I found the following comments from that interview interesting:
David Neff: So you think there are spiritual forces resisting this project?

Mel Gibson: Oh, of course. But that's the big picture, isn't it? The big realms are slugging it out. We're just the meat in the sandwich. And for some reason we're worth it. I don't know why, but we are.
I would love to know which piece of this big sandwich Mr Gibson feels that I represent :smile:
In another interview I found some more interesting comments:
Gibson was interviewed by the Herald Sun in Australia, and the reporter asked the star if Protestants are denied eternal salvation. “There is no salvation for those outside the Church,” Gibson replied. “I believe it.”
I guess I know where I’m going then – and this from someone who is quoted to have made ‘The Passion of Christ’ as a message of compassion!
On 2004-02-28 01:09, dragen wrote:
It felt like a fire and brimstone sermon that I unwittingly paid $30 for. Maybe Mel like Judas will repent for his actions and send me something in the mail… I can only hope.
I will pray for your money’s safe return. Amen!

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Post by Clemsy » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

BTW: Interesting article on the Gospel of Mary in today's NY Times. You have to register, but it's free. LINK

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Post by Siddha » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

OliveBranch, it's a good part of the sandwich to be in :wink:Every time I hear the whole "you will go to hell" threat I think of all the people I'd love to meet someday I haven't yet like Campbell, Gandhi, all the previous Lamas, Mohamed, etc.



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Post by Jeremy » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Hmmm, have we all seen the same movie? I know Dragen and I have. This was not a good film..............

As a theological statement: that Jesus suffered immensely for the sins of the world, the film serves its purpose. The problem is, it makes the crucifiction ONLY an historical event, where is the relevance to life today?

Manny, I grant your idea of the Bodhisattva, and that perhaps the ultimate teaching of the movie is compassion and forgiveness. But, it is the compassion and forgiveness of Jesus, and does not speak to how or why an individual should cultivate that within themselves for life today. The movie should speak to the relevancy of us all becoming compassionate, and I am not convinced it does this. Rather, it is concerned with one man who took who suffered for us all. And so I find myself today asking, that's nice, but who cares? Has anything changed, is the world a better place because he died for us.

No - Why?

Because we are too concerned with historicity rather than sigificant teachings.

Wouldn't it be absurd to make a film about the Buddha and merely focus on the events of his life and not his teachings?

Why not then with the life of Christ?

The movie focuses too much on an event and not the reason behind it.

I hardly think it takes any skill or genius to depict a man being severely beaten.

The movie to me seems typical of western thought, it is so worried about history that it forgets relevancy to life.

Jeremy





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Post by Siddha » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Here is a link to a related article on Slate. The first two paragraphs seem a bit much but the comments from the Reader's Digest inteview seem interesting if not troubling

http://slate.msn.com/id/2096323/

On the bright side Mel has sparked debate, which is always better than apathy. A debate that reminds me of the Scopes (sp?)trial that influenced Campbell's thinking. I think that in the end Mel will do for traditional Christianity what Bush is doing for Imperialist Capitalism.

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Post by Fin » Fri Feb 23, 2007 3:22 am

Jeremy, thats a good point. Actually, I don't think we have seen the same movie. The more I hear people talk about it, the more I see how I focused on different things than they did. The more people talk about it, the more things I didn't focus on as much while watching it stick out while other things become deemphasized in my memory. Another problem is all the things Mel Gibson, his critics, and various reviewers have said about the movie. I went on the first day because I didn't want to hear about it second-hand before I had seen it, thus viewing it in light of what others had said. So I saw it in my own way, with my own background, and mine was different from yours. The more I hear people talking about it, the more I can feel my memory of it become less what I actually experienced and more what they've talked about. So I take back some of my statements recomending this movie to American adults and other members here. I think my experience was different from what theirs will be.
I have other thoughts on this that I don't have time to write right now but will get to them later.
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