27 June 2006

The Passion Of The Christ

The Passion Of The Christ
Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ is, according to a recent Entertainment Weekly article, the most controversial film of all time. Roger Ebert has written: "the film is the most violent I have ever seen. It will probably be the most violent you have ever seen." Well, speak for yourself, Roger. The violence is protracted and excruciating, though superlatives are inappropriate.

The film, essentially a passion play, concentrates solely on the final twelve hours of Jesus's life, beginning with his arrest. Christ's near-fatal scourging, his arduous walk along the stations of the cross, and his crucifixion, are all unflinchingly documented. If Jesus did suffer and die for us, these events should certainly be presented unsanitised. A similar representation can be found in Matthias Grunewald's altarpiece The Crucifixion, depicting an emaciated, almost gangrenous Christ. The message, then, is that Christ suffered. However, there seems to be no other message besides this.

Jewish groups accused the film of anti-Semitism, claiming that Jews are portrayed in the film as a baying mob calling for Christ's death and then accepting moral responsibility for it. In fact, though it does occasionally deviate from the New Testament, the narrative is largely traditional. Pontius Pilate is presented as a rather weak leader, sympathetic to Jesus, with Herod depicted as effete and similarly sympathetic. The true villain is Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, who personally demands Jesus's death.

When the Jews bay for Christ's blood, they are merely following Caiaphas's instigations. Thus, the film - like Monty Python's hilarious Life Of Brian - can be seen as a comment on the dearth of independent thought amongst crowds. (Life Of Brian takes this much further, of course, and criticises the unquestioning worship of organised religion itself.)