What’s popcorn in Aramaic? (Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion”)

March 09, 2004

CONTENTS

1. "What's popcorn in Aramaic?" (Guardian, March 1, 2004)
2. The Goriest Story Ever Told" (New York Post, February 24, 2004)
3. "Not Peace, but a Sword" (By William Safire, New York Times, March 1, 2004)
4. "An obscene portrayal of Christ's Passion" (Boston Globe, February 24, 2004)
5. "Nailed" (The New Yorker, March 1, 2004)


"THE JESUS CHAINSAW MASSACRE"

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach five articles about Mel Gibson film "The Passion", with summaries first for those who don't have time to read them in full.

The film made $117.5 million in its first five days, according to studio estimates.

It was the seventh-best three-day opening ever, behind "Spider-Man," "The Matrix Reloaded" two "Harry Potter" movies and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" and ahead of "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace."

It opens in Europe later this month - except in France, where movie distribution chains have jointly decided not to show it, fearful it will spark a new outbreak of anti-Semitic violence.

"Cruci-Fiction," says the New York Daily News.

"The Jesus chainsaw massacre," says Slate.

The notorious "blood libel" line - His blood be on us, and on our children - that Gibson removed in the English subtitles after making assurances that he would do so, has been secretly left in by Gibson in the Aramaic dialog, reveal Aramaic experts in the London Daily Telegraph.

Israel's Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, said, in relation to Gibson's film: "The Vatican and the Pope must explain today... that the Jewish nation, the Jewish people didn't kill Jesus."

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the head of The Simon Wiesenthal Center (and a subscriber to ths list), explains the added dangers in Gibson making this film at this time: "On the Internet as well as in print media around the world, the new demonization of Israelis as Nazi-like oppressors is fusing with the old libel of the Jews as "Christ killers." A cartoon in the Italian newspaper La Stampa depicted an Israeli tank rolling up to a manger with little baby Jesus staring up in horror and crying out, 'Do you want to kill me once more?'" [* Rabbi Hier is a subscriber to this email list.]

 

SUMMARIES

[Summaries below prepared by Tom Gross]

A GLOSSARY OF ARAMAIC

"What's popcorn in Aramaic? Its alleged anti-semitism isn't the only problem with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. There's also the small matter of it being in Aramaic. To help enrich your enjoyment, here is a handy glossary of useful terms."

(Compiled by Tim Dowling, The Guardian, London, March 1, 2004)

B-kheeruut re'yaaneyh laa kaaley tsuuraathaa khteepaathaa, ellaa Zaynaa Mqatlaanaa Trayaanaa laytaw!
It may be uncompromising in its liberal use of graphic violence, but Lethal Weapon II it ain't.

Da'ek teleyfoon methta'naanaak, pquud. Guudaapaw!
Please turn off your mobile phone. It is blasphemous.

Een, Yuudaayaa naa, ellaa b-haw yawmaa laa hweeth ba-mdeetaa.
Yes, I'm Jewish, but I wasn't there that day.

Demketh! Udamaa lemath mtaynan b-tash'eetha d-khashey?
I fell asleep! What station of the cross are we up to?

Ma'hed lee qalleel d-Khayey d-Breeyaan, ellaa dlaa gukhkaa.
It sort of reminds me of Life of Brian, but it's nowhere near as funny.

Feelmaa haanaa tpeelaw! Proo' lee ksef dmaa!
This film is terrible. I want my blood-money back.

Enaa mqatreg naa l-Ruumaayey.
I blame the Romans.

 

"SADISTIC"

"The Goriest Story Ever Told," (By Jonathan Foreman, Film Critic, New York Post, February 24, 2004).

[Jonathan Foreman is a longtime subscriber to this email list.]

"...it is overwrought, sadistic way beyond the point of overkill, and oddly, spiritually dry given its subject. But then, unlike the great Passions of the past, it is a product of a distinctly perverted sensibility... In "Passion," the relish for pain and bloody cruelty that has marked his career as both a director and an actor - a relish that would almost be sensual in the hands of a less vulgar artist - boils over into a full-blown fetish. The relentless whippings, beatings and scourgings (the latter is barely mentioned in the Gospels but takes up a whole reel of film) start early and then intensify, in slow-motion and close-up, with the impact of each blow amped up like in "Rocky."

"... Eventually, "Passion" becomes a kind of pornographic catalog of Christ's suffering... The message of Jesus' death is all but drowned in Gibson's morbid enthusiasm for shots of metal tearing flesh, as if Christ was crucified so that Gibson - along with his hard-working make-up and sound people - could indulge his obsession with torture.

"...More reprehensibly - and this is where Gibson does seem motivated by anti-Semitic prejudice - the inexplicably, bottomlessly malevolent Jewish priests and crowds who call for his death are portrayed almost to a man by stereotypically Jewish-looking actors with large hooked noses, while all the good characters are not, like Pilate and the sympathetic Roman soldier Abenader. There is also a creepy anti-Semitic edge in the scene in which Judas and the high priest appear to haggle over 13 pieces of silver... "Monty Python's Life of Brian" offers a more accurate guide..."

 

"THE AUDIENCE GASPED"

"Not Peace, but a Sword," (By William Safire, New York Times, March 1, 2004)

[William Safire is a longtime subscriber to this email list.]

"The word "passion" is rooted in the Latin for "suffer." Mel Gibson's movie about the torture and agony of the final hours of Jesus is the bloodiest, most brutal example of sustained sadism ever presented on the screen... What are the dramatic purposes of this depiction of cruelty and pain? First, shock; the audience I sat in gasped at the first tearing of flesh. Next, pity at the sight of prolonged suffering. And finally, outrage: who was responsible for this cruel humiliation? What villain deserves to be punished?

Not Pontius Pilate, the Roman in charge; he and his kindly wife are sympathetic characters. Nor is King Herod shown to be at fault. The villains at whom the audience's outrage is directed are the actors playing bloodthirsty rabbis and their rabid Jewish followers. This is the essence of the medieval "passion play," preserved in pre-Hitler Germany at Oberammergau, a source of the hatred of all Jews as "Christ killers."

Much of the hatred is based on a line in the Gospel of St. Matthew, after the Roman governor washes his hands of responsibility for ordering the death of Jesus, when the crowd cries, "His blood be on us, and on our children."

Though unreported in the Gospels of Mark, Luke or John, that line in Matthew - embraced with furious glee by anti-Semites through the ages - is right there in the New Testament. Gibson and his screenwriter didn't make it up, nor did they misrepresent the apostle's account of the Roman governor's queasiness at the injustice.

But biblical times are not these times... In 1965's historic Second Vatican Council, during the papacy of Paul VI, the church decided that while some Jewish leaders and their followers had pressed for the death of Jesus, "still, what happened in his passion cannot be charged against all Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today."

...However, a group of Catholics rejects that and other holdings of Vatican II. Mr. Gibson is reportedly aligned with that reactionary clique. (So is his father, an outspoken Holocaust-denier, but the son warns interviewers not to go there. I agree; the latest generation should not be held responsible for the sins of the fathers.)

In the skillful publicity run-up to the release of the movie, Gibson's agents said he agreed to remove that ancient self-curse from the screenplay. It's not in the subtitles I saw the other night, though it may still be in the Aramaic audio, in which case it will surely be translated in the versions overseas..."

 

"OBSCENE"

"An obscene portrayal of Christ's Passion," (By James Carroll, The Boston Globe, February 24, 2004)

"The Passion of The Christ" by Mel Gibson is an obscene movie. It will incite contempt for Jews. It is a blasphemous insult to the memory of Jesus Christ. It is an icon of religious violence. Like many others, I anticipated the Gibson film warily, especially because an uncritical rendition of problematic Gospel texts which unfairly blame "the Jews" for the death of Jesus threatened to resuscitate the old "Christ-killer" myth.

But seeing Gibson's film convinces me that it does far worse than that. His highly literal representation of the Passion narratives, his visual presentation of material that, in the tradition, is meant to be read and heard, together with his prejudiced selection of details and his invention of dialogue and incidents, cause one serious problem, very much at the expense of Jews.

But the impact of his perverse imagination on a sacred story, coming at a time when the world is newly riven with primal violence in the name of God, threatens an even more grievous problem. The subject of this film, despite its title, is not the Passion of the Christ, but the sick love of physical abuse, engaged in for power.

Jews as presented in this movie are overwhelmingly negative... It is a lie. It is sick. Jews have every reason to be offended by "The Passion of The Christ." Even more so, if possible, do Christians..."

 

"LOVE INTO HATE"

"Nailed," (By David Denby, The New Yorker, March 1, 2004).

"In The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson shows little interest in celebrating the electric charge of hope and redemption that Jesus Christ brought into the world. He largely ignores Jesus' heart-stopping eloquence, his startling ethical radicalism and personal radiance...

Gibson is so thoroughly fixated on the scourging and crushing of Christ, and so meagrely involved in the spiritual meanings of the final hours, that he falls in danger of altering Jesus' message of love into one of hate.

And against whom will the audience direct its hate? As Gibson was completing the film, some historians, theologians, and clergymen accused him of emphasizing the discredited charge that it was the ancient Jews who were primarily responsible for killing Jesus, a claim that has served as the traditional justification for the persecution of the Jews in Europe for nearly two millennia. The critics turn out to have been right. Gibson is guilty of some serious mischief in his handling of these issues. But he may have also committed an aggression against Christian believers. The movie has been hailed as a religious experience by various Catholic and Protestant groups, some of whom, with an ungodly eye to the commercial realities of film distribution, have prepurchased blocks of tickets or rented theatres to insure 'The Passion' a healthy opening weekend's business. But how, I wonder, will people become better Christians if they are filled with the guilt, anguish, or loathing that this movie may create in their souls?..."



FULL ARTICLES

WHAT'S POPCORN IN ARAMAIC?

What's popcorn in Aramaic?

Its alleged anti-semitism isn't the only problem with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. There's also the small matter of it being in Aramaic. To help enrich your enjoyment, here is a handy glossary of useful terms

Compiled by Tim Dowling
The Guardian
March 1, 2004

B-kheeruut re'yaaneyh laa kaaley tsuuraathaa khteepaathaa, ellaa Zaynaa Mqatlaanaa Trayaanaa laytaw!
It may be uncompromising in its liberal use of graphic violence, but Lethal Weapon II it ain't.

Da'ek teleyfoon methta'naanaak, pquud. Guudaapaw!
Please turn off your mobile phone. It is blasphemous.

Shbuuq shuukhaaraa deel. Man ethnaggad udamshaa?
Sorry I'm late. Have I missed any scourging?

Aykaa beyt tadkeetha? Zaadeq lee d-asheeg eeday men perdey devshaanaayey haaleyn!
Where is the loo? I need to wash my hands of this popcorn.

Een, Yuudaayaa naa, ellaa b-haw yawmaa laa hweeth ba-mdeetaa.
Yes, I'm Jewish, but I wasn't there that day.

Demketh! Udamaa lemath mtaynan b-tash'eetha d-khashey?
I fell asleep! What station of the cross are we up to?

Ma'hed lee qalleel d-Khayey d-Breeyaan, ellaa dlaa gukhkaa.
It sort of reminds me of Life of Brian, but it's nowhere near as funny.

Ktaabaa taab hwaa meneyh.
It's not as good as the book.

Puuee men Preeshey, puuee!
Boo, Pharisees! Boo!

Etheeth l-khubeh 'almeenaayaa d-Maaran Yeshu Msheekhaa, ella faasheth metool Moneeqaa Belluushee!
I came for the everlasting love of our Lord Jesus Christ, but I stayed for Monica Bellucci.

Aamar naa laak dlaa yaada' naa haw gavraa. B-aynaa feelmaa hwaa?
I tell you I do not know the man. What's he been in?

Feelmaa haanaa tpeelaw! Proo' lee ksef dmaa!
This film is terrible. I want my blood-money back.

D-tetbuun deyn men yameen u-men semaal, la hwaat deel l-metal, ellaa l-ayleyn da-mtaybaa.
To sit at my right or my left is not for me to grant; it is for those to whom it has already been assigned.

Saabar naa da-mhaymen beh, ellaa la haymneth b-haw meemsaa d-beh.
I suppose I believe in Him, but I didn't believe him in it.

Saggee shapeer! Laa tsaabey naa d-esakkey l-mapaqtaa trayaanaaytaa.
Brilliant! I can't wait for the sequel (second coming).

Eeth lee 'ayney, ellaa layt lee d-ekhzey la-kteebaataa takhtaayaataa. Neqruuv leh?
I have eyes but I cannot see the subtitles. Can we sit closer?

Ayleyn enuun Oorqey?
Which ones are the Orcs?

Laa, haw Shem'uun Qooreenaayaa eethaw! Ezdar!
No, that's Simon of Cyrene! Pay attention!

Waay! Haw 'aalmeenaayaa hwaa!
Well, that was eternal.

Lebba deel daaleq, ellaa teezaa deel daamek.
My heart is on fire, but my bum is asleep.

Enaa mqatreg naa l-Ruumaayey.
I blame the Romans.

Tev attuun men qdaamaa!
Down in front!

B-zabnaa d-qeenduunos, tayyeb lkuun uurkhaa d-mapaqtaa.
In case of emergency, prepare ye the way of the exit.

Laa baakey naa-eeth gelaa b-'ayna deel.
I'm not crying; I've just got a mote in my eye.

Spreet mets'aayaa deelaak huu. [Or, if addressed to a woman, Spreet mets'aayaa deelek huu!]
Thine is the medium Sprite.

Peletaa kuullaah da-Qraabay Kawkbey.
It's all an allegory of Star Wars.

Shluukh kleelaa d-kuubayk, pquud. Laa meshkakh naa d-ekhzey l-ketaan tsuur-aathaa.
Could you take off your crown of thorns, please? I can't see the screen.

Baseem, ellaa saabar naa d-etstebeeth yateer b-Lebeh d-Gabaaraa!
Not bad, but I think I preferred Braveheart.

 

THE GORIEST STORY EVER TOLD

The Goriest Story Ever Told
By Jonathan Foreman
New York Post
February 24, 2004

Many of mankind's most beautiful and ennobling artistic achievements depict or were inspired by the crucifixion. Mel Gibson's "Passion," though well-acted, technically impressive and initially moving, is for the most part not beautiful and certainly not ennobling.

Indeed, it is overwrought, sadistic way beyond the point of overkill, and oddly, spiritually dry given its subject. But then, unlike the great Passions of the past, it is a product of a distinctly perverted sensibility.

In Gibson's crudely effective, blood-soaked epic "Braveheart," there was little compassion or feeling - but a great deal of savage brutality culminating in one of the torture scenes that Gibson has relished as an actor.

In "Passion," the relish for pain and bloody cruelty that has marked his career as both a director and an actor - a relish that would almost be sensual in the hands of a less vulgar artist - boils over into a full-blown fetish.

The relentless whippings, beatings and scourgings (the latter is barely mentioned in the Gospels but takes up a whole reel of film) start early and then intensify, in slow-motion and close-up, with the impact of each blow amped up like in "Rocky."

Eventually, "Passion" becomes a kind of pornographic catalog of Christ's suffering. And like pornography, it's initially powerful but eventually becomes numbing.

This would matter less if there was much else in the film besides blows and slashes accompanied by gasps of pain and ribbons of blood. (The procession to Calvary is a kind of orgy of savagery.)

What distinguishes the film from the long tradition of gruesome martyrology in religious art is its lack of any sense of the meaning or reason for Christ's sacrifice.

The message of Jesus' death is all but drowned in Gibson's morbid enthusiasm for shots of metal tearing flesh, as if Christ was crucified so that Gibson - along with his hard-working make-up and sound people - could indulge his obsession with torture.

The narrative begins in the Garden of Gethsemane (which looks like a German forest) with the arrest of Jesus (Jim Caviezel) and some of the disciples hiding out from the Temple authorities and ends with the Resurrection. (The arrest takes place after a brutal fight that uses so much slow motion and so many heavily amplified blows that it feels like you're watching a Hong Kong action movie.)

Some episodes from before then are shown in flashback, including moments from the Last Supper.

Though I'm not a Christian, I could see why many would find "Passion" moving if -and it's a big if - they could get past the gratuitous violence. Nor do I believe it will provoke pogroms, if only because the film is probably too slow to work as rabble-rousing propaganda, whatever the intentions of its maker.

Gibson's "Passion" generally sticks to the Gospels in the details of its narrative but, like the medieval Passion Plays it resembles, it cherry-picks among them so as to make the Jewish (as opposed to the Roman) role in Christ's death as dark as possible.

This is mostly a matter of little details: For instance, Barabbas, the criminal who is set free by thoughtful Roman governor Pontius Pilate (Hristo Naumov Shopov) in place of Jesus, is depicted here as a crazed one-eyed murderer rather than a mere thief or bandit.

More reprehensibly - and this is where Gibson does seem motivated by anti-Semitic prejudice - the inexplicably, bottomlessly malevolent Jewish priests and crowds who call for his death are portrayed almost to a man by stereotypically Jewish-looking actors with large hooked noses, while all the good characters are not, like Pilate and the sympathetic Roman soldier Abenader (Fabior Sartor).

There is also a creepy anti-Semitic edge in the scene in which Judas and the high priest appear to haggle over 13 pieces of silver.

There are some decent Jews scattered about - one of the priests protests against Jesus' railroading and women in the crowd weep when he passes them - but several Romans, including some of the soldiers who brutalize Jesus, are shown as being moved by his suffering in way that isn't true of the Jews.

After Jesus' second or third brutalizing, the film seems to suggest not just that goodness corresponds with good looks, and badness with ugliness, but that you can tell what lurks in people's hearts by their teeth.

All the really horrible people in the film are snaggletoothed, while all the good people - Jesus, the apostles, Pilate and his wife - are blessed with a full set of pearly whites.

For a film that is so clearly intended to be true to the period (hence the dialogue in Aramaic and Latin) there are weird, wrong details, like the bread at the Last Supper which looks like an Italian loaf, not unleavened "matzoh" as it would have been.

And for a sense of the real power relations between Romans and Jews, this "Passion" gives the high priests and a small crowd of people in Jerusalem much more influence on their Roman overlords like Pilate (in real life a brutal tyrant) than they could possibly have exercised.

"Monty Python's Life of Brian" offers a more accurate guide. The film also feels strangely cramped. This is partly a result of the relentless close-ups of a fantastically bloodied Jesus and his agonized disciples and partly because the crowds and locations are surprisingly small.

During the film's few quiet moments, Caviezel, a handsome actor (best-known for his role in "The Thin Red Line"), suggests spiritual power as well as any actor who has played Jesus on the big screen, but he spends most of his screen time in almost mute agony.

 

NOT PEACE, BUT A SWORD

Not Peace, but a Sword
By William Safire
New York Times
March 1, 2004

The word "passion" is rooted in the Latin for "suffer." Mel Gibson's movie about the torture and agony of the final hours of Jesus is the bloodiest, most brutal example of sustained sadism ever presented on the screen.

Because the director's wallowing in gore finds an excuse in a religious purpose - to show how horribly Jesus suffered for humanity's sins - the bar against film violence has been radically lowered. Movie mayhem, long resisted by parents, has found its loophole; others in Hollywood will now find ways to top Gibson's blockbuster, to cater to voyeurs of violence and thereby to make bloodshed banal.

What are the dramatic purposes of this depiction of cruelty and pain? First, shock; the audience I sat in gasped at the first tearing of flesh. Next, pity at the sight of prolonged suffering. And finally, outrage: who was responsible for this cruel humiliation? What villain deserves to be punished?

Not Pontius Pilate, the Roman in charge; he and his kindly wife are sympathetic characters. Nor is King Herod shown to be at fault.

The villains at whom the audience's outrage is directed are the actors playing bloodthirsty rabbis and their rabid Jewish followers. This is the essence of the medieval "passion play," preserved in pre-Hitler Germany at Oberammergau, a source of the hatred of all Jews as "Christ killers."

Much of the hatred is based on a line in the Gospel of St. Matthew, after the Roman governor washes his hands of responsibility for ordering the death of Jesus, when the crowd cries, "His blood be on us, and on our children."

Though unreported in the Gospels of Mark, Luke or John, that line in Matthew - embraced with furious glee by anti-Semites through the ages - is right there in the New Testament. Gibson and his screenwriter didn't make it up, nor did they misrepresent the apostle's account of the Roman governor's queasiness at the injustice.

But biblical times are not these times. This inflammatory line in Matthew - and the millenniums of persecution, scapegoating and ultimately mass murder that flowed partly from its malign repetition - was finally addressed by the Catholic Church in the decades after the defeat of Naziism.

In 1965's historic Second Vatican Council, during the papacy of Paul VI, the church decided that while some Jewish leaders and their followers had pressed for the death of Jesus, "still, what happened in his passion cannot be charged against all Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today."

That was a sea change in the doctrinal interpretation of the Gospels, and the beginning of major interfaith progress.

However, a group of Catholics rejects that and other holdings of Vatican II. Mr. Gibson is reportedly aligned with that reactionary clique. (So is his father, an outspoken Holocaust-denier, but the son warns interviewers not to go there. I agree; the latest generation should not be held responsible for the sins of the fathers.)

In the skillful publicity run-up to the release of the movie, Gibson's agents said he agreed to remove that ancient self-curse from the screenplay. It's not in the subtitles I saw the other night, though it may still be in the Aramaic audio, in which case it will surely be translated in the versions overseas.

And there's the rub. At a moment when a wave of anti-Semitic violence is sweeping Europe and the Middle East, is religion well served by updating the Jew-baiting passion plays of Oberammergau on DVD? Is art served by presenting the ancient divisiveness in blood-streaming media to the widest audiences in the history of drama?

Matthew in 10:34 quotes Jesus uncharacteristically telling his apostles: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." You don't see that on Christmas cards and it's not in this film, but those words can be reinterpreted - read today to mean that inner peace comes only after moral struggle.

The richness of Scripture is in its openness to interpretation answering humanity's current spiritual needs. That's where Gibson's medieval version of the suffering of Jesus, reveling in savagery to provoke outrage and cast blame, fails Christian and Jew today.

 

AN OBSCENE PORTRAYAL OF CHRIST'S PASSION

An obscene portrayal of Christ's Passion
By James Carroll
Boston Globe
February 24, 2004

"The Passion of The Christ" by Mel Gibson is an obscene movie. It will incite contempt for Jews. It is a blasphemous insult to the memory of Jesus Christ. It is an icon of religious violence. Like many others, I anticipated the Gibson film warily, especially because an uncritical rendition of problematic Gospel texts which unfairly blame "the Jews" for the death of Jesus threatened to resuscitate the old "Christ-killer" myth.

But seeing Gibson's film convinces me that it does far worse than that. His highly literal representation of the Passion narratives, his visual presentation of material that, in the tradition, is meant to be read and heard, together with his prejudiced selection of details and his invention of dialogue and incidents, cause one serious problem, very much at the expense of Jews.

But the impact of his perverse imagination on a sacred story, coming at a time when the world is newly riven with primal violence in the name of God, threatens an even more grievous problem. The subject of this film, despite its title, is not the Passion of the Christ, but the sick love of physical abuse, engaged in for power.

Jews as presented in this movie are overwhelmingly negative. Roman soldiers brutally execute Jesus, but Pontius Pilate is a good man, who stands in dramatic contrast to Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest. Going well beyond anything in the Gospels, Gibson's film emphasizes Roman virtue and Jewish venality by inventions like these:

Pilate's wife Claudia is an actual heroine, who aligns herself with Mary. Mary, terrified for her son, appeals to benign Romans against the hostile Jewish crowd.

Claudia is the woman behind the Romans. Her dramatic counterpart, the woman behind the Jews, is none other than a female Satan.

Pilate kindly offers Jesus a cup of water. Pilate orders Jesus flogged, but only to satisfy the Jewish bloodthirst.

The Jews are expressly indicted by the Good Thief, who, after the crucified Jesus says, "Father, forgive them... ," tells Caiaphas that "He prays for you."

Jews are indicted by Jesus, who consoles Pilate by telling him, "It is he who has delivered me to you who has the greater sin."

The centerpiece of the film is a long sequence constructed around the flogging of Jesus. It is the most brutal film episode I have ever seen, approaching the pornographic. Just when the viewer thinks the flaying of the skin of Jesus can get no crueler, it does. Blood, flesh, bone, teeth, eyes, eye sockets, ribs, limbs -- the man is skinned alive, taken apart. In these endless moments, with the torturers escalating instruments and vehemence both, the film puts Gibson's decadent "Braveheart" imagination on full display.

On screen and in the theater, there is nothing to do but look away. Long after the filmgoer has had enough, even the Romans stop. And here is the anti-Semitic use to which this grotesque scene is put: Then Jesus is returned to the crowd of "the Jews," and then, as if they are indifferent to what the filmgoer has just been physically revolted by, "the Jews" demand the crucifixion of Jesus.

Not even the most savage carnage a filmgoer has ever seen is enough for these monsters. The scene, with the Jewish crowd overriding tender-hearted Pilate, is the most lethal in the Scriptures, but in Gibson's twist, "The Jews" are made to seem more evil than ever.

There is no resurrection in this film. A stone is rolled back, a zombie-Jesus is seen in profile for a second or two, and that's it. But there is a reason for this. In Gibson's theology, the resurrection has been rendered unnecessary by the infinite capacity of Jesus to withstand pain. Not the Risen Jesus, but the Survivor Jesus. Gibson's violence fantasies, as ingenious as perverse, are, at bottom, a fantasy of infinite male toughness.

The inflicting of suffering is the action of the film, and the dramatic question is: How much pain can Jesus take? The religious miracle of this Passion is that he can take it all. Jesus Christ Superstoic. His wondrous capacity to suffer is what converts bystander soldiers, and it is what saves the world.

In an act of perverse editing, Gibson has Jesus say, "I make all things new" as his torment approaches climax, as if cruel mayhem brings renewal. When Jesus cries out near the end, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" the film conveys not his despair, but his numb gratification. There's the film's inadvertent reversal, the crucifixion as a triumph of sadomasochistic exploitation. That triumph seems to be what Gibson's Jesus salutes when he says finally, "It is accomplished."

It is a lie. It is sick. Jews have every reason to be offended by "The Passion of The Christ." Even more so, if possible, do Christians.

 

NAILED

Nailed
By David Denby
The New Yorker
Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.
March 1, 2004

In "The Passion of the Christ", Mel Gibson shows little interest in celebrating the electric charge of hope and redemption that Jesus Christ brought into the world. He largely ignores Jesus' heart-stopping eloquence, his startling ethical radicalism and personal radiance

And against whom will the audience direct its hate? As Gibson was completing the film, some historians, theologians, and clergymen accused him of emphasizing the discredited charge that it was the ancient Jews who were primarily responsible for killing Jesus, a claim that has served as the traditional justification for the persecution of the Jews in Europe for nearly two millennia. The critics turn out to have been right. Gibson is guilty of some serious mischief in his handling of these issues. But he may have also committed an aggression against Christian believers. The movie has been hailed as a religious experience by various Catholic and Protestant groups, some of whom, with an ungodly eye to the commercial realities of film distribution, have prepurchased blocks of tickets or rented theatres to insure "The Passion" a healthy opening weekend's business. But how, I wonder, will people become better Christians if they are filled with the guilt, anguish, or loathing that this movie may create in their souls?

"The Passion" opens at night in the Garden of Gethsemane Gibson and his screenwriter, Benedict Fitzgerald, selected and enhanced incidents from the four Gospels and collated them into a single, surpassingly violent narrative I realize that the mere mention of historical research could exacerbate the awkward breach between medieval and modern minds, between literalist belief and the weighing of empirical evidence. "John was an eyewitness," Gibson has said. "Matthew was there." Well, they may have been there, but for decades itıs been a commonplace of Biblical scholarship that the Gospels were written forty to seventy years after the death of Jesus, and not by the disciples but by nameless Christians using both written and oral sources. Gibson can brush aside the work of scholars and historians because he has a powerful weapon at hand

By contrast with the dispatching of Judas, the lashing and flaying of Jesus goes on forever, prolonged by Gibson's punishing use of slow motion, sometimes with Jesus' face in the foreground, so that we can see him writhe and howl. In the climb up to Calvary, Caviezel, one eye swollen shut, his mouth open in agony, collapses repeatedly in slow motion under the weight of the Cross. Then comes the Crucifixion itself, dramatized with a curious fixation on the technical details.

Mel Gibson is an extremely conservative Catholic who rejects the reforms of the Second Vatican council. He's against complacent, feel-good Christianity, and, judging from his movie, he must despise the grandiose old Hollywood kitsch of "The Robe," "The King of Kings," "The Greatest Story Ever Told," and "Ben-Hur," with their Hallmark twinkling skies, their big stars treading across sacred California sands, and their lamblike Jesus, whose simple presence overwhelms Charlton Heston. But saying that Gibson is sincere doesn't mean he isn't foolish, or worse. He can rightly claim that there's a strain of morbidity running through Christian iconography

What is most depressing about "The Passion" is the thought that people will take their children to see it. Jesus said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me," not "Let the little children watch me suffer." How will parents deal with the pain, terror, and anger that children will doubtless feel as they watch a man flayed and pierced until dead? The despair of the movie is hard to shrug off, and Gibson's timing couldn't be more unfortunate: another dose of death-haunted religious fanaticism is the last thing we need.


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.