Monday, January 31, 2005

PASSION OF THE PASSION

Since the Academy Award nominations were announced last week, there has been a wee controversy surrounding the supposed "snubbing" of Mel Gibson's film, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. I feel like adding my own humble comments to the fray given that I am both an avid film-goer and a devout Christian (although, I lean WAAAAAAAY far to the left of many of my fellow Christian brothers and sisters).

First, PASSION is undeniably an important film. Whether you share Mel's religious world view or not (I, as it happens, do not), it's hard to argue otherwise. PASSION was one of the most talked about, studied, debated and argued over films in the last decade. Religous leaders were encouraging congregants to attend this film en masse even as others, including Jewish activists, denounced it as anti-Semetic and gratuitously violent. Up to and well after its theatrical release, PASSION was a hot topic of discussion and debate.

I, myself, have mixed feelings about the film. I don't know how best to view this film--through whose eyes? As an artist and someone who appreciates good film? As a Christian?

As an artist, I think that THE PASSION is a beautifully rendered, however flawed film. Technically, the film is masterful. The beautiful cinematography by Caleb Dechanel in particular stands out. Somehow, even the most brutally violent scenes in the film retain an almost sublime beauty as John Debney's haunting score wails in the background. The performances are great--and not just for the actors adeptness in delivering lines in Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew. Jim Caveziel's performance, though buried under prosthetics and, in the last half of the film, enormous amounts of gore, is still appropriately nuanced. There are no Charlton Heston moments of oratory--nor are there saccharine moments of doe-eyed adoration. His performance is, in a word, human. The story however dwells far too long on the graphic and brutal. There is little attention given to Christ's work and ministry. I sometimes wondered how people who had no biblical understanding or background would feel watching this film. Without the context of Christ's works, his suffering is simply suffering. The audience is left to wonder what exactly it is we are gathered to watch. By the time the film reaches it's brutal crescendo, the viewers are rendered numb and with a burning desire that it just end already. The compassion and sadness that we as an audience are supposed to feel upon Christ's march to Calvary is strikingly absent--which is unfortunate since we have already invested over an hour and forty minutes in this journey. By film's end, I am more troubled than I am uplifted...

Which brings me to my take on the film as a Christian. The film is, to my best knowledge, a pretty faithful interpretation of the Gospels. Christ's final moments are, for everyone to see, terrible and beyond the pale of human suffering. I am a Protestant (United Methodist), a denomination which chooses to de-emphasize the gory truth of Christ's suffering and death and, instead, focus on the Resurrection and Christ's ultimate promise of everlasting life. Mel Gibson is a Catholic, in fact an adherent to a particularly devout branch of Catholocism which entirely embraces Christ's suffering as an essential component of religous observance. Personally, I believe that Christ's suffering and death are important, yes, but only within the context of his works and ministry--especially in his fight for social justice on behalf of the poor and the cast aside. I found little of that in this film. For me, to separate Jesus from his works and simply focus on his torture and death is to separate him from his divinity-- to separate him from the good news that his ultimate resurrection brings.

It's tough to be sure. I still don't know where I stand or what I think... I do know that there is no way I'll ever be able to sit through that film again...

I realize that I have not yet addressed the question as to whether or not the film deserves more attention from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I don't know... I don't think it's up there with MILLION DOLLAR BABY or SIDEWAYS... We'll see...

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I totally agree! Cate

JudyPahTooty said...

I don't believe that Passion will be a film that is watched again and again by movie goers who want to delve into every nuance of it's meaning.

Compared to a movie like Schindler's List (another decade perhaps), Boys Don't Cry or even Michael Moores documentary Farenheit 911, it pales as a film. Not because the events were not important, but cinematically Gibson focused on the impact the physical depiction played on the viewer and not enough on the psychic element of engagement that a truly great movie requires.

I think he went for the "shoot 'em up" film watchers, perhaps consciously. It certainly came at a political time that required rallying the Christian right.

I found the film to be monotomously gruesome period. Gibson may have touched the Christian right but he missed making a film that told his story from a point-of-view that cinematically engaged this avid film watcher.

Lost in trance... said...

Sorry, bur werz the comparison between PASSION and Sideways??!!