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The Gore of the Christ

Mel Gibson's 'Passion' makes for an entertaining, gory action film, but that's it

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I guess like most people who just saw Passion of the Christ, the first thing I thought as I left the theater was, "Wow, those Roman dudes really beat the snot out of that hippie! They must have hated that freaking hippie!"

Also, I guess I wondered why the hell the were beating up the hippie, and what the hippie's deal was. See, there's no context to Passion: just straight-up flesh-ripping violence porn. If you want to see a naked guy get whipped, flogged and nailed, and you live in a community with limited access to gay leather magazines, then this is really the movie for you.

It starts with Yoshua (in the subtitles they call him "Jesus," but he's supposed to be Jewish, not Puerto Rican, so the dialogue has him as "Yoshua") having a bad trip in the garden of his rich friend Gethsemane. Then-- and this is what makes the movie fun--Satan shows up.

Satan has gotta be everyone's favorite literary character. He rocks ... just ask everyone he's worked with, like Jimmy Page or Rob Halford or the RNC. So Satan shows up in the garden, and a snake crawls out of his pants. Seriously. And then Yoshua steps on the snake's head, setting up the generally queer thematics of the film.

Though, to be fair, Satan is played by a chick. But she's all made up to look like a dude, so I think she's supposed to be a dude. Anyway, she, or he, or maybe He, keeps showing up on the outskirts of the action, doing creepy things like cradling a midget in his/her/His arms. Because midgets are scary.

Or at least writer/director Mel Gibson must think so, because in another scene, Judas gets attacked by evil midgets. Why? I don't know. I guess it was cheaper than hiring actual demons.

Other than the cheap-ass "midgets as symbols of evil" bit, though, the special effects in this film are superb. When the Romans start whipping Yoshua with flesh-gouging, metal-tipped whips, you really see the flesh fly and the gouges appear. It couldn't look more real. It's incredibly disgusting, and if you have trouble sitting through, say, a Quentin Tarantino film or a KGB interrogation, then I wouldn't recommend you see Passion. But if you go for that sort of thing, well, this is your one chance to see it while pretending that you're engaging in piety.

On the other hand, it's gonna have to be pretend piety, because this is the most a-religious Christ movie ever. There's one line snipped from the Sermon on the Mount, two sentences from the last supper, and that's about it for the preaching of Jesus. There's no character development, no background and almost nothing from JC's words. Just lots and lots of beatings. Unless you already know who Jesus is, and have already decided to root for him, there's not gonna be much drama in this film, because the movie itself provides little reason to sympathize with the main character, other than the fact that he's getting his ass kicked for about an hour.

Of course, it's by Mel Gibson, who's basically known for making low-brow violence fests, so I guess it's no surprise, but this was advertised as a piece of Christian cinema, which it ain't.

It also isn't the anti-Semitic screed people had warned about. It's really no more anti-Semitic than the Gospels, and, in fact, it's considerably less anti-Semitic than the Gospel of John.

Actually, it's the Roman soldiers who come off as the most evil. The Jewish residents of Jerusalem are not univocal in their attitudes toward Jesus, and it's not like there's some homogenous group called "the Jews" who pick on him. The Italians, on the other hand, all seem like total bastards who really love torturing naked guys. So why aren't Italians all up in arms about how anti-Italic this movie is? As an Italian, I'd like to think that it's because Italians are the one ethnic group who thinks that being a hyper-sensitive whiner is lame. Then again, it's probably because most Italians are Christians, so they just plainly support this pro-Jesus stuff. Oh well.

So I don't quite get the controversy. We know Jesus gets offed, and considering the population of Jerusalem in 30 A.D., the choices for who offed him are (a) Jews or (b) Romans. In this film, the guilt goes both ways, though the Romans seem much nastier and less human about it.

Plus, pretty much every previous Jesus movie told the same story, wherein the Pharisees call for the death of Jesus. It's even this way in total hippie love-fest Jesus Christ Superstar. Why Mel's movie took a hit for this is an open question.

Of course, it's entirely likely that Mel's father's hardcore, vocal anti-Semitism has something to do with it. Mel himself has not been entirely clear on what his own attitude about this is, but he has refused to denounce his father's position, and when asked if he believed the Holocaust happened, he waffled quite a bit, not denying it, but holding back on how much of the standard story he believed.

So maybe Gibson's an anti-Semite. Who knows. But the film, not so much. On the other hand, it is sort of a pointless gore fest, and by the end, Jesus looks like Drippy McBloodspurt. Not a pretty sight, and I wouldn't take the kids.

In terms of aesthetics, the directing is cheesy, but competent. There's too much manipulative music during dramatic moments, and too much recourse to sudden slow-mo to emphasize a point, but I guess it's not supposed to be an art film. In fact, it comes off as an action film, and on that count, it's about as entertaining as any other film in the genre, and about as deep.

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