Sunday, April 12, 2009

Thoughts on a Passionate Subject

Hard to believe this thing came out five years ago. Here are some thoughts, written at the time, that still come to mind when this movie comes up:

Is The Passion of the Christ a complete telling of a long sanitized story, or is it Grand Guignol baptized into the church?

No doubt about it, there is a lot of good to be said of this movie. It is very well made, well acted, and well promoted. We are not used to the movie industry presenting anything friendly to Christianity with such quality. For that reason alone one wished for the success of this movie in the hopes that more would come. In addition to the business success, there is also the hope that this movie will begin discussions about religion that will lead people to faith in Christ. Of course for that to happen, we will need to be willing to fill in the gaps for those who watch this movie and come away with the questions. Why did this happen? How should I respond to what I have seen?

However, in all the hype and praise and urging from Christian leaders across the country and the world for people to watch this movie, this thinking Christian begs for an opportunity to raise a few questions and hopefully start some dialogue.

It is said that this story has never been told cinematically the way it should. Is that so? What are the important issues involved in the crucifixion of Christ? The “Why?” and the “What did it accomplished for mankind?” are certainly important and have been addressed. Sure, the portrayal may not be exciting in most of the other movies about this event, but those issues are addressed. What about the details of what occurred to Christ during the crucifixion? The Bible certainly mentions all the horrors, but it does not go into detail. Fully one verse out of 334 speak of the flogging of Jesus. This movie devotes a huge portion to it. It delves into each and every lash of the whip, each blow of the hammer. Don’t get me wrong. I am emotional about what Christ did for me. It doesn’t take a movie. Every time I give serious thought to what Christ went through I get emotional. In fact, I think in some ways this movie used gore in such a way that it distracted me from the important issues.

With the gore in mind I was amazed at the amount of Christians, many of whom had never seen an R rated movie in their lives, that were alright with this film, even after seeing it. I am not one to shun a movie based on the rating. I think some degree of things that make a movie R rated are necessary to tell some stories. I have seen many highly violent films such as Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. I have even seen movies not quite so edifying and decidedly violent. The Passion of the Christ is among the most violent movies I have ever seen. With that in mind I raise the question, do Christians now cease to let a secular organization decide what they will see and start deciding for themselves? Or do we only make exceptions to the R rule when our Christian speakers and personalities tell us it is all right?

How does this movie affect our interpretation of the Salvation event from here on out? I will never again see the Gospel story in the same light. I have always disliked the way any movie version of the story influences the way I imagine Christ. Even as a child I disliked the many portraits of Jesus, because I knew they were not really Him. This movie not only gives me a new picture of Jesus, it has given me mental images of the gore involved in His death. I already had a real, informed, gruesome understanding of what Christ had gone through, now I have the Technicolor images of it. For some this may be a new eye-opener concerning what Jesus went through. For others, especially non-Christians, it may translate into mere morbid fascination.

As an Evangelical Christian that grew up around Catholics I saw a lot of their understanding in this film. I think evangelicals need to be informed about the catholic view, but I hope we are not informed by it. Mary is important, and we do not give her her due often enough. This movie does. It also shows us how it is much easier to identify with her than Christ. After all, she is human, He is divine and human. This is the reason I have been given by countless Catholics as to why they pray to her and venerate her. It is said she can identify with us better than Christ. While I think we can perhaps identify with her more than Christ, it doesn’t work in reverse. I will not even approach here the coredemptrix possibilities found in the movie.

As a Christian, I saw that the movie tried to show us that Christ was dying for the very people who were killing Him, not just the ones present, but also every sinner that ever lived and deserves the death He endured. I am not sure however, that those non-Christians unfamiliar with the message will grasp that point. There is an intense feeling of hatred the viewer feels for the High Priest, the Jewish leaders, and some of the Roman guards in the film. While I was reminded of my own guilt through them, I don’t think all viewers will be.

My final two thoughts are just personal problems really. Why were the additions to the Gospel story found in this picture? (Presumably from the meditations of Emmerich or other source material.) . I found them to be a distraction. And finally, what happened to the resurrection? With all the effort and planning that went into the gore, don’t tell me that those sixty-one seconds of resurrection were not a tacked on addition after the fact. In a day of three-hour movies, an opportunity was missed in not showing another thirty minutes of well-planned scenes of the resurrection and the witnessings of Christ afterward. Sunday is the necessary addition to Friday for a complete story and this movie missed the mark in that regard. Unfortunately, I am not holding my breath that they will be making The Resurrection of the Christ any time soon.

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