Friday, June 16, 2006

The Passion of the Christ

Ok, I finally saw this movie. I don't get it.

Don't get me wrong. It was well made, well acted, and surprisingly easy to follow for a movie in subtitles. But I didn't find it all that entertaining, as the plot is basically Jesus getting turned into the authorities after the Last Supper and then him being beat for the next hour and a half until he dies on the cross. The point of the movie seems to be nothing more than to graphically show that Jesus took a lot of abuse before he died.

I consulted Ebert to see what he thought.

The movie is 126 minutes long, and I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned specifically and graphically with the details of the torture and death of Jesus. This is the most violent film I have ever seen.

I prefer to evaluate a film on the basis of what it intends to do, not on what I think it should have done. It is clear that Mel Gibson wanted to make graphic and inescapable the price that Jesus paid (as Christians believe) when he died for our sins.
Yep.

The point Gibson seems to be making is that "this is what Jesus went through for you." If I set aside my skepticism that Jesus existed (that's a story for another post) and except the story on its face then where does it stand? It stands as a tale of an individual who suffered an unfair injustice for the sake of others. That's admirable, but it's not exceptionable. And besides, the emphasis in the movie is not the sacrifice, but the suffering. To see what I'm futilely trying to express, imagine if someone made a movie about a Jewish father who sacrificed himself to the Nazis so that his daughter might escape and spent 90% of the movie showing the father being tortured to death. The emphasis is in the wrong place.

The one part of the movie that I did find somewhat moving was when Jesus prayed that his tormentors be forgiven because "they know not what they do." But here Jesus is at odds with his belief/endorsement of the idea that unless one believes in him one will spend eternity in Hell.

I just fail to see the spiritual message. I find something like Jean Valjean's death at the end of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables do be far more spiritual, not to mention humanistic.

But let me provide a more religious specific example, an episode of Little House on the Prarie guest starring Johhny Cash. In the episode, Reverend Alden becomes sick while traveling and has to stop at a poor man's house to recover. The house is owned by Johhny Cash's character and his wife (played by June Cash). The Rev. tells them that he is on his way back to Walnut Grove to collect donations to take to another town, but he is so sick that he passes into delerium.

Johhny Cash hatches a plot to take the Rev's clothes and go to Walnut Grove to pose as the Rev's colleague and collect the donations to take to the other town. Once he gets the donations, he plans to steal them.

In the process of posing as a Reverend, Cash is forced to peform the duties of a Reverend. He befriends Mary Ingles, comforts an old widow who has lost the will to live, and councils a young girl whose puppy has just died. Along the way, the kindness of the town, the realization that he finds joy in helping others, and the guilt he feels over the thought of betraying Mary Ingles trust causes him to develop a conscience which won't allow him to pull the trigger on the theft.

At the end, Cash is standing before the town's gathered congregation when Reverend Alden, fully recovered and fully briefed by Cash's remorseful wife about their plan, storms in and announces he has something to say. Cash is afraid the reverend is going to denounce him as a thief, yet he doesn't. He praises him for his efforts to raise the money and for his work in the town.

Cash and his wife leave the town feeling happier than they've ever felt in their life.

That is a message worth emphasizing, and it doesn't require watching someone being beat to death to get it across.

10 comments:

"the Dog" said...

Your inability to "get" and understand the Passion of the Christ is because, as most of your post reveals, you know very little about Jesus or christianity in general. It is therefore no surprise that you don't get the movie.

There have been 100's of movies about the sacrifice, Jesus' preaching, the sermon on the mount, etc., but almost none (none in my personal experience) that depict the reality of the physical punishment and suffering that is integral to the act of the sacrifice. That's why Gibson's Passion touched such a chord in the hearts of believers because it drew the believers into the emotion and suffering that was the Passion and sacrifice. It attempts to give the viewer greater empathy and awareness of the suffering in a manner that can't be conveyed by a few descriptive sentences or a final death scene on the cross.


On separate points:

Jesus, historical existence as a person is beyond doubt. Even the writings of the Jews of that and subsequent periods make this point many times.

Regarding your claim that Jesus said persons are condemened to hell for all eternity unless they believe in Jesus: This is a false statement. Jesus never said this. It is your faulty understanding of what Jesus supposedly said. Don't feel bad, even some protestant denominations get this point wrong or fail to explain their meaning properly.

Says the "Dog"

Hume's Ghost said...

It attempts to give the viewer greater empathy and awareness of the suffering in a manner that can't be conveyed by a few descriptive sentences or a final death scene on the cross.

Yes, I got that, as I explicitly stated. But I didn't get it. This isn't really a debateable point - I did not find it spiritually moving. I thought ill of his tormentors and felt empathy for him, but that's it. I feel empathy for anyone treated unjustly, though.

And if one is claiming the historicity of Jesus, one would not claim the PotC as historical. Gibson was using an extrabiblical source.

Jesus, historical existence as a person is beyond doubt. Even the writings of the Jews of that and subsequent periods make this point many times

I'll agree to disagee, as I don't feel like debating it. At some point I imagine I'll post on the subject. In the meantime, you can look at the section on the historicity of Jesus in Michael Martin's Case Against Christianity.

Regarding your claim that Jesus said persons are condemened to hell for all eternity unless they believe in Jesus: This is a false statement.

It's a common teaching, and you can pick out sections of the NT to endorse it. Regardless, its not essential to the point. Jesus believes in Hell - that's at odds with the concept of forgiveness.

"the Dog" said...

No its not a common teaching and no there is nothing in the new testament that supports your claim that Jesus said those who don't believe in Jesus are condemned to hell.

Hell and forgiveness are not mutually exclusive concepts. You are wrong to think so. The availability of forgiveness is not mutually exclusive to forgiveness not being availed of by some individuals.

The fact that you don't get the spirtuality connection for the Passion of the Christ is not surprising since it appears from your writing that you are a non-spiritual atheist.

The fact remains your principle complaint about Gibson's Passion was why make it as he did. The answer is because its the only view of Jesus that had NOT yet been given cinematic treatment. Why remake what has been done a 100 or 1000 times, when a movie giving believers the opportunity to mourn emotionally and viscerally for the torture and killing of Jesus had never been made. Its really quite a traditional thing that artists seek to do, and that Gibson sought to do here... i.e. make something NEW that had not been made before. Its newness and quality is what made it one of the biggest grossing pictures of all time in the USA.

Anonymous said...

No its not a common teaching and no there is nothing in the new testament that supports your claim that Jesus said those who don't believe in Jesus are condemned to hell.

Try John 3:18, chump. Oh, wait, I'm sure "condemned" simply means they'll have to pay a fine, or something. It's really easy when you can decide that words only mean whatever you, and you alone, have the psychic ability to understand.

And go read Bart D. Ehrman's "Misquoting Jesus" to understand why you shouldn't give a hoot what that worthless book says in any event.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and to keep you from wanking all over people's comment sections, here's some more stuff to keep you occupied:

Here.

And here.

And don't forget here.

Enjoy!

"the Dog" said...

Anon, its not in John 3:18 nor anywhere else in the new testament. Provide specific quotes if you think differently and I'm sure we can correct your woefully inadequate reading comprehension.

Says the "Dog"

Maysun said...

Hilarious review. :D

As for Jean Valjean, I always thought his adopted daughter was a complete wimp and his humanism a tad overdone.

Anderson said...

Well, I'm a (bad) Christian with some doubts about Hell, so I don't think we should assume that everything the Christian church has taught about Hell should be assumed to reflect what Jesus taught.

Since an eternal Hell seems disproportionate to any conceivable sin, we're left with (1) God knows best, so just accept it, or (2) Hell is not in fact eternal. The former is congenitally disagreeable to me, so I hope & pray that (2) is correct.

(It seems to me obvious that any Christian should hope and pray that no one will go to hell, or failing that, that no one will be permanently sent there. This is a good way to distinguish Christians from hateful freaks.)

As for the very existence of Hell's somehow contradicting forgiveness, that seems to assume a great deal. I'm not given to quoting C.S. Lewis, but IIRC he suggested that sinners condemn themselves to Hell by rejecting forgiveness. (Which is also one of the better explanations of the mysterious "sin against the Holy Spirit.)

Anonymous said...

Anon, its not in John 3:18 nor anywhere else in the new testament. Provide specific quotes if you think differently and I'm sure we can correct your woefully inadequate reading comprehension.

Speaking of reading comprehension...

Here you go.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

Now then, like I said, are you going to tell me that "condemned" only means paying a fine or getting a knuckle-rap with a ruler?

Or let's try Mark 16:16 - Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Hmm, so "condemned" is the opposite of "saved" here. We all know what "saved" means, so why doesn't our friend "the dog" explain how "condemned" ceases to hold its traditional meaning in this instance?

Try again, and no pulling arguments out of your ass this time. Ask Geezus for help if you need to.

Oh, and assuming that you'll come back with some typical assertion that those words are mistranslations, etc., maybe you should go fry some bigger fish and start demanding that the Bible be translated in a more accurate form. Christians are dying every day having only read the misleading King James version; what if their souls are in jeopardy because of some mistaken beliefs they hold? I would think that would be an intolerable thought for a Christian such as yourself.

"the Dog" said...

Anon, OK, I'll go dust off my bible (which isn't the King James) and see what that passages say, and get back to you later in the week on your quotes. On your other point about souls being in jeopardy because of some mistaken beliefs, that's not how it works for catholics (like myself).

Says the "Dog"