Oh, For Art's Sake!
Anna Zetchus Raetz, Los Angeles
Somewhere in the midst of all of the hype that preceded the Passion's highly (or warily) anticipated opening, the subject of the debate was lost, and, sadly, no one noticed.
To its detractors, the first stage was pre-emptive, sprung whilst the film was still being shot. It was dismissed as too inaccessible -- dead languages, an uncomfortable-to-the-point-of-gruesome focus, dogmatic. Distributors balked.
Once distribution was guaranteed regardless, the spectre of Anti-Semitism was the next attempted, still attempting, dissuader. Is Mel a Holocaust Denier? "Who killed Jesus"? Blood libel! Is the script too literal or too mythical? Are the roots not too Biblical, but really the rantings of a Jew-hating hallucinogenic nun?
Lots of seemingly normal people still planned to see it.
Thus, stage three was the launching, still flying, of the "too violent"-"gory"-"barbaric"-"fetishistic" assault, unsuccessfully disguised as public service. This, frankly, was the more amusing of the accusations if only for the sheer audacity of its hypocrisy, considering the sources from whence these slams derived. (The only thing more naked was the New York Times' article regarding studio heads' plans to boycott Gibson forthwith, a shockingly unspun outburst.)
Still, people went and saw it, I among them, and Passion of the Christ had the biggest opening of an R-rated film. Ever. By a mile.
But due to the cacophony from both sides I now realize that I will not have seen it until I see it a second time, without their words ringing in my ears. And I strongly recommend the same to all.
As I exited the theatre after seeing it opening night, I was suffused with love for my fellow man and resolute in my philosophy that there is nothing of greater import than one's relationship with God, with one's Creator, and that, at the end of the day, it's between the individual and Jesus.
Here, the film said to me, here is this gift, do you accept it? And if you choose to accept the story just depicted then the only acceptable response to it, indeed the demand of it, is love. Accept it and arise, new, redeemed, golden, victorious. Decline and one's fate is that of the maggot-ridden ass, of Legion, dust and howls and bones. And all this demonstrated with very, very few words.
As I walked with friends and family down the street a sad anger aimed at the detractors began to build inside, an anger certain, though dulled by the depth of the experience.
Too narrow? It is the directive of the director's faith. Anti-Semitic? Almost every protagonist is Jewish. Too violent? Not, unfortunately, compared to reality. Too not what you'd prefer it would be? It is one artist's vision.
Too beautiful! The colors, the poses, the lighting, the emotion. A film -- neither agitprop nor absolution, but rather a moving tableau illustrating God's love for man, created by a man who loves God in return, with a dying world in between. Within the confines of Gibson's understanding he has touched the depths of that question that lives within us, that is answered daily in the complex and the banal, in the choices of the moment that craft the theme of a lifetime.
For this aspect, and this alone, some will love it and some will hate it and some will weep and some will be stunned and it needs to be seen again on its own worthy merits, for what it is, unperverted by the prism of anyone but one's self.
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God:
for they are foolishness unto him:
neither can he know them,
because they are spiritually discerned.
1st Corinthians 2:14
See it in the Spirit, see it in the flesh, but for a moment at least see it simply as art. Where is the discussion of the lighting, the performances, the camera work, the music, the vision? Mel Gibson's Passion of The Christ may very well be, so far, the 21st Century's Sistine Chapel, but the viewers will need to look up to see it. To be finally appreciated as such, The Passion will need to survive the boxes that people on both sides keep attempting to put it into. And thus has it always been for real, actual, art -- with the pious and the fashionistas, down the road, trying to convince all that they were there in the beginning.
For at the end of the day, this is art -- meditative, redemptive, devotional, powerful art -- because that was the gift of the director. The film is less a series of scenes and more a literally and figuratively moving mural of, objectively, an incredible story. It doesn't try to be a documentary, for which one should be grateful.
This week has been tough in Hollywood with the Oscars overshadowed by, of all things, a film that exalts the Lamb of God. The American Film Market is also currently in town, and the self-promoting and self-congratulating is reaching crescendo.
After seeing the movie a few of us went around the corner for a drink, to relax, ruminate. A man was hosting a party for himself -- posters for his movie all around, the flick itself projected onto the walls, postcard-sized headshots that read "For your consideration for work"...
After what we had just experienced it was a garish surreality. We chose to step back outside lest the resonance of the beauty we had experienced slip out of our grips as well.
Written with great insight and sensitivity.
I saw the Passion last night. It is a masterpiece.
That tag line is a winner too.
My wife and I both said right before the movie started that we were po'd that we even had to think about all the negative hype and charges against the film.
Wonderful review, Anna. I definitely plan on seeing it again. Not to appear sacrilegious or anything, but I need to see it again because I made the mistake of drinking 3 cups of coffee and a Coke right before going. By the 2nd hour of the movie I was in downright pain. No WAY was I going to get up and miss something!
Thanks for the flag, Anna. Well done.
=== See it in the Spirit, see it in the flesh, but for a moment at least see it simply as art.
Probably one of the most magnificent works of Christian art we've had in some time ... particularly given the rank ugliness of most churches, the desacralization of sanctuaries, and the "modern art" ritual deformation and vivisection of the human being.
Glad to hear you sound this note as well.
(And I too won't feel I've really seen it until I've seen it at least twice. One heads up even three or four viewings probably wouldn't have allowed me to notice: Jesus responds to Pilate in Latin. Nice touch, I thought.)
I wish that I could see The Passion while it's in theaters. But I do plan on buying the DVD.