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.
Thanks for the ping AnnaZ! Great writing. I've been on vacation for the last week, so I'm just now catching up on my Freeping. I plan on seeing The Passion this weekend with my wife.
I just saw The Passion of Christ.
I feel I have to give background first, sorry to those who dont want to hear it.
I am a born-again Christian. I lived without God in my life and in a pit of despair, lost and confused, I prayed for help. How I got there before and after are too long a story and a distraction, but I feel my point-of-view is very important to my view of this movie. The hymn Amazing Grace is about me; and that greatly affects how I saw the movie.
I know the story well. After turning back to God, Ive read and studied the Gospels along with the rest of the Bible. And Ive read and studied other texts and lost gospels not in the Bible.
With all the hype, I expected the graphic gore to be much worse. Honestly, I think it fit very well to what I know of the time. I didnt find it a distraction, but I did find it made it more personal and real, than previous readings have done for me.
When Judas pointed out Jesus, my eyes already began to swell. I felt pain for Judas and what had begun.
When Peter denied Jesus, my chest heaved. The pain he was going through for how he responded in fear, and the fulfillment of prophesy just hours before was already moving me.
When Jesus was first being beaten, my tears fell. Later, during the flogging, when I remember the phrase this is my body, broken for you; this is my blood, poured out for you, I wept.
While Jesus began to carry the cross (and this sounds corny), I wanted to carry it for him. I knew Simon was coming and somehow I wanted that to be me. Then I thought I cant carry the cross for Jesus, he carries it for me. I wept a lot after that. During those scenes, I often heard sobbing in the theater from others.
I feared the crucifixion scene by now. What I have read, I expected this to be the worst part. I think this was intentional glossed over; by now many of the audience is wrenched.
When I had previously read about Mel Gibsons cameo, I thought it a bit too much, too vain. I know understand better his desire and think better of him for it.
I expected the sub-titles to be a big distraction; Ive never liked them in a movie. At first, they were somewhat of a distraction, but quickly became unimportant to me. In retrospect and a global perspective, it is probably better. No one on earth will see this movie made for their country as it is in a dead language. Perhaps it will give it more appeal to the rest of the world.
I cannot begin to see this movie as anti-Semitic. I saw the high priests as foolish people caught up in their own importance. The multiple lies they tell trying to get Jesus executed made them seem foolish and scared. But this was not a trait of their faith and people, just the selfish people trying to have fame and fortune they did not deserve. All of the people who tried to help Jesus were Jewish. The only outright scorn give by the Roman to the Jews were to Jesus and Simon who helped him.
Ive never been to a movie where everyone stayed quiet and seated until the very end of the credits. In reality, I needed that time to pull myself together. Walking outside through the snow in 18°F weather seemed something of a shock. I stumbled out of the theater without a clear understanding where I was.
I went alone. My wife is too emotionally involved to see it in a theater scene. We will own it on DVD and she will watch in the privacy of our home, with plentiful use of the pause button.
Im glad I saw it in the theater. I may need to see it there again, I will own a copy of it for our home. I dont think it is for young teens, and I think a talk about it before and after would be best for older teens seeing it.
Im glad we had communion this Sunday. I would like some time before I take communion again.
Peace of God be with you all.