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Has Mel Gibson created a film or a product?

By R.H. Joseph

If "The Passion of the Christ" were about anyone other than the individual worshipped by many as an incarnated god the film would be adjudged infantile and amateurish.

In the best of all possible worlds, therefore, the faithful will realize that the passionate, heartfelt act of faith to which they have committed themselves is between them and the object of their commitment, Jesus of Nazareth, not between them and Mel Gibson's film.

Forced to consider larger issues than the film itself due to the effective marketing campaign by the film's distributor, we must first and foremost consider "The Passion of the Christ" an effectively branded product. Tons of tickets have been sold not because of word of mouth by those who have seen the film and were blown away by it, as was the case with "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," but by a consummate exploitation of name recognition.

I write this review, therefore, for regular film fans curious whether Gibson has accomplished something of artistic merit, cin?philes who wonder about the strengths and weaknesses of "The Passion of the Christ."

As for the rest, those who fervently purchased tickets because the film has "Christ" in the title, a percentage may grow from the experience, the result of being exposed to spirituality transformed into shockingly distorted religious obsession.

Gibson's characters are cartoonish; the film a motion picture version of the illustrated collections of Bible stories distributed to children. It appears the sort of manipulative propaganda deliberately created to inflame the rabble.

Scenes of people beating Jesus are juxtaposed with cackling tormenters n again and again. In fact, "again and again" is the leitmotiv of the entire film.

Those not committed to the divinity of Jesus will see a film in which the man is beaten and beaten and beaten and beaten and beaten and beaten. In slow motion. In excruciating detail.

"The Passion of the Christ" is luridly savage, pornographic really, for aside from a few words intended to imbue the brutality with a transcendent context, the film is reminiscent of the recent remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

Had Gibson a modicum of craft he might have provided Jesus an identity, an internal life informed through the union with a transcendent consciousness he is said to possess. As presented, he is little more than a gaping wound.

The degree of his torment becomes the issue, not his martyrdom. Had he been beaten less would his sacrifice have been diminished?

The brutality of this film will scar children. There is nothing here to elevate them spiritually. There is no incarnation of holiness, only a few familiar phrases scattered amidst the unrelenting depiction of man's inhumanity to man.

The film's sepia-toned cinematography is intended to create an ambience of antiquity. Unfortunately, since the director failed to provide Jesus the man with an identity, his lack of flesh tones exacerbates his artificiality. Rather than being both man and god, as he is perceived by the faithful, he is never more than a two-dimensional cardboard figure.

The same may be said of the religious conservatives threatened by the man's heterodoxy. These rabbis have no identities.

Orthodox Judaism is represented as a monolithic voice, though the period is in fact characterized by tumultuous religious and philosophical debate. The rabbis are symbols only, caricatures.

The film provides no context for the tensions and religious politics forever pitting intransigent orthodoxy against nonconformity, the Church of Rome against Martin Luther, for example.

Whether or not one believes Jesus of Nazareth was a transcendent being, we can all agree no one else of the period was.

Thus, the film might have had much to offer regarding these age old and continuing religious conflicts, conflicts not between religions but between the orthodox and the heterodox.

Surely, considering the conflicts plaguing the world in the 21st century, there is irony to be found in a radicalized religious martyr promising rebirth in paradise.

Some have claimed "The Passion of the Christ" will make an effective teaching tool.

What is to be gleaned from the film in this regard, how is the man's divinity communicated? He says he is an incarnation of the divine and is beaten for this perceived blasphemy.

As an objective viewer I have nothing but the character's word to support his assertion of divinity. Considering the predictable response of orthodox representatives of every religion to such a claim by one of their own, there is nothing in Gibson's film to compel me to believe. Faith is not engendered.