Anytime someone makes a film about Jesus, their always seems to be some kind of uproar. Weather it's Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" or Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" the presses will keep the copy coming till the ink runs dry. This column not doubt will take up a little bit more.
It seems no matter how a director tries to recreate the life of Christ he runs into trouble either from the moviegoing Christians or from the film critics. It seems Christian audiences have decidedly embraced "Passion," utilizing it as a teaching tool for the congregation while a majority of critics have dismissed the film as harsh and lacking in spirituality.
The charge coming from the critics that the "Passion" is ultra-violent may be somewhat justified, but why are the same critics who embraced films such as "Kill Bill Vol. 1" or Oliver Stone's brilliant "Natural Born Killers" suddenly squeamish at the site of fake movie blood? The answer may be that the "Passion" spills so much blood the audience becomes desensitized with the seemingly endless variety of Roman era torture devices. The film has some effective scenes early on, but the violence is so abundant that it starts to become as cartoonish as films such as "Bill" of "Killers." In one sequence near the end, a Roman soldier spears Jesus in the side and a rain of blood ensues on the screen not witnessed since Uma Thurman samuraied enemies limb for limb in the aforementioned "Kill Bill."
What Mel Gibson does not understand is that violence can be emotional as well as physical. Violence and abuse can be perpetrated on another human being merely by words or body language. Just the threat of impending violence can also be terrifying. Gibson spends too much time dousing people in gallons of fake movie blood instead of concentrating on the spirituality of his central characters.
What also hurts this film more than the violence is the digital visualizations of demons and so forth added to the mix which contrast with the rest of the film's "This is really happening" aesthetic. One shot with Old Slue Foot ( portrayed by a woman interestingly enough ) looks as if it was lifted straight from the vivid acid trip landscapes of the Jennifer Lopez star vehicle "The Cell" (Cinephiles at least will recognize the shocking similarity). The film also makes the mistake of utilizing midget actors to depict taunting demons and some kind of devil baby. If Christians are to believe God no doubt created these real human beings then the act of using them (with only a little make-up) to represent agents of Satan is certainly a theologically confused one.
Moving on to greener pastures, to more fruitful cinematic endeavors, Robert Duvall's "The Apostle," is a film which utilizes and contemplates Christian theology in a far more useful manner for its audience. The film was written and directed by Duvall with great care and deep personal interest in the subject. In this sense it may be similar to Mel's project, and like "Passion," Duvall financed the film himself for lack of Hollywood interest. But unlike Mel's film, "The Apostle" has three dimensional characters so realistic, you would swear you met them or know someone just like them. To create this realistic atmosphere Duvall employed local non-actors and working Southern preachers or evangelists.
Duvall's film is a great educational tool for both teenage and adult Christians with respect to the themes of temptation, redemption, and salvation. It has the power to teach these themes in a contemporary setting without getting bogged down in all the controversy that surrounds the historical Christian epics. Duvall plays the classic Southern character of Sonny, a man who is a great evangelist but has trouble staying on the straight and narrow. After committing a crime of passion Sonny redeems himself, bringing a community together by starting up a new church with his bare hands. Despite his short comings as a man and husband he inspires other people's lives with his great deeds. In any one scene from "The Apostle" you can find more religious conviction on Duvall's face than is apparent on Jim Caviezel's tortured mug during all of "The Passion."
For the most part "The Apostle" is filled with images of love and tenderness between fellow men and women, the great Christian themes of "turn the other cheek" and "love thy neighbor" that are so hard to extract from a film such as "The Passion of the Christ." To sum up: Mel's version of "The Greatest Story Ever Told" is awash in the blood of Good Friday at the expense of Easter Sunday.
Zach Porter is a photographer for the News-Daily and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.