I have zero, no–make that negative–desire to see Mel Gibson’s latest flick, for exactly the reasons that Andrew Sullivan (as devout a Catholic as it’s possible for a gay man to be) describes.
The center-piece of the movie is an absolutely disgusting and despicable piece of sadism that has no real basis in any of the Gospels. It shows a man being flayed alive – slowly, methodically and with increasing savagery. We first of all witness the use of sticks, then whips, then multiple whips with barbed glass or metal. We see flesh being torn out of a man’s body. Just so that we can appreciate the pain, we see the whip first tear chunks out of a wooden table. Then we see pieces of human skin flying through the air. We see Jesus come back for more. We see blood spattering on the torturers’ faces. We see muscled thugs exhausted from shredding every inch of this man’s body. And then they turn him over and do it all again. It goes on for ever. And then we see his mother wiping up masses and masses of blood. It is an absolutely unforgivable, vile, disgusting scene. No human being could sruvive it. Yet for Gibson, it is the h’ors d’oeuvre for his porn movie.
I respect the faith of those who do believe and accept the story of Christ–they are clearly, for the most part, sincere. But it’s one that has never had any resonance to me–it simply makes no sense, and I am bemused by the bizarre notion that I had anything to do with an event which, if it happened at all, happened two millennia ago. Sorry, no, we didn’t all kill him. I accept no responsibility whatsoever.
I also have trouble getting my head around the notion that (as some have stated over at the Corner) this was “the greatest crime in history.” Greater than the Holocaust? Greater than the Cultural Revolution? Greater than the deliberate starvation of the Ukrainians? Really?
Only if one accepts the premise. (And no, please don’t try to persuade me, or others, of the truth of the Gospels in my comments section–there will be no sale, and it just wastes my bandwidth and disk space–in fact, I will delete any preaching or witnessing–providing a forum for others to proselytize on subjects of little interest to me is not the purpose of my web site).
It seems to me that Mr. Gibson has simply transferred his love of gory cinema to a purpose that he considers higher than money-making shoot’em ups. Perhaps if I were a believer, I might be willing to sit through such an exaggerated reenactment, but given my lack of belief about it, I see no redeeming value to the movie, at least for me, and Mr. Gibson will not be receiving any of my money for his little venture.
[Update on Friday morning]
Leon Wieseltier agrees with me, and much more eloquently (of course, he’s actually seen the thing). He too, calls it a “sacred snuff film.”
It will be objected that I see only pious pornography in The Passion of the Christ because I am not a believer in the Christ. This is certainly so. I do not agree that Jesus is my savior or anybody else’s. I confess that I smiled when the credits to The Passion of the Christ listed “stunts.” So I am not at all the person for whom Gibson made this movie. But I do not see how a belief in Jesus strengthens the case for such a film. Quite the contrary. Belief, a theory of meaning, a philosophical convenience, is rarely far away from cruelty. Torture has always been attended by explanations that vindicate it, and justify it, and even hallow it. These explanations, which are really extenuations, have been articulated in religious and in secular terms. Their purpose is to redescribe an act of inhumanity so that it no longer offends, so that it comes to seem necessary, so that it edifies. My victim of torture is your martyr.
While I’m willing to accept that a belief in Jesus strengthens the case for such a film (or at least I find the proposition no more baffling than a belief in Jesus itself), I can’t imagine that it would have any influence in creating a belief in Jesus. This is a film for hard-core Christians, and it certainly won’t hold any sway over people for whom there’s not at least a seed of belief to begin with.