Monday, January 31, 2005

And by the way...

I realize I've bee posting a lot of material about "The Passion" recently, mostly because it's again become newsworthy with the Oscar "snub," and I just wanted to clear something up:

I don't have a "problem" with Christianity, Christian filmmakers, etc. I am not a "liberal" and this is not a "secularist attack" on religion or people of faith.

That being said, one of the big misconceptions about "Passion" criticism is that it's all about a liberal/conservative or red-state/blue-state split. Folks, thats just a flat-out lie. The truth is, a host of film and culture critics "from the right" offered up their disgust with the film and it's messages (upfront and hidden.) In fact, "Conservatives" actively opposed to the Passion-ization of their "side" are probably the great untold story of this year in political film-writing.

So let's tell it.

Charles Krauthammer is probably the most eloquent spokesperson that mainstream conservativism has right how. If you've never read his columns, you ought to. (He's also a regular on cable news nets. He became invaluable to the "religious right" this year, as a voice for "caution" in the stem-cell debates despite his own condition (Krauthammer is paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair.) But he also established himself as an independent thinker when he took apart "The Passion" in his Washington Post column:

This is, quite simply, the best review of "The Passion" written anywhere, by anyone, to my knowledge. Krauthammer is not a man I am in the habit of agreeing with, but he is one of the smartest individuals working in political commentary today, and this is why. He elects to take on the subject of the film's alleged anti-semetism, and cuts through Gibson's defense against such claims with surgical skill.

Money quote: "When it comes to the Jews, Gibson deviates from the Gospels -- glorying in his artistic vision -- time and again. He bends, he stretches, he makes stuff up. And these deviations point overwhelmingly in a single direction -- to the villainy and culpability of the Jews."

What makes this work so well as criticism is that Krauthammer is approaching this from a religious standpoint. He knows his Bible inside and out, and he knows where and when to call "The Passion" out on it's claims of Gospel-authenticity as an answer to all critiques:

"Gibson contradicts his own literalist defense when he speaks of his right to present his artistic vision. Artistic vision means personal interpretation.
And Gibson's personal interpretation is spectacularly vicious. Three of the Gospels have but a one-line reference to Jesus's scourging. The fourth has no reference at all."

Andrew Sullivan is someone you ought to hear of if you haven't already. A gay, pro-war conservative from England, he's one of the right's most impressively varied commentators. He's never afraid to speak his mind, even when it puts him at odds with the rest of his "side," and when it came time to review "Passion" he proved it:

Money quote: "The whole movie is some kind of sick combination of the theology of Opus Dei and the film-making of Quentin Tarantino. There is nothing in the Gospels that indicates this level of extreme, endless savagery and there is no theological reason for it. It doesn't even evoke emotion in the audience. It is designed to prompt the crudest human pity and emotional blackmail - which it obviously does."

Portrayal of the Jews?

"The first scene in which Caiphas appears has him relaying to Judas how much money he has agreed to hand over in return for Jesus. The Jew - fussing over money again!"

And does it give too much of a "pass" to Pialte and the Romans?

"Pilate and his wife are portrayed as saints forced by politics and the Jewish elders to kill a man they know is innocent. Again, this reflects part of the Gospels, but Gibson goes further. He presents Pilate's wife as actually finding Mary, providing towels to wipe up Jesus' blood, arguing for Jesus' release."

In the end, Sullivan feels that the film is motivated by "psychotic sadism" more than anti-semetism, but in summation:

"Anti-Semitism is the original sin of Christianity. Far from expiating it, this movie clearly enjoys taunting those Catholics as well as Jews who are determined to confront that legacy. In that sense alone, it is a deeply immoral work of art."

James Bowman writes for an art and culture publication called "The New Criterion." I'd never heard of him or the publication before stumbling across his reviews awhile back, and I almost never come to agreement with his opinions on film, but he's as well-read and talented a writer as any film critic you can name. He disliked the film intensely, as well:

What's interesting here is, he's completely unconcerned with most of the political stuff surrounding the movie, he just thinks it's a bad film. What's more, he finds it completely the opposite of what it was hyped as! Instead of a work of anti-Hollywood insurgency, Bowman sees a typical "victim chic" movie, and as for the theology at play, well...

"Surely, whatever other heterodoxy he may be guilty of, Mel cannot believe that pity is the same thing as piety?"

So there y'go. I'll try to make this the last "Passion"-related posting for awhile (no promises if there's new news,) but I do think these three perspectives help open up the debate a little more.