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Jim Kalb

Subject: Thoughts on The Passion?
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Any thoughts on Gibson's film? I haven't seen it and am of two minds whether I should. I'm not sure that theatrical representations of extreme violence make sense as drama or -- which seems to be the purpose here -- objects of devotional contemplation. Also, I've usually avoided the wham-bang visual culture that's grown up and if Gibson thinks the film goes to the edge of what's visually tolerable it probably goes beyond the edge for me. On the other hand, a lot of people have gotten a lot out of the film.


RE: Thoughts on The Passion?
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I really don't understand why this mediocre movie has generated such a big fuss. It is violent and a little overdone, but it's not a simple gore fest and I doubt it will be a milestone of some sort of Great Awakening III. It seems that what you get out of this movie is basically what you take to it. Based on your stated position on pop culture, Mr. Kalb, I would guess that you probably won't be too fond of it.

Bill McClain

RE: Thoughts on The Passion?
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Jim, you've probably seen my review on another list, but I'll attach it again below.

I didn't love it, didn't hate it. It made me think, but not "feel" in the way that others have who are moved by it,

I keep thinking about it. I've been mulling the way it was made, the pacing and editing. Gibson
broke a lot of rules, meaning he is either a bad filmmaker or an inspired one. I'm inclining toward the later. Works created by the ego have a different look than those created when serving a vision, and I think Gibson has been acting as a servant here.

* * *

I saw "The Passion" in Decorah yesterday. Lines were much longer than I remember seeing before. I think many attendees were not regular movie-goers: the elderly, the lame and halt. This was undoubtedly the most violent film most of them had ever seen, but they were stoic throughout; people here are not much prone to public displays of emotion. I heard a few gasps and sniffles. It didn't seem that many were much moved by the experience.

Is it excessively violent? Yes, certainly by my standards it's hideous. But note that Scorcese and Tarantino are acclaimed for doing similar things; sophisticated critics who pan the film for violence are hypocrites. They've decided to dislike it because it is meant to be devout and they pick at it for other reasons. (See:,8816,596038,00.html).

Is it anti-semitic? Well, the chief villains are (1) some in the Jewish ruling council, (2) some Jewish soldiers, (3) some Roman soldiers. Pilate is let off easy. All the protagonists are Jews. It is possible that someone who already hates Jews might be stirred to violence by the images. That, of course, is bad theology ("For this am I come") but such things happen. I recall a black-on-white murder after "Roots" and some American Muslim killed a hostage he'd taken after seeing a film about Mohammed's father.

Gibson has taken the blood, cruelty and suffering aspects of Christ's last hours as the subject of his film. The gospels are a terse narrative; I recall references to "buffeting, mocking, scourging." The film shows a man sadistically flayed alive. Really -- his rib bones are showing. This order of violence continues for most of the film. One reviewer protested that no human being could survive such treatment. That's nonsense; many in history have. This is certainly a realistic portrayal of human cruelty: sometimes sadists have charge of prisoners.

Although Gibson did not invent the story, I don't know enough about the history of Christianity to know what tradition he is drawing from. I've
seem unsympathetic references to "Catholic blood and death cults" ( -- I don't know if that is fair. Some of the plot follows the Stations of the Cross motif.

Realism and explicitness are problems. They tend to exclude other aspects: abstractions and more subtle chains of causation. I find over-realism jarring. For some reason, when I read histories I don't imagine the foul odors and general grottiness of past times. (In fact, I don't seem to "imagine" anything at all, in terms of pictures in my mind). When I read the gospel story, I'm not dwelling on that level of detail. But the storyteller or filmmaker has a problem: the story has to be presented in some way, with real characters and incidents and dialogue. What to put in and leave out, and what tone and perspective to

Is it a good film? It's well-made, sufficiently "artistic", although the pacing is strange and I often thought "let's get this bit over with"
(and not just during the beatings). Simon, helping bear the cross, comforts the viewer as well as Jesus: "We're almost there. Not much longer." Probably the oddest element of the production is that the resurrection gets only a few seconds at the very end. I can't imagine wanting to own it or see it repeatedly.

Gibson seems to have purposefully drained some of the drama from the story, insisting instead on his sustained vision of suffering. I can't explain that, but it did make me think of Eliade's "sacred time", that timeless dimension that holy things occupy. The Passion never stops.

Just as even bad or eccentric Shakespeare productions always suggest something new in the text, so does every Christmas pageant or Jesus film prompt thoughts on deep mysteries. This film does make me think about the strange juxtaposition of pain and love at the heart of Christianity,
the spirit and the flesh, that timeless realm of the sacred and its manifestation in history.

But, in the end: I was vastly more moved by the end of the 1959 "Ben Hur" than by this film.

Gibson lost my good will at one point: towards the end of the crucifixion the scared body becomes a sort of art canvas, photographed for the interesting patterns. Hell with that, I thought.

Why do so many Christians like this film so much? Many of them do not share the emphasis on the Passion in their own churches. I can only
suppose that they appreciate a serious, well-made, devout film about Christ, when so little of that has come out of the industry in recent years. We live in strange times that it should loom so large in the culture wars.

Small points:

* These days, Mary Magdalene is always conflated with "the woman taken in adultery." When did that start?

* Note Herod's court. Mel likes using gays as weakling villains.

* Interesting political manoevering between Pilate and Caiaphas, all done with glances.


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