2.26.2004

I got a sneak preview of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ the other night. For starters, I'll say that I thought (and still think) that the film is a genuine work of art. But, as I said to my wife afterwards, no one who wants to be entertained should go to see this film. This is not a movie-going public's kind of movie. It was excruciating to watch, even while it was moving. It was definitely not entertaining.

In a sense, I suppose it accomplishes everything that Mel set out to accomplish. It did a lot of what I expected it to do, and more. And, I think everyone who can see the film, should see the film. Those who are already overwhelmed with Christ's sacrifice or those who have a complete aversion to violence of any kind, should not.

My friend Jay called me today to say that he had seen it and was very frustrated. Jay, like me, is a pastor. And one of the things we are both keenly aware of is the general public's knack for turning art of any kind into fact, be it the Left Behind series, The Da Vinci Code, or The Passion of Christ. And if you, like I, assume the gospels to be the best historical resource for the story, then you, like Jay, will be frustrated. Gibson draws heavily on the liturgy of The Stations of the Cross, much of which is not in Scripture.

Personally, this doesn't bother me. But other aspects of the film do, at least upon reflection and the fact that Jay's opinion on things always affects me! The raven pecking out the eyes of the thief on the cross (the disagreeable one), being the chief of sinners. It was unnecessary, to say the least. And, while I personally enjoyed Gibson's creativity in bringing the character of Satan to life in various ways, I can understand how some viewers will simply be confused as to what Gibson was trying to portray and where he came up with that idea. I'm thinking here of the scene in which Satan appears in the crowd, while Jesus is being whipped, carrying some sort of demon baby in his/her arms.

Again, call me sick, but I liked it on an artistic level. But I admit that on a theological level, there isn't much to it. I'd love to hear why he chose to portray Satan in that particular way.

I give credit, however, to the opening scenes of the film as they seem to set the story in context. Satan is there in the garden tempting Jesus to give up on the mission. Satan tells Jesus that it simply is not possible for one man to bear the burden of sin and guilt for all of humanity. Within the first five minutes of the film we know why Jesus has to die, whether we understand the nature of that death or not. Likewise, I also found the brief scene of Satan's "unmasking" after Jesus' death to be very powerful. Satan has lost, Gibson is saying. Jesus will be triumphant. And so will we, is the implication.

After the film we were asked by the hosting pastor to remain seated through the credits and then to give him the chance to share a few thoughts. I am not one to enjoy closing remarks like this. They tend to be too pointed and evangelistic for me. I feel that, initially anyway, I'd just rather let the art do the work it was intended to do. What struck me, however, was the juxtaposition of those pre-programmed ads on the screen mixed in with Hollywood trivia and fun facts - like how much money Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones spent on their wedding, or what rank a particular athlete has in the amount of money racked up by endorsements. Strange. Such suffering and power combined with such insignificant fluff, on the same screen.

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