Not Yet Another Passion of the Christ Review

by phil on Saturday Mar 20, 2004 1:52 AM
loyalty, nihilism, purpose seeking, religion_old

I'd like to thank Mel Gibson for teaching me that "Ecce homo" is Latin for "Behold the Man." This is what Pontius Pilate proclaims to the mob of querulous Jews as he plants the crown of thorns on Jesus' head.

What I beheld in man--and woman--as I stomached The Passion of the Christ was the power of loyalty. At least a hundred times in the film, someone gazed into Jesus' eyes, enraptured with hope and faith. Early on, we see Peter perch up like a gopher with nervous hands both near his chest and tilted outward as if to gesture, "Lord, I will gladly sacrifice my heart for you."

Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.
Bible, Ruth 1:16 (Random Bible Quote)
Hominids must have necessitated messiahs and religions at some point in evolution. As they were arising up on two feet they must have also arisen as proto-philosophers, wondering not only where they came from, what they were made of, and where they were going, but most importantly what they were to do. Loyalty provided the cure of purpose through the vehicle of self-sacrifice.

To nail-in the concept of loyalty, I ask you to reflect: when was the last time you felt fiercely loyal?

Phil's Romantic Digression to Illustrate Impact of "Loyalty"

My deepest memory of loyalty was when I came to the aid of a lover of mine over the last nine days of the school. We discovered in spring that she was the victim of identity theft and we suspected that the perpetrator was one of her close "friends." The cause of fear was that this "friend" was also a bit psychotic and in possession of weapons: she packed a gun in her car and hung a butcher knife on her wall that had the names of enemies inscribed on it.

As my friend explained the situation to me, I was immediately struck with a sense of mission. I became aggressive in gathering evidence on the identity thief and aggressive in coordinating with authorities. My friend had to move out so I helped in packing, ignoring the needs of the quarter's finals. I transformed into an obedient dog, ready to do anything she needed. Courage sprung up within me as well as a healthy irrational animus toward the evil-doer. I donned her struggle, her pain, her strife, and made it my own. And I felt great. I felt driven by internal compellation, like a magnet was yanking me forward. I felt alive.

The quarter then passed, the danger disappeared, and I de-animated, returning to my nihilistic equilibrium. I went back home and painted for the first months of summer and then did some web design in the second half. San Diego was enjoyable and relaxing, with the sun consistently lightening up each day. However, no matter how bright that summer was, those three months will never shine like the sun's reflection off the stucco by the window of her new place, as I climbed in once a day for those nine days and felt important.

Sure, it's not as dramatic a story as when Kerry ordered his gunboat back into enemy fire to save his buddy. But still, there's my strongest instance of loyalty, and that's how good it tasted. Either way, I'm sure you would agree, based on your experiences, that devotion is one of life's sweet gifts.

Back to the main idea

Christianity and other religions' main draw is a similar sentiment. Every Sunday, millions of Christians huddle together to renew their loyalty to an ancient Superman. Even if some don't believe whole-heartedly in the Bible story, just being around other devotees inculcates the same feelings in them. For a few moments, the nihilistic specter of life is vanquished, and the worshippers feel alive.

So the point of The Passion is to pound Jesus' martyrdom into the audience's collective head in case they have forgotten where their loyalties lie. It has apparently done the trick as millions are feeling more faithful, especially with their pocket book, by buying the soundtrack and books in droves.

I personally did not feel rapturous watching The Passion of the Christ. Rather I was astonished at the stares of Jesus' faithful followers, experiencing a proxy to the billions of descendents who are still loyal to the same, single hero.

The following are the necessary disclosures on the controversies of the film.

On the violencia

Roger Ebert said that The Passion is cinema's most violent, which is significant considering how many movies that critic has seen. Perhaps he is correct. The Passion is certainly the most gut-wrenching in detail: the audience is treated to the blood on Jesus's crown of thorns, dripping and glistening like Christmas lights, in addition to the shine of Our Lord's crusty, gelatinous backside on account of the whipping.

On the anti-Semitismo

If I was Christian, unintelligent, and already had a seething suspicion about Jews, this film would fan the flames. But this is the same with any movie that involves a class of people as the enemy. For example, in True Lies the glorious Arnold Schwarzenegger battles silly Iranian terrorists which probably incites anti-Iranian attitudes on some level.

The question is then reduced to whether or not Mel is trying to be anti-Semitic. The answer is not so clear as Pontius Pilate's lack of culpability was over-emphasized, but so was Jesus' "Jewish" co-bearer of the cross. I'm not a master of the topic of anti-Semitism, so I won't settle this debate. My intuition is that while Mel tried to be fair, I'd be surprised if there wasn't some Jewish hate lurking around somewhere in his head.

Random note

I guess being the son of God means you can build IKEA-style tables by hand with no problems. Go Jesus! Which reminds me of Owen Wilson in Meet the Parents, explaining to Greg Focker that he made the "khoppa" because JC was a carpenter. Good times.

Off-topic notes

Sorry for the week-long respite of posting, I was busy with finals. Oh yeah, and Noam Chomsky e-mailed me on Wednesday. I had asked him what were his thoughts on the shock election in Madrid. He told me that I should check out an editorial in the Financial Times (which I'm still looking for) and then he went off on the cowardice of Anzar's choice to engage in Iraq against the wishes of 90% of his people. He noted that this was the true shame on democracy, and not the election of the anti-war Socialist Party. I mentioned Chomsky last week here. You should note that the white-on-beige graphic in my blogfabric is in rememberance of those who died on 3/11 in Madrid (Read the Original Reference)

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