Edith's Review of The Passion of the Christ
Wouldn't It Have Been Easier to Just Cast a Guy With Brown Eyes?
When you find yourself watching a Biblical epic and find yourself longing for the theological accuracy of [i]Jesus Christ Superstar[/i], you've got problems. I mean, it's a bit nit-picky to observe that the Aramaic Mel Gibson so proudly had all his Jewish characters speak is from the wrong time and place; it's certainly not as though I would have known that myself. We will get to why it is less so to complain about the use of Latin in a bit. And I suppose that it's considered traditional to mash all the Passions in all the Gospels into a single event, even though they're contradictory. Perhaps I shouldn't complain about that, either. However, Gibson did not limit himself to the Gospels. His primary source seems to have been a book alleged to be visions by a German nun that is apparently nothing but a pious hoax. Though I must confess I'd never heard of it before.
Yeah, not bothering to give a plot here. Suffice it to say that we start with the Arrest and end with the Resurrection, an interesting pair of choices. While Gibson is from a break-away sect of Catholicism that doesn't acknowledge the reforms of Vatican II, I'm pretty sure he and I would have been introduced to the Passion in the same way--Palm Sunday mass. We do not get the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We only get the Last Supper in fragmentary flashbacks. We basically don't know what brought any of these characters to where they are, though of course we do without Gibson needing to tell us. However strange it may be to say, all things considered, there is no character development here. Several people claim that Luca Lionello, who plays Judas, converted to Christianity from atheism because of his experiences here (the Wikipedia link to the source article is broken), but that actually kind of worries me, given that we basically don't get any of the positives of the teachings of Jesus (Jim Caviezel).
What we get instead is a considerable amount of gore. According to every tradition I learned, Jesus was scourged--lashed thirty-nine times. As Caviezel can tell you from direct experience, getting lashed hurts; the reason for that specific number is that you were legally considered to have been executed after forty, because that was how many were deemed likely to kill you. But they could get to thirty-nine and start over, and if you survived, you could still be executed other ways. So yeah, okay, a bloody business--and Gibson makes sure we see every drop. He also, I think, misses the biological point of stabbing someone in the side to find out if they're dead. The point is that the dead don't bleed; Jesus gushes like an anime character. Or Johnny Depp in [i]Nightmare on Elm Street[/i]. If Gibson's point in making this movie was to show us how Jesus suffered for our sins, well, mission accomplished. It does, however, mean that Roger thought the movie should be NC-17 for violence.
I wish I could trust Gibson when he said that the reason he kept in the most controversial line (though he removed the subtitle) was that he thought it applied to all people. Yes, it shows an ignorance that clearly became willful of the historical context of that line, but I can see it as an idea. Gibson claims that the "us and our children" on whose hands the blood of Jesus was supposed to be was all people, that His blood was supposed to stain humanity. I can actually get behind that as an idea, except I still wouldn't have put it in the movie. (Not that I would have made this movie.) That line has been used to justify pretty much every act of antisemitism by a Christian ever since it was written. There's strong contextual evidence that it was written for just that purpose; the Gospel it's from is the one that was written for Gentiles. I don't think Mel Gibson was aware of how badly Jews come across in this, but I also don't think he cares.
So why am I forgiving the fact that the Aramaic is from sixth and seventh century Syria, not first century Palestine, but annoyed about the Latin? I mean, Roman troops spoke Latin, right? If you wanted to interact with Romans, you spoke Latin, right? Well, yes and no. True in the Western Empire, but never really true in the Eastern Empire, where Jerusalem was located. The Eastern Empire used Greek, not Latin. However, Gibson's splinter sect believes that the mass should only be celebrated in Latin, and there's literally no Biblical or historical justification for it. After all, there's no reason to believe that Jesus spoke Latin. (Unless you get into "God understands everyone," but He didn't [i]need[/i] to speak Latin while He was walking around Israel.) The Gospels were written in Greek. Jesus spoke Aramaic, possibly Hebrew, maybe a little Greek. The Bible never mentions translators in the Passion, but they were almost certainly necessary. But that doesn't provide support of a Latin-only mass.