Thursday, February 26, 2004

Gibson's Snuff Film
I'm not sure how I feel about Gibson's Passion movie. On one hand I like what appears to be a purer historical treatment - having the actors speak in the languages of the times: Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew. Also, I like the fact that the actors and sets look dirty and not idealized a la Ben Hur or Spartacus. (It would be at this time that the mere mention of Spartacus would send Kreblog into movie quoting spasms: "I am Spartacus!" "No! I am Spartacus!")

But from many reviews, it appears that Gibson has made an extremely violent and sadistic film. Andrew Sullivan calls it pure pornography, and Roger Ebert says matter of factly that it is the most violent film he has ever seen. Which makes me wonder if I really want to see Gibson's snuff film. We've heard the pre-movie buzz before regarding the level of violence involved in high profile movies such as Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down. Indeed, I appreciated the trial by fire that the opening sequence granted in Spielberg's SPR flick. It was violent, but also sensibly violent to the extent that to understand war we must know war, and scenes like that memorable opening sequence give us a glimpse into experiencing the chaos and horror of war in its most intense moments. Black Hawk Down took this many steps further by taking that intensity of Speilberg's SPR opening sequence and expanded on it for practically the duration of the film, scene after unrelenting scene.

Which brings me back to Gibson's movie. As far as I know, it's almost two hours of a guy getting tortured. Granted, it is Christ getting tortured which attaches to it layers upon layers of context and people's understanding of the man, the history, and the theology. However, beyond that, it is still a guy getting tortured on screen with nary a chance of seeing him fight back and vanquish his enemies in a stream of Uzi fire and CGI glory. Theology aside, is our interest in seeing this somewhat perverse? I think a lot of the controversy of this movie (other than that which relates to charges of anti-Semitism) is in the fact that some may be interested in this movie to see how far a director and cinematographer will go to show a man be killed. Some will go because of their Christianity, and I think a number of Christians want to be shown some ultra-graphic depiction of how far their Savior really went in order to die for their sins. I think that's what's at the root of this controversy regarding the violence. Our image of Jesus has been Hallmark-ed over the past decades. We view Jesus as some sort of uber-social worker. Some idealized Peace Corps volunteer, NGO advocate or UN staffer - ready to lift rice bowls to hungry mouths or tap deep in the ground for sources of pure drinking water. Tolerant, kind, considerate, conscientious, and socially aware. Gibson offers barely a whiff of that, and furthers the destruction of that image through the course of the brutalization he depicts. Gibson is taking our contemporary cultural view of Jesus and beating him to a pulp, and in doing so, Gibson is trying to put a stop to the wussification that contemporary culture has shaped Christianity in recent years - what with the greater emphasis on Easter Bunnies and Santas over the actually Christian themes of the holidays. In reality, he's putting us all up there to be whipped and scourged. That's why he's made such a violent movie. He'd rather be whipping us than his actor to tell you the truth.

While I respect some of the sentiment he believes in, I'm not sure I want to take part in nor experience his crucifixion. A snuff film is a snuff film, whether you're watching sensationalized crap like Faces of Death, real horror like that available on the internet of reporter Daniel Pearl being beheaded by Islamic radicals, or Gibson's film. Can it be excused because it purports to be historical and theologically accurate? I am torn with the answer to that.


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