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17.3.04

What's the Beef with The Passion?

This Article was first published on AFF Brainwash

A film has managed to spark thought—or gut reactions, at any rate—among Americans of all ilks like few before. Everyone in the media and intelligentsia, movie reviewer or not, feels obliged to give us his or her impressions. And the impressions they got! Fascistic, sadist, virulently anti-Semitic, a sickening death-trip, pornographic, soul-deadening, relentless savagery, etc., are the labels attached. What sounds like the unholy lovechild of Jud Süß and The Silence of the Lambs is, of course, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

By now everyone is talking about this "religious splatter art film" (Richard Corliss, Time), "the Gospel according to the Marquis de Sade" (David Ansen, Newsweek), this "repulsive masochistic fantasy, a sacred snuff film" (Leon Wieseltier, New Republic). The attack comes from every imaginable angle, and by the time you get done reading all the reviews about it, you may even understand Mel Gibson's oddly paranoid behavior when talking about the film, seeing conspiracies everywhere. When I finally saw the film, after over a year of hoopla surrounding it, its director, and the director's father, I found it to be a wholly unremarkable film. It is a frank, albeit very graphic, depiction of the 14 Stations of the Cross and the seven last words of Christ on the cross. Why the outrage?

Anti-Semitism. The most obvious accusation leveled against The Passion is that of anti-Semitism. Christopher Hitchens finds The Passion to be anti-Semitic in intention and its director even anti-Semitic by nature! Leaving aside little details such as the difference between anti-Semitism (a rather modern concept twist on an old theme) and the "more traditional" anti-Judaism that has been the scourge burden of the Jewish people for millennia, this points to one of the biggest problems of The Passion, Mel Gibson. Characterized by Hitchens as a coward, bully, bigmouth, and queer-basher, Gibson is probably the cause of much of this ire. Had the same film been made by Bernardo Bertolucci (not to say that it's Bertolucci's style to make such films), the reaction might have been one of surprise and perhaps slight concern, but hardly this kind of vitriolic lashing out that started even before the New York Times Magazine ran a lengthy article on Mel Gibson's highly controversial father a year ago.

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