Rightwing Film Geek

A ‘nice’ PASSION

Thanks, Mel.

Next week, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST gets rereleased, Someone at St. Blogs (I forget who; my apologies if he ever reads this) actually suggested a couple of months ago that every few years, Mel Gibson could rerelease the film into theaters for Lent or for Passion Week/Holy Week specifically. Everyone in the thread agreed this would be a great idea. God answers prayers, but sometimes not always like some of us might want.

Screen Shot 2017-11-23 at 8.01.39 PMIts official title is THE PASSION RECUT. I’m glad of the title change (so as to avoid confusion) and I’ve no reason to think Gibson will make this the “definitive” or … um … “canonical” version of the film. Still, I disagree with the man from whom I learned of this — Catholic blogger Domenico Bettinelli (there’s a first time for everything). I’m really not thrilled by Gibson’s decision.

It should go without saying that if films should be recut at all, the artist whose work it is should be the one doing it. And there’s nothing unprecedented about directors fiddling with their work after release — all the various versions of APOCALYPSE NOW; Wong Kar-wai will probably still be recutting 2046 in 2046. But while I wouldn’t turn down someone else’s invitation to go, I do not plan to see THE PASSION RECUT, while I definitely will pop in my DVD of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST at some point during Holy Week.

It’s as if Gibson has forgotten all the fuss over the film in the weeks and months prior to release, and the weeks after. Several people, not a few of them ill-disposed toward Gibson and Catholicism to begin with while being curiously unrepulsed by movie violence elsewhere, accused the film of being a fantasy of homosexual masochism. Many of us who defended THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST argued that the film’s violence was necessary and not exploitative. Indeed, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is one of the few films (IRREVERSIBLE, THE WILD BUNCH and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE are the only others to come to mind quickly) where I would say that to tone down the violence or try to make it palatable is to do violence to the film. I specifically argued that a “nice” PASSION would have failed to capture the point of the Atonement — that Jesus was bearing all the sins of the world, and that His stripes *should* make you recoil.

To act in a realistic, human register *in this story* would be false to the profanity of what the soldiers are doing. This is why the complaints about how the film is too violent are so utterly misguided. This is the Son of God atoning for all the world’s sins, dammit. If any event deserves to be portrayed as Big, over-important, it’s this one. We’re seeing, at a certain level, an act of evil beyond comprehension and so cranking up the whipping to the infinitieth degree is the only way to make the scale of the point, given that Gibson is restricted to making a film featuring a mere man. Look at the contrast between Jesus’ body by the time He is crucified and those of the two thieves. If Jesus looks like the two thieves, the brutality is merely equal and thus the uniqueness of this suffering and death, what makes it the Atonement, is not shown.

Now, Gibson has made a liar out of me. And, by recutting the film to make it less violent, has acknowledged that it was too violent in the first place. (second sentence added by VJM after initial publication as the perfect “nut sentence”)

Dom points out (correctly, probably) that more people will see the film if there’s a less-violent cut available. That may be true, but I’m not sure that this would justify undermining the film’s theology to the extent that toning down the violence would. Dom would hoot (and has hooted) at people who argue that the Church should try to get more butts in the pews by making the liturgy more “accessible” or “relevant” or having Bible translations that are more “modern” or otherwise dumbed-down. CAVEAT: I well understand the difference between a movie, which will be ashes and dust someday, on the one hand and on the other hand the inspired Word of God and/or the Holy Mass, the sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ. I’m obviously NOT saying the matter is as grave. But still, an analogous point can be made — that all are a form of watering down a thing in a bid to broaden the audience. I’m all for accessibility and popularity — but only to the extent consistent with the thing sought. And at some point, watering down a rite, a book or a film all become inconsistent with the point of the rite, the book, the film — whatever the distance between the gravity of those points might be. I’m not sure you do people much good by making no demands whatever of their “comfort zone.” In fact, to aestheticize the Passion (or to be more precise, to only watch a fictional representation of it if it has been aestheticized) does not seem to me very different from attempts to write off the Gospels as mere myth — both are attempts to duck historicity, that God took on human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. And that Jesus was specifically crucified for my sins (every “my” in the world in fact) and this is what crucifixion is. Both aestheticization and mythologizing seem like species of the same type of squeamish reaction to this too, too solid flesh.

March 3, 2005 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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