here in DC and the first thing you need to know about it is that it’s a very good movie. Forget the politics and the controversy: You cannot take your eyes off the screen, except for those the scenes that are so graphic you can’t bear to watch them.
In many ways, it reminded me of Schindler’s List, a hard-to-watch-yet-impossible-not-to-watch telling of the depravity we are capable of inflicting upon each other. Is it disturbing? Yes. Is it horrifying? Yes. But do you doubt that it is fundamentally true? Not for a moment.
And yes, Mel Gibson’s “Passion” does stir up anger against those responsible for the Crucifixion: After the movie, I wanted to kick the crap out of a Roman. The Roman soldiers are the hate-inspiring baddies in this movie, not the leaders of the Jewish political cabal who seek Jesus’ death. Gibson portrays them as clearly shocked by what, in their theological view, is blasphemy.
I don’t know what the reviewers who see even a hint of anti-Semitism are looking at. While the Jewish leaders certainly aren’t heroes, several members of their ranks step forward to defend Christ and denounce the way he is treated. The battle over Jesus isn’t Jew vs. Christian in this movie. It’s Jew vs. Jew, with both factions doing what they believe is right.
In fact, Gibson uses a moment in the Crucifixion to all but declare Caiaphas and his allies “Not Guilty!” for the death of Christ. It’s not subtle in the least, and the fact that most reviews I’ve read skip this moment indicates to me they’re doing their part to keep the unfounded controversy alive.
Let me be perfectly clear: There is no way to honestly say this movie is either anti-Semitic or promotes anti-Semitism. That is simply not true, and people who have seen the film and make that claim are being dishonest or ignorant.
A Gibson-basher on CNN today said that the portrayal of the Jewish mob calling for Jesus’ execution as “ignorant, ugly, angry” is problematic. But he leaves out the scene where Jesus’ political enemies pass out money to buy themselves a mob. The mob Gibson gives us looks like the kind of people of any faith who would participate in such a mob. And he leaves out the other “mob,” the Jewish supporters of Jesus who follow him to Calvary. At what point does this Rabbi’s selectivity turn into dishonesty?
I absolutely recommend the movie as a movie. Not as an evangelism tool or a theological argument, but as a powerfully-told film of a story so powerful it has defined the central tenets of Western thought. If it were up for Best Picture Sunday night, I would give it my vote. It’s a better movie than “Return Of The King.” Having said that, I’d rather see ROTK twenty more times than see “The Passion” once again. I’m glad I’ve seen it, but I can hardly say it was an enjoyable experience.