Friday, 23 April 2004

Mel's Passion

I wasn’t going to see it. It wasn’t that I felt strongly about the movie, one way or the other, it was just not top of my list of must-do’s. It was only when I was alerted to the fact that The Passion of the Christ might be a subject at a dinner party that I thought I might give it a go.

I kept waiting for something to happen. That’s not to say that there was not plenty of action, far from it. I patiently sat and noted the various bits of the gospel stories which Gibson had pressed into service. I flinched a little at the initial bloodletting. Patiently I watched for the androgynous Devil character to develop into significance, but it never quite got there. By the time Caviezel’s Jesus fell a second time, I realised we were doing the stations of the cross, and I wearily ticked them off in my head as they passed across the screen.

At the end I was left with a big ‘so what?’ I didn’t know what Gibson wanted me to do with his tale; I was left with a surfeit of blood and carnage with nowhere to put it. It was beyond me why some of my colleagues had block-booked theatres, to use the movie to encourage people to faith.

The point about telling a Jesus story is that you do so to answer a question, or to raise one. Each of the gospel writers was telling their version of the Jesus story in such a way as to address a particular need of the community to whom they were writing. The question might be about who belongs in the Christian community? or who is my neighbour? Why should we take Jesus seriously? Either way the stories are written in such a way that invites a response. Gospel writers are not simply spinning a tale for the sake of it, they want you to take what they’ve written and do something with it.

The Gospel according to St Mel does none of this, unless having your nose rubbed in the brutality of first century Roman justice somehow makes you want to say your prayers. If the film was created to answer a question it was certainly lost on me.

Gospel writers and preachers know that there is no such thing as a plain vanilla Jesus story. That’s why the four gospels differ in the way that they do. Why they write and preach is because they recognise that people start with real-life questions, and so the story has to be told in such a way that speaks to the real-life situations of their hearers, and all of these are different. They shaped their material in the belief that God meets us where we are. So, don’t send me to a movie, tell me in your own words how you, a person like me, with problems and concerns like mine, has been changed by Jesus. If I can see that it is possible for me as well, then it’s news I can use, good news.

Posted by Andrew Spurr on Friday, 23 April 2004 at 7:34am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: just thinking

Your satiric beatification of Gibson seems over the top and diminishes the rest of your theme.

Posted by: Tom Roberts on Saturday, 24 April 2004 at 1:23pm BST

I am startled by the fact that you remained unmoved by the portrayal of the central character in Gibson's film. You sat there, bourgeois western post-modernist, apparently waiting to be entertained? No wonder you were disappointed. I went to the movie, not looking forward to it, something with the same attitude as yours. But the courage and commitment to forgiveness that was portrayed in the Jesus character profoundly moved me. I was in tears at two points (corny as they were): (1) when Jesus said to his mother, "I make all things new" (from Revelation, I know)-- Jesus did all this to release a New Way of being human into our human story! (Yes, I'm influenced by N. Tom Wright) and (2) the subdued way the Resurrection was portrayed (kind of surprising, coming from Gibson; mercifully, not a contradiction of the reality of what went before but a confirmation of it; I though this was true to the Gospels), with an equally determined Jesus re-entering the human scene. Your self-satisfied comments remind me of what the old evangelicals used to say about liberal theology --that it immunizes people to the Gospel! For you to have sat there and not had an experience of Christ is quite stunning! I pray jesus gets through to you in other ways. (As I'm sure he does, in ways a little more Gospel --"the least of my brethren", "this is my body", "when two or three are gathered".)

Posted by: Chris McMullen on Saturday, 24 April 2004 at 2:36pm BST

I have been a long time reader of both the Gospel and liberal theology and don't think I am immune to either. That said, I enjoyed The Passion of the Christ. I thought the film did an excellent job at portraying the horror of the crucifixion. I think this is important since all too often the crucifixion and message of the Kingdom of God, and all that Kingdom entails, is lost in Beannie Baby cuteness and Christian Rock sappiness.
In a world that is threatened by unjust wars that refer to human beings as soft targets; racism; homophobia threatening to tear the church apart and daily acts of violence against women and children in their own homes it is important for Christians to understand that when Christ speaks of love and forgiveness of enemies he means what he says. I think that the editing of the sermon on the mount with the crucifixion sucessfuloly communicated the radicalness of Christ's message of love, forgiveness and sister/brotherhood in the face of torture, empire and the accumulation of all human sins.
The film is hardly perfect. Some of the violence, such as the crow attacking the unrepantat thief and Judas' death is simply distracting to the point of harming the films message, and the Virgin Mary running around Jerusalem like the third member of the X-files is a bit silly, but these are small complaints.
That, at least, is what I got out of the movie. But as a post modern type of guy I believe that my response to media is in part determined by what I put into the media in question.

Posted by: Kevin Fitzsimmons on Monday, 26 April 2004 at 5:53pm BST