Sometimes I think that if people really listened to themselves, I’d
be out of a job. When they can’t mean what they say, you are
entitled to doubt that they’re saying what they mean.
Few are saying that Mel Gibson had no right to make a film about
the Crucifixion. But many are saying he shouldn’t have made it.
If they don’t complain that The Passion of Christ is “anti-Semitic” — that
is, annoying to some Jews — they complain that its violence is “excessive” and “overdone.” Can
they really mean this? Twelve hours of torture are compressed into
only two, and that’s too much? Has Gibson left out the refreshment
Since there have been lots of earlier films about Christ, you might
expect Gibson’s critics to name one that got it right — showed
just the proper degree of torment — or at least admit that the
earlier, softer versions failed to do justice to the horror of nailing
a man to a cross.
In Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of
Christ, the guy on
the cross is shown having sexual fantasies during his agony. Maybe
Scorsese’s point is that the victim, even in his agony, has one
hell of a libido. Anyway, I don’t remember any complaints that
the violence in that absurd version was “deficient” or “underdone.”
The New York Times now brings a fresh angle: “New Film May
Harm Gibson’s Career.” Why? Because the film is a flop?
Not hardly. It seems that some Jewish Hollywood moguls intend to avenge
themselves on the film by doing no further business with Gibson, no
matter what profits they may be forgoing.
A new Hollywood blacklist, with only one name on it! Maybe we can
have a new round of congressional investigations to uncover Christian
infiltration of the film industry. You can’t be too careful.
(The New York Post reports that one Israeli politician “said
the movie should be banned in his country and called for Gibson to
be put on trial.”)
Not everyone shares the hysteria. One Hollywood agent puts the issue
in earthy terms: “I don’t think it will hurt [Gibson].
People here will work with the anti-Christ if he’ll put butts
in the seats.” The anti-Christ, yes, of course. That’s
a no-brainer. But Christ may be another matter.
A decade ago the great English actress Vanessa Redgrave had a scheduled
performance in Boston canceled when Jews protested her outspoken anti-Zionism.
The Times reported then only that Miss Redgrave’s “politics” — not
Jewish pressure — had “hurt her career.”
If the pressure had come from Christians, the story would have been
told differently. The Times and other media would have shrieked about “religious
fanatics” trying to “impose their views” and blighting “artistic
expression.” But today the editorialists aren’t viewing
the latest hate campaign with much alarm. Even the “straight” news
accounts imply that Gibson has brought it all on himself.
The uproar is amusing because it’s hypocritical. The
Passion of the Christ has received an R rating for its violence, and Gibson
isn’t objecting to that. But reviewers who have seen it all,
and applauded “candor” on the screen as long as it’s
ungodly, are howling this time. Gibson is using the new tolerance of
film violence for a purpose they loathe: Christian evangelism.
But they can’t even admit that. Hence they are bandying charges
of “excessive violence,” “sadism,” “masochism,” and
so forth, implying — or saying outright — that Gibson enjoys
the spectacle of torture. They don’t explain how he might have
made a crucifixion look unpleasant without violating their unspecified
Anyone who has read about crucifixion — ancient
Rome’s answer to “community service” — knows
that Gibson hasn’t exaggerated. When the Gospels were written,
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John didn’t have to explain what
it meant: a punishment so savage as to make strong men shudder
at its mere mention. The only crucifixion modern men remember,
that of Christ, has been rendered largely symbolic by centuries
of pious Christian art.
By using the techniques of modern cinema,
Gibson has made it seem real again. Those who don’t believe
that Christ redeemed us may see in it nothing but needless horror.
But Christians are seeing it with something more than horror:
inexpressible wonder and gratitude for God’s boundless
Copyright © 2012 by the Fitzgerald
Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This column was published originally
by Griffin Internet Syndicate on February 26, 2004.
Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio
and archives of some of his columns.
Watch Sobran's last TV appearance on YouTube.
Learn how to get a tape of his last speech
during the FGF Tribute to Joe Sobran in December 2009.
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