Problems with The Passion?
This post will address the two main criticisms of Gibson’s film. Tomorrow I will post on the film’s considerable merits.
WARNING! Spoilers ahead! (But how much of this story can really be spoiled?)
1) Is the film anti-Semitic? I don’t think so. The Jewish High Priests do not come off well, but as Fr. Groeshel said, they don’t come off well in the Gospels anyway. I believe the movie paints a balanced portrait between Jews calling for Jesus’ death, and those who take pity on Him. The film is absolutely clear in showing Jesus’ forgiveness towards Jews (and the Romans). Jesus cries out, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
This became strikingly clear to me at one point: as the High Priests ascended Golgotha, the scene cut away to Jesus speaking words from John 10:17-18, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.” The film is faithful to the Gospels. Jesus was not some passive, helpless victim of a nefarious Jewish plot. Jesus wasn’t forced to take up His Cross; He embraced the Cross.
If any one group comes across as altogether wicked, it’s the Roman soldiers. Those who were directly responsible for carrying out Jesus’ execution are presented as mercilessly brutish and cruel.
As I’ve written before, if this film is anti-Semitic then the Christian Scriptures are inherently anti-Semitic. And if this is so, then the Hebrew Scriptures are even more anti-Semitic. This entire line of reasoning is absurd. Of course anyone searching for anti-Semitism will find it in the Gospels and in the film. Nevertheless, if you’re looking to point a finger of blame at those who caused Jesus’ death, look in the mirror.
As Fr. Groeshel has written, we should be sensitive to Jews who are concerned about the historical precedent of anti-Jewish violence in response to Passion plays. I believe some sort of disclaimer renouncing the sin of anti-Semitism and the preposterous notion of blaming Jews today for events that happened 2000 years ago, might have been helpful.
2) Is the film too gory? One reviewer described it as, “The Gospel as Horror Film.” Again, I don’t think so. Look, our salvation was grotesquely bloody. Jesus paid the price of our redemption with every drop of His Precious Blood. No doubt this film is indescribably brutal and excruciating to watch. But the real thing was even worse. I think people of faith should be mediate deeply on the Passion. The greatest saints and mystics have recommended such meditation. Gibson’s film is a realistic portrayal. It’s a cinematic Stations of the Cross. This film will shake you to the core. He set out to shock us, and succeeds brilliantly. For those who have been held captive to a sanitized Christianity, to a Jesus without the Cross, or to a contemporary abstraction of Jesus leaping off a Cross, this film is a timely, and welcome, alarm clock.
To those who wonder whether or not to see the movie because of sensitivity to violence I would employ the famous maxim, nosce te ipsum, know thyself. If you think you can possibly take it, with the option of looking away from time to time, I would recommend pushing the edge of the envelope. I think all Catholics should see this film because of the violence. We must know the price He paid for us.