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Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ

612 words

Czech translation here

Few films have been pilloried quite as much as Mel Gibson’s Passion, yet when I last checked it was one of the ten most financially successful films of all time. Indeed, the sheer success of this piece with Christians around the world led to a deescalation of the semi-orchestrated attack on the film. Nothing succeeds like success, and I remember with amusement watching a bus with an advertisement for Mel Gibson’s Passion on the side of it snaking through the town where I lived at the height of the furore. But what of the film itself?

The Passion of the Christ is a highly artistic and metaphysical film from an ultra-Catholic perspective. As a director, Mel Gibson shows an impressive aesthetic sense and great artistic originality. This is reflected in every detail. Even the color palate of much of the film has an ocher tint or wash that resembles the painting of early Renaissance masters such as Giotto and Cimabue.

Several scenes are especially striking: the ravens attacking the thieves who are exposed with Christ on the Cross and Simon being made to carry the Cross on behalf of the Savior. But most assuredly the depiction of the Devil or Satan as a shaven-headed and androgynous Supermodel has to go down as one of the most startling innovations in cinema history.

Interestingly enough, the reaction to her appearance inside Italy was quite different to outside, and for a comparison try to visualize Lady GaGa as Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust and you begin to get some sense of the frisson.

In High Christian art an artist is given free rein to depict the diabolical because it is outside the locus or expectation of human imperfection. The more perverse the depiction, the more aesthetically revelatory — so holds this particular theory.

One of the more interesting critiques of the film, particularly in Europe, was that it was blood-thirsty, sado-masochistic, and little more than a Biblical slasher movie. Yet none of the violence is gratuitous, and all of it fits in with the depiction of the Passion per se. During the first fifty minutes to one hour of running time, there is literally no violence, save some scuffling in the Garden.

This fits in with a very benevolent depiction of the Romans throughout the film. One is reminded that Mel Gibson’s faith is called Roman Catholicism after all. The Bulgarian actor playing Pilate  (who bears a striking resemblance to Mussolini) depicts him, in Nietzsche’s words, as the real hero of the New Testament. This could quite easily fit in with Gibson’s prognosis — after all, the whole point about the film is that Christ’s extraordinary moral arc or point of departure has to do with the fact that he is not a Man (sic).

On the issue of anti-Semitism, so-called, I have nothing to say. The film is not in the least anti-Semitic. It is a traditionalist High Catholic art film with all the suppositions which that implies. It is definitely not philo-Semitic, however. What the alleged scandal involving its release goes to show is that the implied penumbra of censorship and over-sensitivity needs to be confronted and stood up to.

Gibson did nothing offensive whatsoever — even, from a classicizing point of view, the use of Latin throughout most of the feature just adds to the effect. Nothing more . . .

I recommend that people re-visit this film on DVD now that the firestorm has well and truly died down. I think that Mel Gibson’s film can be seen as a Christian altarpiece extension, à la Grünewald, to Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (Parts 1 & 2). That’s Olympia — not Triumph of the Will. There is a subtle difference . . .


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  1. David Halevi
    Posted June 17, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Those looking to buy The Passion on DVD should be aware the Director’s Cut version lacks English subtitles … which I believe was Gibson’s original intention for the theatrical release. If you want subtitles, go for the no-frills version.

    • Posted June 17, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      Indeed, it was Mel Gibson’s original intention.

      • Posted June 18, 2011 at 5:36 am | Permalink

        I believe that Gibson’s next piece will be a Viking tale done in Old Norse. I would LOVE to see that. I really liked Apocalypto.

  2. Posted June 17, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    The term ultra-catholic is not appropriate. Mr. Gibson is – or was – a traditionalist catholic, that is a catholic and not one of these hippy-like christians that came after Vatican II.

    Being a Catholique-Romain-Apostolique, as is -or was- the case of Mr. Gibson, does not imply any particular sympathy for the Roman Empire or the Romans.

    Jesus was both , at the same time that is to say , vrai-Dieu et vrai-Homme.

    It is correct to place the film within the tradition of catholic art and painting. The film is a faithfull rendering of the passion of Christ based on the scriptures, no more no less, and in this it is excellent.

    I must add that the film was greatly appreciated by the catholic priests friends (read ultra-catholic) to whom I talked.

  3. Petronius
    Posted June 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    The main problem and error of this film is that Jesus’s suffering is shown to much from physical side, as a primary physical torment. Now, that is, in the final assessment, rather banal. There is something worse than this, and that is the torment of the soul. “My God, why hast thou forsaken me”. Compare this with Dreyer’s infinitely superior “Passion of Jeanne d’Arc”. This reflects in the main performances: Caviezel’s undertaking is merely athletic (hence the Olympia), Falconetti’s truely spiritual. Besides fr0m that it is certainly a beautiful passion play.

  4. Posted June 18, 2011 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    ” It is definitely not philo-Semitic, however.”

    Isn’t that the problem? It dared speak of the Jews without falling to its knees in glowing praise. The nerve.

    I saw that Passion a long time ago with my mother, who wept through most of it. I am a bit embarrassed to say that as a college aged budding atheist I eye-rolled through most of it. Now that I am aware of the Weltenfeind however, my Catholicism has become belligerent. I think I’d like to see it again in a different light.

    I chuckled at your comment about Lady Gaga. The devil has many faces, doesn’t she?

    BTW, her last name “Germanotta” or any deviation thereof does not show up on an Italian surname databases. Siciliana, my ass.

    • Michael Bell
      Posted June 19, 2011 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      Though this veers us off Mr. Bowden’s topic entirely, I couldn’t resist adding input into this particular sub-topic. I find Lady GaGa particularly abhorrent and disgusting, and her penchant for degenerate behavior–going so extreme and in-your-face at times as to make her seem like the high priestess of modern American degeneracy–makes the possibility of her being a crypto-Jew very likely. seems to think so:

      “Germanotta is a Jewish surname like many anglicized surnames were.
      Many Jews went to Germany and moved through the Brenner pass between Italy and Germany and created Yiddish and changed names to reflect this.
      Other names are Romani, Rosenberg,Gutenberg ,Rosenblatt etc.”

      Another possibility is that her name is very, very local in origin, but given her close resemblance to Amy Winehouse, I doubt it. In learning to distinguish Sicilians from Jews (as the two are often very similar in appearance), I’ve come up with a very pseudo-scientific method (but it works for me.) Jewish eyes have an indescribable touch of the sinister in them. I don’t know if its the way they slant, or the particular almond shape they take on, or what lies beneath them. Sicilians may have the curly or nappy hair, the aquiline noses, and the dark eyes, but they just don’t radiate that air of bad intentions that one sees in the eyes of a full-blown Semite. Lady GaGa’s eyes bear the latter characteristics, and her actions speak for themselves.

      Sorry for this deviation from the central topic of the article.

      • Joe
        Posted June 20, 2011 at 10:05 am | Permalink

        I’ve noticed that in some pictures Gaga’s eyes are light blue and some, like the one you linked, they’re brown.

        Of course Lady Gaga’s a jew.

        Germanotta is following in Madonna’s footsteps, Each one has to be more disgusting than the last. The next one will probably simulate sex with donkeys on stage instead of a negro.

        Madonna was an “Italian” when she was big. Now that she’s too old and her career’s basically over, she “converted” to being a kabbalist jew. Pretending to be Italian Catholic is just part of the ruse.

      • Posted June 20, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

        Don’t forget a neck that seems to be consuming its chin.

        My grandfather was Sicilian. Him and Germanotta might as well be different species.

        @Bell- Yes, there is something in the eyes. I can’t put my finger on it.

  5. Fourmyle of Ceres
    Posted June 19, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Petronius and Iranian:


    After fifty years that’s fifty years that’s FIFTY YEARS of White Nationalism being impotent entertainment, dare we critique Gibson for not being perfect in all things?

    The Masters changed with the times, and developed new styles, using new tools, to reach people where they WERE, and, from there, to spark the process of Enlightenment.

    So should we.

    If ONE of our young men walks out of Passion and thinks, “Who were those people that hated Him so much, and why did they feel that way,” we are on our way to him realizing “they” feel exactly the same about him, his Family, and his extended Family – US.

    What’s In YOUR Future?

    Focus Northwest

    • Fourmyle of Ceres
      Posted June 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      When Is the WN “movement” going to stop promoting debased ugliness and putting its faith in deadend endeavors?

      There has never been a successful “Movement” without an overarching, defining Cause. That Cause Must Begin With The 14 Words – Family, Extended, united in the fulfillment of a Transcendent metapolitical purpose.

      When enough lose their jobs, their toys, and their faith in the status quo, they will be open to our message. They will have to work like their Ancestors did, and that will be the test of emotional maturity most will fail. Families will unite, or their members will go under.

      That’s their choice.

      ANYTHING other than the Northwest Republic, if only as an Analytical Model, is simply “Charlie Brown Thinking”; the Childish, magical belief that if you do something often enough, as authority figures tell you do, you will eventually be successful. It didn’t work for the AMWAY people, and it isn’t working for what remains of what was the middle class.


      What’s In YOUR Future?

      Focus Northwest

  6. Mark Hess
    Posted June 19, 2011 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    What was most interesting to me about “The Passion of the Christ” phenomenon in my own country (The United States) was that, overwhelmingly, it was most popular among, and most embraced and pushed by, Christian-Zionists, these tens of millions of people who most fervently support Israel and the atrocious adventures of our military, and who do next to nothing to challenge our grotesque and thoroughly globalist economic order.

    Go figure.

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