Thursday, February 10, 2005

Passion of the Bloodlust

Lent has begun.

A year ago, Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" emerged as must see (and cringe) pop culture. I just saw it recently, and I understand why it appeals to so many conservative Christians (Catholic and Protestant.)

The film draws from the gut. One learns nothing of Christianity from it, the rock principles upon which Peter built the church. Gibson was determination to create a two-hour universe steeped in hardcore reality, so that the phrase we hear each week (in the Catholic church, at least,) "He suffered, died and was buried" will have some meaning and be more than just a rote utterance.

And boy, did Christ suffer!

In fact, a man who suffers as much as Christ does in this movie could never carry a wooden cross let alone be nailed to it without going into cardiac failure. The prolonged butchery is as unrealistic as the adverturous escapes of James Bond or Indiana Jones. The only thing missing is the director's cut scene in which, at the last minute, Christ whirls the cross around, caving in the skulls of the centurions, hopping on a steed, socking Pilate in the puss, and nodding at the guards to "book 'em."

Gibson goes overboard -- lustfully, cinematically -- so much so that it undermines his own mission to depict a realistic crucifixion. There is an S&M glee to the filmmaking: the lurid monster movie ghouls; the giddy delight from the salivating, rotten-tooth Roman torturers make them seem like porn-flicker bikers; the Jews who egg on the torturers like sicko Norman Bateses than the bewildered, cowardice lynch mob that they probably were. Gibson took too much delight in depicting the torturers' joy in flogging, rather than their derangement. That is, rather than depict some sicko floggers ardently at work, he gave us the close-up shots that make the centurions the objects of our passions. We become more amazed at their sadistic glee, that they could scourge a fellow human being, panting and laughing, and that turns the movie into a snuff film rather than an illumination of Christ's suffering.

I understand how it might appeal to that part of the religious right, who thrive (both spiritually and financially) on accusation and condemnation, who don't give a rat's ass about the destruction they cause today because to them it's always about the melodramatic fulfillment of prophecy and revelations in global holy wars, not to mention keeping tax-paying homos from paying even more taxes if they ever got the right to file jointly.

If it's religion they want, give them instead Mahalia Jackson, performing with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the Duke's original suite "Black, Beige and Brown", a concert at Carnegie Hall in 1943 to uplift and benefit the Russian War relief fund, to help in the fight against the crushing invasion by Nazi Germany. Imagine, in an era of segregation, a negro orchestra encouraging a godless country to keep up the fight against Hitler, with Mahalia Jackson's spirited, woeful voice singing about slaves who seek strength, and who cherish their Sunday day of rest so that they can replenish their spirit to keep on:

Lord dear Lord of love, God almighty, God up above,
Please look down and see my people through.
He'll give peace and comfort
To every troubled mind.
Come Sunday home
Come Sunday. That's the day.
Often we'll feel weary, but He knows our every care.
Go to Him in secret he will heed your every prayer.
I'm intrigued by the lyric "go to him in secret." That is humility and privacy and not the showbiz sadomachism that pumps people up and flames their base enthusiasm for warfare rather than a truly complicated mission of behaving benevolently.
I've also felt that the truly religious are the ones who focus on the sins of omission -- the things we don't do that we should. This requires a life that includes that Sunday day of rest, to contemplate, and to make the number one priority the plank in our own eyes rather than the speck of cinder in our neighbor's.


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