Absolute silence. It was the first time I had ever experienced this at the
end of a movie. There was no applause and for at least five minutes no one
moved. Gradually, as the credits rolled, a few people began to silently
depart the theater. By the time the credits were done, a full two-thirds of
the people were still in their seats, and still no one spoke. That was the
experience I had on the night of Ash Wednesday when, along with thirty-one
students from Howard University, I watched Mel Gibson's long anticipated
movie, The Passion of the Christ.
I must confess that it was one of the
most powerful experiences I have ever had. For me this movie ranks in a
class all by itself. In truth, I don't even think other "Jesus" movies can
be reasonably compared to it. Gibson has brought us to a new level of
conceptualizing the suffering and death of Jesus with his dramatization of
Our Lord's final hours. I do not intend to review the movie-that is not my
forte-however, I would like to offer a few reflections that may be helpful
to those who have seen the movie, have heard or read about it, or are still
deliberating whether or not to see it.
Because of the publicity and controversy surrounding the movie, it is
difficult not to frame these reflections in terms of much that had been said
about the movie both before and after its public release. Nearly everyone is
familiar with the fact that at least two principal charges have been leveled
against Gibson and the movie. The movie was touted to be excessively
violent, and anti-Semitic. Thus it has been judged by some to be a
distortion of the true teaching of the Gospels. Like most viewers, I was
prepared to look for evidence either supporting or refuting these claims.
My reflections will engage a few publicly expressed opinions. The first
question that must be asked is, "Is the movie too violent?" The answer one
gives to that question depends on the barometer one uses to measure
acceptable and unacceptable levels of violence. Obviously the movie received
an "R" rating because of the violence. As a result of that alone many
"anti-violence" advocates are quite negative about the movie, and accuse of
hypocrisy those values-advocates who traditionally decry Hollywood violence,
but overlook it in this case.
In a February 25 article in the "Style" Section of
The Washington Post
entitled "Less Than The Gospel Truth," Ann Hornaday writes, "It [The Passion
of the Christ] traffics in lurid, almost pornographic imagery of blood,
brutality and mortified flesh, rivaling Martin Scorsese's 'Gangs of New
York' in its ghastly, stylized violence." Also appealing to the imagery
evoked by the concept pornography was a February 27 column in The Washington
Times by Andrew Sullivan who, after defining "pornography" as the "reduction
of all human thought, feeling and personality to mere flesh," states, "The
centerpiece of the movie is an absolutely disgusting piece of sadism that
has no real basis in any of the Gospels." Not satisfied with this, Sullivan
continues, "And then we see his mother wiping up masses and masses of blood.
It is an absolutely disgusting scene."