Passion, the controversial movie of Mel Gibson, isn’t the first movie about the New Testament. There have been many interpretations since Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings, even two musicals, Godspeed that didn’t do too well and was even dubbed Godaweful by critics, and the Andrew Lloyd Weber rock-musical hit, Jesus Christ Super Star, whose album went gold. Martin Scorcese made a film called The Last Temptation of Christ, which managed to be much less controversial than Mel Gibson’s The Passion, and a much better film.
Those who have yet to see Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, probably aren’t going to see it. It did so well at the box office that it made enough money to cover its entire investment opening night, and it was on a Wednesday, not having the advantage of a weekend release. The film also didn’t need any advertising, it drew enough controversy long before its release date to generate enough of an audience to fill multiple theaters all Ash Wednesday long.
While good lighting and a script in Aramaic and a Latin dialect make the movie seem more life-like, the movie cannot be the most historically accurate version of the last 12 hours of Jesus because many scenes in the movie are additions by Gibson with no historical background.
There are things in the movie that are never depicted in the New Testament, like Judas seeing demon children, or a satanic figure walking amongst a crowd of Jewish Priests watching the flogging of Jesus. But then there are the more, much more, controversial additions like the scene in which the Priests’ Jewish guards brutally beat up a chained and shackled Jesus after being arrested at the Garden of Gethsemane, and then throw him over a bridge, leaving him dangled there for a moment, only to yank him backup and beat him some more. Incidents such as these are found nowhere in the New Testament and to advertise the movie as an accurate interpretation is troubling and misleading.
Although Mel Gibson denies any instance of anti-Semitism in the movie and claims to have no intentions of creating any anti-Semitism sentiment, he is playing with fire. The entire two hours of the film stir up emotions in people from all different religions. Obviously moved, people sat crying outside the theater. But while Christians and Catholics are watching their Lord being crucified for the sins of everyone, Jewish people were watching other Jews being portrayed as the culprit. Almost no blame is put on Roman ruler Pontius Pilate, who maintains a look of disbelief and disgust at the Jewish Priest’s bullying and insistence of Jesus’ crucifixion. In reality,Pilate actually had crucified many Jews and was even recalled as Roman governor. Where the New Testament asses blame to the Romans who crucified Jesus, Pontius Pilate and the high Jewish Priests, Mel Gibson’s version depicts a very adamant and dangerous mob of Priests, and the Romans as mindless brutes. Factually, the Second Vatican rejects the collective culpritability of the Jewish people for the death of Jesus and ironically Mel Gibson identifies himself as a Traditionalist Catholic, traditionalists reject the reforms of the Catholic Church’s Second Vatican.
The movie continues and Pontius then gives the Priests an ultimatum: release Barbaras, the murderer, or Jesus “The one who you call the King of the Jews”. Barbaras then comes out to the crowd of Priests making funny faces and noises, and the audience even laughs because it is so silly, and it is at such an odd, serious point in the movie. The Priests ask for Barbarus, and Pontius takes Jesus away to be gruesomely flogged for a time period that is just too long to watch.
Lost in the stirred emotions and the millions of reviews that this movie has generated, is the notion that The Passion is just a movie, where the artist, Mel Gibson, is taking from the parts of the New Testament that he wants to while leaving out others. Just watching the movie proves that Gibson doesn’t take from all four books of the New Testament, just what he wants.
When I came back from the movie, I was walking across a few college students who were talking about The Passion and specifically about how much violence they heard was in it and how badly they want to see it. Then, one of the kids asked his friend publicly, “Hey, aren’t you Jewish?” There was silence as the kid struggled to answer, “No, my dad’s Jewish, so I have a Jewish last name, but I don’t believe in that stuff. I’m not Jewish.” He’s right; he’s not Jewish, because Judaism comes from the mother’s side, but the way he took offense to the question was really scary.
The point is, if The Passion is having this type of effect in the States, where anti-Semitism is thankfully not rampant as it is in Europe and other parts of the world, how are other countries going to react? How will young kids who don’t know that much about the New Testament know how much of the movie is Mel Gibson’s interpretation and how much is made up?
Christians and Jews continue to reassert their dedication to promoting peace and understanding through religious freedoms. It is not right to say that the film is wrong and that everyone should denounce it, but that it should be watched carefully and hopefully with a great desire for religious tolerance.
*This article is meant to be sensitive to all views. It is not meant to complain about anti-Semitism in the movie, but to inform anyone who has watched the movie that just because Mel Gibson says that The Passion is close to an accurate account of the New Testament, doesn’t mean that it is.
Linda Hoffman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Front cover Title:
The Passion of one man, new flick causes controversy for all beliefs