Sorry for flogging this dead horse again. This column appeared in the French daily La Presse on Saturday. This English translation is shorter and seems less mordant than the original, but nevertheless Lysiane Gagnon's points reflect some interesting views from post-Catholic Quebec, which are no doubt closer to the European way of looking at things, especially in the resistance to sentimentality.
Mel Gibsonís Idiotic VisionLysiane Gagnon -- Globe&Mail -- April 26, 2004
I went to see Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ knowing that I would hate it. But since the movie has become a sociological phenomenon, I thought I had to go.
The gruesome epic is steeped in primitive sentimentality, to a point where it actually becomes quite funny. We are treated to scenes of the devil, who sometimes appears as a monstrous child, or as seductively androgynous (but beware, there are worms crawling into his/her nose and he/she has crooked nails. I didn't see the tail, though).
After the death of Christ, when the Redemption is completed, another horrible, devilish character throws a terrible fit of rage: Satan is angry. Never in my life have I seen such a naive and simplistic interpretation of the life of Jesus. The nuns at the private grade school I was sent to were much more sophisticated than Mel Gibson. During the week before Easter, they would have us reflect on the Passion of Christ by showing us sober, almost abstract images in black and white.
But Mel Gibson wanted blood. So for two hours, we see scenes of Jesus being subjected to various kinds of tortures.
The endless scenes of flogging and the Crucifixion reminded me of those countless paintings of Saint Sebastian that pollute the museums and churches of Italy. For centuries, the muscled body of the young saint pierced with arrows has fed the perverse dreams of decadent men.
There is a lot to be said in favour of the sobriety of Jewish and Muslim religious art, which forbids the depiction of human beings. Mosques and synagogues are decorated by arabesques, abstract motifs or sacred texts, which appeal purely to the mind. Christian (or, rather, Catholic) art has produced masterworks, but it's often been explicit to the point of garishness, one explanation being that the early Christians aimed at converting illiterate people.
There is one good point in the film, though. Since the dialogues are recreated in a mixture of several languages, we are at least saved from hearing the characters speak Hollywood English. Mel Gibson also broke with a Catholic tradition of presenting the Virgin Mary as fair-skinned. (His Jesus, though, looks like a hippie surfer, just off a California campus.)
Is The Passion anti-Semitic? It's hard to say, because it's difficult to take this film seriously. The Jewish high priests resent the bizarre prophet (which made sense at the time, but of course the movie never takes the historical context into account) and they're certainly presented as an unpleasant bunch of characters. Pontius Pilate, on the contrary, is seen as a noble if cowardly man. There are good Jewish characters and the real bad guys are the sadistic Roman centurions.
Needless to say, the film has been greeted in the Arab countries where it was shown as a proof that the Jews martyred the Christians before doing the same with the Muslims. My guess is that the film will inflame the passions of those who already are anti-Semites, but that the moderate Christians won't buy Mel Gibson's idiotic and archaic vision.