2 March 2004
I’m not sure how concerned I should be about The Passion of the Christ. Jews, of all people, should know that no text is self-interpreting. If millions of people see the movie, and none of them interpret it in a way that does not inspire them to harm Jews, I have nothing to complain about. If some of them consider it an antisemitic movie, but respond by abandoning Christianity, likewise. If some of them are inspired to commit violence against Jews, the actual violence is a matter for the police.
Also, I can’t shake the feeling that Gibson, observing what Christian outrage did for the box-office sales of Hail Mary and The Last Temptation of Christ, has stoked Jewish outrage to sell tickets.
I am sure of one thing, though. If, God forbid, I were a Christian — especially a Catholic — I would be very concerned about this movie. After all, if I were a Christian, this gore-fest with feints at “historical accuracy” (Aramaic dialogue, but a white Jesus?!) would be purporting to represent my religion.
To their credit, some Christians have looked at the movie and recoiled. Andrew Sullivan, for example, called it “some kind of sick combination of the theology of Opus Dei and the film-making of Quentin Tarantino.” Greg Easterbrook compares and contrasts: “The Gospels emphasize Christ’s suffering on the cross; Gibson has decided to emphasize Christ’s suffering via the whip. Strange that Gibson should feel he understands Jesus’ final hours better than the Gospel writers did.” William Safire asks: “At a moment when a wave of anti-Semitic violence is sweeping Europe and the Middle East, is religion well served by updating the Jew-baiting passion plays of Oberammergau on DVD?”
Then we have the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Office for Film & Broadcasting, whose review has the following high points: “However … And though … ‘Nostra Aetate’ … Overall … However … However … Nonetheless … flaws as well as triumphs …” The review concludes by rating the movie “A-III”, meaning that Passion, like Left Behind: The Movie, is appropriate for all adults without reservation, but not for children and adolescents.
So what movies does this august body not consider appropriate for any random grown-up to sit back and enjoy? A selection follows. All direct quotes are from reviews on the USCCB’s Web site.
The USCCB rates the following movies as “A-IV” or “L”, meaning that they have “problematic content” or “require caution and some analysis”:
- Dudley Moore plays a short-order cook in a parody/update of the Faust legend in which “the lust sequence gets a bit too sinful and another satirizing the image of nuns may seem more distasteful than funny.”
- The Believer
- A self-hating Jew rises through the ranks of a neo-Nazi organization in a movie with “some hateful violence, a suicide, a sexual encounter with nudity and recurring rough language.”
- The Body
- Antonio Banderas plays a Catholic priest who investigates a first-century corpse that bears a remarkable resemblance to You-Know-Who. The film is “remains shallow in its exploration and eventual affirmation of the resurrection.”
- The Exorcist
- “[T]he movie is on shaky ground theologically and its special effects are horrific but the result is an exciting horror fantasy for those with strong stomachs.”
- A homophobe with a stroke gets speech therapy from a drag queen in a movie with “ambiguous depiction of gay lifestyles”.
- The Godfather, Part III
- This sequel, unlike the first two films in the series, loses points for “an unedifying ficitional depiction of some religious figures”.
- A gay lawyer with AIDS sues his former employer for discrimination. “[T]he emotionally manipulative script and Hanks’ restrained, powerful performance reduce complex social issues to the personal level of one victim’s humanity and search for justice. Sympathetic depiction of gay relationships, fleeting nudity and a few sexist and sexual slurs.”
The USCCB rates the following movies as “O”, meaning that they are “morally offensive”:
- Lisa Fiorentino plays the last known descendant of Jesus, working at an abortion clinic; Chris Rock plays Rufus, the black apostle; Matt Damon and Ben Affleck play fallen angels; Alanis Morisette plays God. “The unfunny proceedings rely on a mindless mix of irreverence and absurdity in poking fun at biblical characters and Christian stereotypes.”
- Hail Mary
- A modernized story of the Incarnation and Virgin Birth, whose “extensive use of nudity and extremely rough language in a context so sacred to Christians will be offensive to many.”
- The Last Temptation of Christ
- Satan tempts Jesus by holding out the prospect of a normal life off the cross. The movie “fails because of artistic inadequacy rather than anti-religious bias … insistence on gore and brutality [sic!], as well as a preoccupation with sexual rather than spirtual love.”
- The Omen
- Gregory Peck is the foster father of the anti-Christ. The film’s “only interest in religion is in terms of its exploitation potential.”
- The Rapture
- A woman joins an apocalyptic Christian sect. Then the Apocalypse happens. “Excessively graphic depictions of sexual encounters, eccentric interpretations of biblical texts and occasional rough language.”
- Rosemary’s Baby
- Mia Farrow discovers that she has been impregnated by Satan. “[T]he movie’s inverted Christian elements denigrate religious beliefs.”
Passion review via Uggabugga