Socialist Worker 421, March 3, 2004 N www.socialist.ca

Reviews

Mel’s anti-Semitic Passion

By Jessica Squires

Apparently, Jesus had really good teeth. That’s the first thing one notices in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, which has been receiving a lot of controversial attention lately.

The second thing is that the allegations of anti-Semitism levied at the film are true.

The third thing is that the film is, quite apart from its political problems, very, very bad.

It should be stated from the outset that Gibson probably didn’t set out to make an anti-Semitic movie. But the film’s archaic, medieval vision of the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, its superficial treatment of its subject, its shallow caricature of almost every single character, and the inclusion of any number of gratuitous examples of supernatural occurrences, combined with the present-day political climate, means that his intentions are unfortunately immaterial.

The movie is indeed anti-Semitic.

Mel Gibson has resisted these claims in multiple interviews, saying that his film is an accurate representation of the gospels as set out in the New Testament of the Bible.

If the film were a straightforward depiction of only the words of the bible, it would not only be a completely different movie; it would be much shorter.

The fact is that Gibson made choices.

He chose, for instance, to depict every character as a caricature.

The Romans are like animals, getting off on gratuitously beating Jesus within an inch of his life with canes and scourges — whips with bits of broken glass on the end. No explanation is given for this bloodthirsty behaviour.

He chose to depict the Jewish priests who appeal to Pilate to crucify Jesus as a bunch of conniving, sarcastic, ugly old men with bad teeth.

A crowd of bloodthirsty Jewish people demand Jesus’ crucifixion; the story being emphasized is not of the Roman role in the death of Christ, but the role supposedly played by the Jews.

When the Gospel authors mentioned "the priests," they did not mean all the Jews. They meant the Temple elite that wanted to get rid of Jesus.

He chose to show Judas being driven into madness by a gang of Jewish children who inexplicably morph into demons or devils.

With the implicit encouragement of a completely needless character, Gibson’s androgynous personification of evil, they drive him into the desert, where he hangs himself.

And there are problems with the personification of evil character, too. Gibson has described his choice as specifically to make the sex of the being indeterminate. The possible conclusion is that to have no clear gender is a characteristic of evil.

Aside from these deeper problems, the film is gratuitously violent and needlessly gory. It’s as if Gibson was trying to remake the end of Braveheart with the revolt left out, and with all the gore and the violence left in.

Anyone familiar with the gospels will know how far most of this depiction is from the actual texts. Only three of the gospels even mention the flogging of Jesus, and none of them suggest he was scourged within an inch of his life.

The priests do demand Jesus’ crucifixion; but it is the Romans who crucify him.

And Barrabas, the criminal who Pilate sets free at the behest of the Jews instead of Jesus, is depicted as a brutal, criminally insane man. But the gospels make clear he was imprisoned for his role in an insurrection against Roman rule.

And certainly the gospels don’t mention Judas being hounded by demon children, or an androgynous personification of evil.

So Gibson can’t hide behind a claim to have simply made an accurate re-telling of the passion. Such a claim doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Artists cannot simply expect their work to exist in a vacuum. Gibson should have known better; his ideas should have been tempered with a consideration of the political context into which he was releasing them.

But this film is Hollywood meets Christian fundamentalism. It plays right into the recent resurgence of right-wing philosophy and religious beliefs.

Finally, the movie represents a colossal waste of money. But if it cost $10, it was a waste of a tenner.

There are better movies about Jesus’ crucifixion. Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, and Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, are both much more interesting and artistically valuable movies on the same subject.

Socialist Worker 421, March 3, 2004 N www.socialist.ca