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Film Review:The Passion of the Christ: Provocative (1 Viewer)

RonPrice

Senior Member
Now that some of the dust has settled in the reviewing world vis-a-vis this film, I offer this retrospective piece to readers:

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST: A Film Review by Ron Price

This film is not intended to be a masterful historical documentary as, say, Ken Burns' work on the Civil War or one of many others done in the first century of the existence of the cinema. Gibson's work is far from possessing what some might call an intellectual poverty in its pretensions at historical documentary. Shawn Rosenheim says all TV documentaries possess an intellectual poverty. If Rosenheim is right the visual media are simply incapable of producing historical documentary.1 Even if Rosenheim is wrong historical documentary of an event 2000 years ago is impossible. We simply do not know enough.

We all know that Gibson did not take his camera crew to downtown Jerusalem in some kind of time-warp to produce an anti-Jewish, anti Roman clip for the evening news. Even if he had and he then produced for us all an evening two hour special, spectacle, called "the crucifixion," there would still be questions about visual manipulation and the program's service in the name of directing popular thought toward a new religious movement. New reliigous movements have always had trouble getting popular exposure.

No one would claim that Gibson's is a neutral recording of objective events. It is a construct operating from a certain point of view. It is a rhetorical argument achieved through the selection and combination of elements that both reflect and project a world, a world view, a cosmology if you like. It is achieved by certain cinematic conventions that try to erase any signs of cinematic artificiality. An ideology is promoted by linking the effect of reality to social values and institutions in such a way that these values seem natural and self-evident. In the case of Mel Gibson's work, a work that I found quite stimulating in its own way, the ideology is simply and strongly: fundamentalist Christianity.

I've never been attracted to Christianity in any of its fundamentalist forms. But I liked this film. Film can often get to people in ways that words, ideas and simple beliefs cannot. It was not because of its historical accuracy that I liked it. I liked All the Presidents Men and a number of other films based on and rooted in some historical theme. Rarely are historical films accurate; the main reason they seem so is that the people watching them know so little about the theme, the event, that it seems plausible to them. Sadly, but truly, we know so little about the events of the life of Jesus of Nazereth that a good script writer, a good cinematographer and a big band of men and women can bring something to life that may never have happened at all.

Bertrand Russell wrote in his Why I'm Not a Christian that, in a court of law, there is little evidence for even the existence of Jesus let alone his manner of death. Historicity simply does not exist when it comes to the events in the life of a man who has had a profound affect, I believe, on history. But what I believe and what I know; what you believe and what you actually know about Jesus are in two different worlds. The distance between the pulpit and the academic chair of religion has been widening for at least two centuries. In fact for millions of men and women these days historicity is irrelevant to their beliefs. History has become, for those millions, what it was for Henry Ford: bunk or was it bunkum? Mel, you've given us a thriller. To hell with history! 5 out of 5.

As a sort of epilogue to this brief comment on the film: one of the main reasons I am a Baha'i is that historicity is important to me. In a religion that has grown up in the modern age historicity does not present major issues. At least not yet. The revelation of Baha'u'llah, confined as it is to only 6 million adherents, has grown slowly since the mid-nineteenth century.

The originating impulse for each of the major religions of history, an impulse that led to the phenomenon of revelation or some defining religious experience has receded so far into history as to be accessible to us in only a very limited and unsatisfactory degree. Far otherwise with the work of the Founder of the Baha'i Faith. The details of His life are massively documented. And one day film-makers will make films about this Life that draw on historical facticity, historical reality. But history has a thousand faces, a thousand forms, and Mel Gibson has given us some very stimulating ones in his film ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ They will serve for some of the millions who watched it to bring them closer to One whom Baha'u'llah said: when Christ was crucified the world wept with a great weaping.


1 The Historical Film: History and Memory in Media, editor, Marcia Pandy, the Athone Press, London, 2001.
 
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