Monday, March 01, 2004

Review: The Passion of the Christ 

I went to watch The Passion of the Christ last Saturday. I tried to stay away from reviews before watching it, but it's pretty much unavoidable that I knew that various people thought that:

And so on and so forth with the contradictory reviews. After watching the film, I think the best way to put it is that they all have a point.

First off: the violence. Is this the most violent film ever? No. I don't know if I'm desensitized or what, but I'm pretty damn sure there's been more gore and blood captured on film for a movie. And it is not gratuitous: the scourging and beating and actual crucifixion itself were all very violent affairs, to say the least, and I would say that the film did a good job in portraying all that. Having said that, I don't think it's a good idea for churches to encourage kids and such to watch the film: accurate portrayal does not equal light hearted and appropriate for children.

Is the film anti-Semitic? I think the message you get out of the film really depends on your past background and beliefs. I don't think the film was produced with anti-Semitic intentions: I can see how devout Christians would interpret the film's message as Jesus dying for the collective sins of man. Nonetheless, seeing a mob of Jews calling for Jesus to be cruxified is arguably very inciting for the uninformed or misinformed. It is important to notice a major theme of the film is that nobody really knows why Jesus should die: Pontius Pilate and Herod certainly didn't see any reason to kill Jesus; the mob was, well, a mob, and there is rarely any sense or reason in one of those, and the reasons why Caiaphas and the rest of the priests seeked Jesus' death were relatively obvious but nonetheless not explictly stated. There is a sense that Jesus's death was driven by some unseen force, which is why most Christians will not find the film to be blaming the Jews for deicide. But as I already said, a Jewish mob calling for Jesus to be killed in the most brutal way then known, as well as a small group of Jewish priests gathering in the middle of the night to execute a plan to kill Jesus, are not images to be lightly dismissed.

I think it is fair to say that watching this film will reinforce whatever existing views and prejudices you already have regarding Christianity, Judaism, religion in general, and so on. I do not think that this film is an effective evangelical tool, although I don't think devout Christians would perceive this. As someone who routinely deals with both rather devout Christians and Jews, while holding no personal religious beliefs (I'd say I'm consciously agnostic and subconsciously deist), I managed to come out of this film rather moved, but fundamentally unchanged.

My recommendation for The Passion of the Christ is to watch it if you have an open mind about religious issues, or if you're Christian and you like Jews a lot. Otherwise, you should seriously ponder what you might get out of the experience, and to be aware of the various issues the film raises.
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