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Ecce Homo

Do I want to see Mel Gibson's film? Mum's asked me to go see The Passion of Christ with her next week, but I don't know...

On the one hand, I've never had much interest in blood and gore, and I hear this film's as bloody and as gory as they come. On the other though, I have to admit to a certain fascination and fondness for films with a biblical subject, and Jesus movies in particular, esp. the ones from the 50s and 60s. They're -most of them- so deliciously saccharine, and I simply adore the doe-eye make up, ill-fitting big hair wigs, and soft pastel draperies used to fit enticingly around the corsetted bodies of actresses like Sophia Loren or Gina Lollobrigida. King of Kings, Quo Vadis?, and The Greatest Story Ever Told: to me, they're all so endearing in their overall preposterousness.

Then there are the more serious and consequently, more controversial, endeavours (and I'll lump Jesus Christ Superstar in with this category, even though it shares many of its qualities with the above) like Pasolini's 1964 Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo in which he used amateur actors to portray his marxist interpretation of Christ's life and teachings (the Spanish student who played him incidentally moving on to a career in chess computers afterward), or The Temptation of Christ that showed a Jesus that was all too human for some people to appreciate and endure. I remember seeing the picketers in front of American cinemas with their placards of 'Blasphemy!' on the news, and being struck by the fact that most of them hadn't even read the book or seen the film before deciding to make a nuisance of themselves. I had read Kazantzakis's book, and I'd found nothing blasphemous in it -- to me it was clear that the narrative was based on a premise of what if?

That brings me to another question: what is blasphemy, exactly? And who decides? And for whom? In our modern Western societies, should we allow for the sensitivities of minorities to dictate to the majority?
A year or so after the commotion around The Last Temptation, the ayatollah Khomeiny pronounced a fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his The Satanic Verses, a book I personally found extremely yawn-worthy, but which led to book burnings (book burnings!) on the streets of Europe organised by radical muslims, none of whom had actually read it...and the (to me) surprising step of publishers refusing to bring out the book, and book sellers everywhere refusing to stock and sell it. This whole affair has made me extremely wary of any kind of radical religious thought.

But I'm straying from my original purpose: to decide whether or not I want to see Mel Gibson's film. Having recently been spammed by exhortations to go see it by people who I suspect of subscribing to a fundamentalist Christianity that has nothing in common with my own, I am inclined to say no, don't want to see it. But, all the hullaballoo created by militant Jews about the alleged anti-semitism of the picture has made me curious to see for myself whether there's any truth to that particular accusation.

What remains then, is whether I can set aside my usual aversion against any kind of film full of blood and gore and graphically detailed violence.
I'm a classical archaeologist. I know about the Roman practice of crucifixion, and what it did to the body of a slave or criminal so punished...in theory. I think I can imagine the severe unpleasantness of it perfectly well enough without the visual confirmation gallons of stage blood can invoke.


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Apr. 1st, 2004 12:22 am (UTC)
Maybe it's one for the video then?
Apr. 1st, 2004 12:26 am (UTC)
God no! If I;m not sure I want to see it in the cinema, I certainly don't want it at home!
Apr. 1st, 2004 12:37 am (UTC)
Well, you know what happens at the end. I wouldn't bother.
Apr. 1st, 2004 12:42 am (UTC)
Like The Last Temptations of Chris, The Passion of Christ isn't actually based on the Bible. It's based on (I believe) a Saint's writing of the crucification.

I'm a classical archaeologist.

It'll probably annoy you with inaccuracies of the time. Of course, I don't know how picky you are with those things. As an English major, I get too worked up when I watch a movie based on a book and it doesn't follow the narrative.
Apr. 1st, 2004 01:20 am (UTC)
Actually, The Passion of Christ is based on the Gospels, most esp. Matthew...Mel Gibson claims it's almost an exact rendering of it, although he has borrowed lightly from Luke's Gospel for the flashback of the Sermon on the Mount and from the visions of 2 female saints of the 16th and 17th century for the gory details. Hmmm, I wonder which two saints. Teresa of Avila, did she have visions of the crucifixion? No, I don't think so...it was the apotheosis of the Virgin in her case, I think? And Birgitta of Sweden lived in an earlier time and dreamt of the Nativity and the continued virginity of Mary post-partum...Think I'll have to thumb through my hagiographies for this.
Apr. 1st, 2004 05:48 pm (UTC)
Well I hope that you can decide if you want to see it. I think that I've decided against it, mostly because of the extreme violence.
Apr. 2nd, 2004 01:42 am (UTC)
I think that I've decided against it, mosly because of the extreme violence.

My feeling exactly. I don't particularly want my next night out to be about seeing another human being beaten into beef tatar. Even if it's not really real and just play acting. Funnily enough though, I've never had any problems with passion plays...probably because you don't really get to see any close-ups then.
Apr. 1st, 2004 01:06 am (UTC)
From what I've read about it, Gibson made it because he was inspired by a particular artist's (can't remember who, at the mo') Stations of the Cross. The focus is very violent as any tour of the Stations of the Cross that wasn't sanitised would be.
Apr. 1st, 2004 02:08 am (UTC)
The focus is very violent as any tour of the Stations of the Cross that wasn't sanitised would be.

I suppose...I've seen a few Romanesque Stations of the Cross, and some crucifixes, that were quite explicit; but having grown up around this sort of thing I hardly register any of them anymore, and those that have struck me in the past I've mostly just judged on their artistic merit rather than on their content.

Also, I've followed the Via Dolorosa, seen the pillar and been at Golgotha, and visited the Holy Sepulchre where I broke down and cried my eyes out -- all because of my vivid imagination (as well as devout Catholicism, of course...which appears to be a different kind of devout Catholicism than MG's in some respects, but the same in its empathic feeling).

Apr. 1st, 2004 07:38 am (UTC)
My sister and her husband saw the film 2 weeks ago. She is a very devout Baptist, he was raised Catholic and basically refuses to have anyting to do with anything even remotely related to "church".

My sister was very deeply moved by it. She said that through most of the movie she sat there thinking "that should have been me." Her husband said that he never wanted to see it or talk about it again. He goes to movies to be entertained and that is all he wants from them.

She also said that the movie very closely followed the scriptures with a few very minor interpretations.
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