The opening of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ on Ash Wednesday has gifted America’s movie screens with an orgy of gratuitous violence. In a secular context, the images contained within the film would be inexcusable.
Setting aside legitimate complaints about anti-Semitism, The Passion is violence as pornography: The crucifixion of Jesus is presented as a B-movie, for viewers desensitized to violence by a million action movies, devoid of context and without an ounce of theology.
As with any Hollywood blockbuster, The Passion has a distribution system taking it to corners far and wide. These corners include many of our churches, Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, and of course cinemas across the nation. The Passion is widely touted as a tool for conversion; one must wonder what two hours that revels in sadism and masochism will offer to the potential convert or born-again.
The Passion is Christianity-lite in its depiction of Jesus Christ. Rather then dealing with difficult questions of faith and doctrine, the film evokes medieval passion plays, those depictions of Jesus’ last hours performed for illiterate and uneducated audiences throughout Europe.
A film that distills a complex and beautiful faith into a bloodbath demean both Christian and non-Christian alike. Epic films such as King of Kings and The Greatest Story Ever Told bought the life of Jesus Christ to the big screen without making the viewer feel as if they have a front seat at a slaughterhouse. Gibson claims that Jesus’ suffering justifies the violence contained within the film, yet Christianity has thrived for two millenia without forcing bloody reenactments of the stations of the cross on believers.
Strangely enough, Gibson’s epic may do more harm than good. Judging from the number of parents bringing their children to see The Passion, many of them may be turned off from Christianity forever. Two hours of a blood-drenched movie screen have been known to do that.