Thursday, September 16, 2004
The Passion of the Christ

Gibson’s Sublime Passion

In Defense of the Violence

Why do we watch tragedies and horror movies? Philosopher Bill Irwin suggests that our answer can help explain why Gibson made The Passion of the Christ the way he did. It’s a matter of aesthetics, and there’s a distinction to be made between the beautiful and the sublime. A Metaphilm online exclusive.



The Passion is bloodporn.  The sublime is the opposite of what it desires. It wants to make the death of Christ, the ultimate martyr, so beautiful that everyone will want to destroy all those they perceive to have had a hand in it. It’s a call for a Crusade against whatever evil strikes the watcher the most, and that pure missionary fervor rots it to the core. Or rather, the audience that watches it, loves it, and uses it for their own religious and political ends does.

Go to Wal-Mart and see some young fundie housewife talk about how they forced their 10 year old kids to watch the whole thing, being that it’s such a ‘true representation of the faith’, and you’ll understand the muck that the Passion throws on all religious feeling except the earthiest, Lord of the Flies-type God-as-who-has-the-bigger-penis fights.

Watching it for the symbols, it seems at first just anti-semitic (making Pilate a weakling in contrast to the hook-nosed, conniving Jew imagery). But I think in the minds of Middle America - which is where it’ll matter most (and Gibson’s audience since forever) - it’s a grand stirring against all those they perceive to be against Christianity.

The good vs evil idea combined with the viciousness applied to the helpless victim Christ - it gives the About Schmidts (in metaphilm speak) a way to pretend that their boring lives and the whole of their civilization are under attack by dirty outside, secularist forces. The Passion for them makes em wanna stop these evil people by any means necessary - they might be totally secure, but look what The Others did to Jesus! They must pay!

Oh, and the whole S & M/snuff film aspect of it, that’s worth a dissertation or 2. I mean, other than the massive cultural event that this became, the victim thing and the constant culture war declarations in America are old news. But bloodporn on such a wide scale - what are all those poor, impressionable kids forced to watch all of it gonna think of what religion means? Will it turn out good or bad? Can good literature or movies come from it, or will critics think that mentioning the Passion is bad form, since it’s such a huge pop culture event?

They used to say that Catholics were the craziest in bed from all the repression, but there’ll be plenty of kinkiness in the future for all the Passion-loving Born-Agains. Forget that closeted Schrock guy - we should be pushing for that necrophilia ban in California to go federal.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 17 Sep 04 at 05:39 AM

[Referring to the comment below:]
Wow! Can you imagine what this guy thought of Schindler’s List and how we dumb Americans *must* perceive the Germans because of those atrocities committed during the holocaust?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 26 Sep 04 at 03:52 PM

The word “Sublime” requires a glimpse of transcendent purpose.  The prisoners in Shawshank Redemption find the aria sublime because deep down the prisoners know they were MEANT for beauty but are trapped in their current state.  That yearning for the ineffable we know is part of the grand design - that’s sublime.  Without it, you have a “passion” (aka suffering), not necessarily with purpose, or a calamity or a phenomenon. 

Am I saying that Christ’s dying didn’t have purpose?  No, I’m saying the Jews and the Roman soldiers didn’t possess a transcendent purpose.  Gibson got it right in Braveheart - William Wallace’s active refusal to surrender to the
usurper’s power, despite torture - even refusing drugs to deaden the pain - creates a victory in his defeat.  Even his dead wife appears in the crowd to approve his sacrifice that soon after liberates a country.

But the Passion didn’t accomplish that.  Movies are like legal proofs - you have to build a case for the catharsis or whatever you want your audience to feel in a film.  The reasons and requirements of Gibson’s Christ’s death are
simply not made.  He expected us to bring that baggage with us.  Except for the single decision to crush the serpent under his heel, this protagonist is passive.  He doesn’t make moral choices, to the point that when he finally tells Mary that he “goes to make all things new,” we wonder if he is hallucinating. 

All we see are mindless, laughing brutes in Jewish and Roman garb pummeling a defenseless and seemingly nice man repeatedly and maliciously.  They drive the story, but without counterpoint, and possess no more depth than the stupid
glee at torturing a passive prisoner.  That’s not sublimity; that’s pornography!  Gratuitous violence. 

How is the audience supposed to justify this offense?  By bringing in all our baggage to fill in the storytelling gaps, and tell ourselves it was all done for us.  Could Christ have died on the cross for our sins without first being tenderized like so much sirloin?  Yes - there’s nothing glorifying about a 10 minute whipping/torture scene despite that “by his stripes we are healed” passage (also, not referenced, I think).  Did Christ suffer that much?  Yes.  Is it valid for a filmmaker to subject us to every moment of it to acheive this
visceral result?  No.  This was overkill, and all our scholarly gymnastics won’t turn this film into a sublime or beautiful experience.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05 Oct 04 at 07:29 PM

The Jews did not kill Jesus, the Romans did not kill Jesus, you did not kill Jesus and I did not kill Jesus.  Jesus “chose” to die for you and I which is clearly what the movie implies (how it is written).  He “chose” that you “might” have life and have it more abundantly.  But what it all comes down to is who you choose, Christ or Anti-Christ?

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 31 Dec 04 at 03:27 AM
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