Monday, July 25, 2011

How did I get dragged into this?

This Passion of the Christ talk is getting too passionate for my tastes. I just don't care enough to definitively come done either way on it. But, since I've been dragged in and name dropped, I guess I gotta say something.

I did tell Chris that I thought the film was trying to a) proselytize and b) glorify Christianity; however, I wouldn't use the word propaganda. Maybe I threw this out there as I was fumbling to articulate myself, but, as you said John, I wouldn't consider this film anymore propaganda then I would consider Midnight in Paris as propaganda for nostalgia. Obviously, all films can be read as cultural texts that have distinct points-of-view and messages that are trying to sell you something, whether conscious or not by the filmmakers. John, you dislike the viewpoint of Midnight in Paris because you don't like what it is trying to sell you, right? You don't like the messages the film is giving about nostalgia, art, selfishness, and bourgeois flattery, and that's a totally legit criticism to have. I dislike the viewpoint of The Passion of the Christ because I don't like what it is selling me either. I, like many people my age I'm sure, was forced to see this film with my parents, who are both religious. Now, I know why my father brought me to this film. He wanted me to feel the extent of Jesus's suffering for my sins. He told me so.

I can remember being little and my father removing a sliver from my foot. When I winced in pain, he told me that Jesus suffered much worse pain than I was feeling so I should be thankful. You know what that felt like to me? A fucking guilt trip. It made me feel like I should be guilty for any pain I ever feel or guilty for ever questioning the divinity of this man named Jesus because he suffered so, so much. Instead of allowing me to believe in this man because of the love I was told he felt for me, I was made to feel guilty by his torture for me. That's the way I felt watching The Passion of the Christ. I felt like I was being asked to feel guilty for his suffering instead of being asked to witness the scope of his love. The film certainly details every one of his "stripes," but I would question why this is being done. John, you may read it as detailing the extent one man went through so that we all could be healed. I'm sure this was Gibson's intention. The Passion of the Christ certainly affirms Christianity for its Christian viewers (this isn't a point of criticism, I'm just stating a fact). However, it also can be read as an attack on doubters and non-believers (this is a point of criticism). I'm not saying that this is what the film is. I'm just saying that this is how I read the film, a lot like how you read Midnight in Paris the way you did John.

If the film is sending us a message we don't like, we can criticize it. If you think that a film sends you a message that infidelity is awesome, you're gonna criticize it John. If I think that a film sends me a message to feel guilty for not believing in Jesus, I'm gonna criticize it. This is where my proselytizing criticism comes in. To me, the film sent the message: doubters should feel guilty for not believing and here's why (cue extensive torture sequences). I didn't like what it was selling me. This isn't the only thing it is trying to sell, but this is how I read it.

Also, I said the film glorifies Christianity, but I really don't mean that as a point of criticism. I love many films with religious messages. It's a Wonderful Life is religious, and I love it to pieces. The Passion is a Christian film and I don't mind that any more than I mind The Tree of Life's religious messages. At the same time, I think that the film (whether intentionally or not) can be used to make people with doubts about Christ feel guilty for questioning or doubting belief in him. That I don't like. I'd much rather have The Tree of Life's loving grace than the Passions' bloody guilt.

Those are my reasons for not enjoying the film. However, I will say this–I do respect the film for its technical quality and craft. It is surely made by someone with talent, not a talentless hack like Kirk Cameron or M. Night Shyamalan (haha). It is a piece of art, whether I like it or not. And it should be treated as such. It is no Left Behind.

I told Chris this, but I will express it here. I'm not a fan of the argument that if another director had made The Passion, people like John wouldn't like it as much. This is irrelevant to the film. We are discussing Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ not someone else's. If Kirk Cameron had made his version we wouldn't be discussing the same film. Let's stick with the film and director we have.

And I'm not a fan of criticizing a film through personal attacks at the director. This is ad hominem and says nothing about the film in question. Mel Gibson is a disreputable person who I dislike. However, this has nothing to do with Mel Gibson's performances as an actor or the films he makes. I judge or evaluate them separately because they are separate.
I mean, I don't like John Wayne as a man, but I like him as an actor. Similarly, Woody Allen and Roman Polanski have done some pretty awful things in their lives, but I consider that irrelevant to the art they make. I know you agree with this Chris.

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