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The Passion of the Christ

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Upon seeing this movie, there isn't much I can say that hasn't already been said. However, I think that so much has been made of the violence that Christ suffers in the film, that some powerful moments of grace have been overlooked, of characters who encounter the suffering Christ and understand who he is. I'm thinking of Simon of Cyrene, as well as the young girl who offers Jesus a cup of water during his trip to Golgotha. I also was moved by the reaction of the soldier in the Garden of Gethsemane whose ear was healed by Jesus, and I thought the scene of Mary Magdelene caught in adultery and offered mercy by Jesus was very well done.

Also, I think it's interesting that it seems that many of the people who are having the most powerful emotional reactions to the film are conservative Christians who probably don't go to many films.

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Wonder if a prequel to \"The Passion...\" will come from this.

I vote for the "double the foreskin" dowry transaction between Saul and David in 1 Samuel.

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Some interesting stats on the film's box-office performance in Canada.

A blurb at the top of page B2 in today's National Post says the film grossed $6 million in Canada in its first five days (it opened on 211 screens on Ash Wednesday, then expanded to 256 screens on Friday), compared to the $111.5 million it was estimated to have made in the United States (this story was obviously written before the 'actual' figures came in).

The blurb goes on to admit that this figure does not approach the amounts earned in Canada in their first weeks by 'event' movies like The Lord of the Rings ($14.7 million) or The Matrix ($13.5 million). I do not know which installments of those two franchises are intended here, nor do I know whether those latter figures refer to their opening five days or just to their opening weekends. But either way, I think it is striking that The Passion made LESS THAN HALF of what those films made in Canada, when in North America as a whole, its five-day total of $125.2 million actually surpasses any of the Lord of the Rings films, and is over 86% of what The Matrix Reloaded made in the same time period.

What's more, I think it is striking that, based on the estimates and not the 'actuals', The Passion made only about 5% of what it made in the United States, when the country has over 10% of the population that America has (31.7 million Canadians vs. 292.7 million Americans).

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Dang...I never fully realized Canada had so few people in comparison, and yet they gots the land!

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Guest Russell Lucas

Peter, from where I stand, there's only one way to read those numbers:

Canadians are the godless freaks I always suspected them to be.

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And in more box office news:

Boxofficemojo says that Passion made over 10 million on Monday. The closest competition was 50 First Dates, which made 700,000.

It is now #6 on all time opening weekends, and #3 on five-day grosses (just barely beating Return of the King).

Sheese.

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With the movie being seen in these kinds of numbers,

WHY ARE THERE STILL PROBLEMS IN THE WORLD?? :aeh:

-s.

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And once again... Christopher Hitchens on the rampage!!

Hitchens' latest assault on Gibson and the movie is more violent than anything in The Passion!

Gibson's producer lied when he said that a pope Gibson despises had endorsed the film. He would not show the movie to anyone who might object in advance. He will not debate any of his critics, and he relies on star-stricken pulp interviewers to feed him soft questions. Now, as the dollars begin to flow from this front-loaded fruit-machine of cynical publicity, he is sobbing about the risks and sacrifices he has made for the Lord. A coward, a bully, a bigmouth, and a queer-basher. Yes, we have been here before. The word is fascism, in case you are wondering, and we don't have to sit through that movie again.

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Upon perusing his bio/bibliography, I have determined that Mr. Hitchens is not a man who treads carefully upon the face of the earth.

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And now for a bevy of articles from The New Republic.

Excerpts from Leon Wieseltier's 'MEL GIBSON'S LETHAL WEAPON: The Worship of Blood':

There are still some miracles that movies cannot accomplish. If, in the manner of the bleeding images of the old Christian legends, it were possible for Mel Gibson's film itself to bleed, and the blood with which it soaks its wretched hero to burst through the screen and soak its wretched audience, it would have done so. For The Passion of the Christ is intoxicated by blood, by its beauty and its sanctity. The bloodthirstiness of Gibson's film is startling, and quickly sickening. . . .

Torture has been depicted in film many times before, but almost always in a spirit of protest. This film makes no quarrel with the pain that it excitedly inflicts. It is a repulsive masochistic fantasy, a sacred snuff film, and it leaves you with the feeling that the man who made it hates life. . . .

There is another problem with the insistence that a movie such as The Passion of the Christ can be intelligible only to a believer. When a non-Christian such as myself reads the Gospels, he is filled with a deep and genuine pity for the man who endured this savagery, and for his mother. (Jesus' mother is infinitely more affecting than his father.) In its meticulous representation of Jesus' excruciations, Gibson's film is designed to inspire such pity. The spectacle of this man's doom should be unbearable to a good heart. Yet pity is precisely what The Passion of the Christ cannot inspire, because the faith upon which it is based vitiates the sympathetic emotions. Why feel pity, if this suffering is a blessing? Why mourn, if his reward for his torment, and the world's reward, is ordained? If Jesus is not exactly human, then it is not exactly dehumanization that we are watching, and that we are deploring. . . .

The ending is happy, which has the effect of making the viewer, or at least this viewer, feel like he has been duped. His sympathy was based on a misunderstanding. He had assumed that what was done to this man was outrageous, but he was wrong. He should have been rooting all along, with Gibson, for the whips and the nails. . . .

The Passion of The Christ is an unwitting incitement to secularism, because it leaves you desperate to escape its standpoint, to find another way of regarding the horror that you have just observed. This is unfair to, well, Christianity, since Christianity is not a cult of Gibsonesque gore. But there is a religion toward which Gibson's movie is even more unfair than it is to its own. In its representation of its Jewish characters, The Passion of the Christ is without any doubt an anti-Semitic movie, and anybody who says otherwise knows nothing, or chooses to know nothing, about the visual history of anti-Semitism, in art and in film. What is so shocking about Gibson's Jews is how unreconstructed they are in their stereotypical appearances and actions. These are not merely anti-Semitic images; these are classically anti-Semitic images. In this regard, Gibson is most certainly a traditionalist. . . .

It is the Romans who torture Jesus, but it is the Jews who conspire to make them do so. The Romans are brutish, but the Jews are evil. . . .

Gibson created this movie; it was not revealed to him. Like his picture of Jesus, his picture of the Jews is the consequence of certain religious and cinematic decisions for which he must be held accountable. He has chosen to give millions of people the impression that Jews are culpable for the death of Jesus. In making this choice, which defies not only the scruples of scholars but also the teaching of the Catholic Church, Gibson has provided a fine illustration of the cafeteria Catholicism of the right. . . .

Gibson shrewdly encouraged this view of his slasher movie as the bulwark of a civilization: He made cultural warfare into a marketing strategy. Is the film violent? Of course it is, but this is God's violence. This violence is good for America. . . .

But the loathing of Jews in Mel Gibson's film is really not its worst degradation. Kim le bi-deraba mine, as Yeshua might have said: Its loathing of Jews is subsumed in its loathing of spirituality, in its loathing of existence. If there is a kingdom of heaven, The Passion of the Christ is shutting it in men's faces.

Excerpt from Adele Reinhartz's 'FROM D.W. GRIFFITH TO MEL GIBSON: Jesus of Hollywood':

The movie claims that the death of Jesus was foreordained by scripture and that it was the dramatic climax in the battle between God and Satan. The latter point might have provided Gibson's film with a way of deflecting any anti-Semitic implications that would result from blaming the Jewish authorities, given that Jesus's death was essential to the divine plan--but the film does not take this route. Instead the Jews are the ones who orchestrate Jesus's suffering and death. The Jewish enemies are portrayed as numerous, hate-filled, and bloodthirsty. The Romans, it is worth noting, do not fare much better. If anything, they are more violent than the Jews, and some of them derive sadistic pleasure from torturing Jesus, a trait that the movie does not attribute to the Jews. But there is little consolation in this sharing of the brutality. The film implies that the Roman soldiers are brutes, as Arcand's Pilate says, but that the Jewish authorities are conniving instruments of Satan.

Does Gibson's film, do all these films, foment anti-Semitism? The matter must be considered carefully. If the question is, do they intend to stir up hostile feelings toward Jews that under certain conditions might lead to physical violence, the answer is no. Each film has its own theme and emphasis, but none of them, Gibson's film included, with the possible exception of Der Galil

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Some debatable lines from my review:

"True, the marketing for the film has focused on its function as an historical document. But this is unfortunate, because where the film stumbles in terms of historical detail it excels as a work of art."

"But this is not to say that one needs a few years at Sunday school to experience the film as it was intended. To watch the film having never read the Gospels would be like reading C. S. Lewis

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Nice review, Leary. I'm with you on the legitimacy of Gibson's choice to bracket the suffering the way he did. It's been amazing, at times amusing, or frustrating, to listen to so many people, especially non-Christians, claim such ownership of this story that they forget that it's a work of art and the artist's choices of inclusion or exclusion are his. The argument about not including the teaching or miracles. The claim that the Resurrection is too short. I still have some problems with the execution (wow, no pun intended) but the stylistic choice seems entirely valid to me. Homer left out the bit about the Trojan horse, which really bummed me out as a kid. Of course, all this is only to a point: because I still feel there's plenty worth talking about with regard to Gibson's choices regarding the depiction of the Jewish authorities, which I'm not happy with. Perhaps if we could divide up all the questions this film raises, and separate them into component parts, separate the hot-button political and/or religious issues from formal issues, we might get somewhere. But you gotta love it when any film raises so many questions in so many directions, with so many people, eh?

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This line from your review is really important Mike H., I was tempted to quote it:

"Then again, some viewers will shrug it off, then turn around and rent Time Bandits and be so cut to the quick watching it that they become Christians. That's how these things usually work; God's ways remain stubbornly mysterious."

Your review also brought to mind some important topics that we haven't really talked about here.

Deschanel was intent on capturing the angles of all of these classic paintings and such. So many early film critics, most notably Bazin, talked a lot about the difference between painting and film. Film is an entirely different medium, with a different language, different rules, different roles.

But here we have Deschanel intentionally being "painterly" with his camerawork. Much different than his brilliant brilliant beautiful work in The Black Stallion. (That is some fantastic "film" right there.) I really think that our reading of the film needs to account for the fact that as a work of art, as a film, it is really intentionally trying to participate in that grand tradition of painting. I actually hesitate to call it a "film" per se in this sense.

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: It's been amazing, at times amusing, or frustrating, to listen to so many

: people, especially non-Christians, claim such ownership of this story that

: they forget that it's a work of art and the artist's choices of inclusion or

: exclusion are his.

Okay, sure, but that doesn't mean that we critics of the film don't have the right to question what Gibson chose to include or exclude. Example: I am working on my own feature-length film about Jesus' resurrection called Cold Jesus. Specifically, my film is about what was happening on Antarctica at that time. I am showing the life of penguins before Jesus' arrest, and then I am showing the life of penguins while Jesus is on the cross, and then I am showing the life of penguins after Jesus has risen from the grave. Would a critic, in reviewing my film, not have the right to criticize my film because all I show in Cold Jesus are penguins, with no scenes of Jesus at all (just a few intertitles discussing Him)? Even though that has more to do with the concept of my film than the, as you say, execution?

Dale

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Okay, sure, but that doesn't mean that we critics of the film don't have the right to question what Gibson chose to include or exclude. Example: I am working on my own feature-length film about Jesus' resurrection called Cold Jesus. Specifically, my film is about what was happening on Antarctica at that time. I am showing the life of penguins before Jesus' arrest, and then I am showing the life of penguins while Jesus is on the cross, and then I am showing the life of penguins after Jesus has risen from the grave. Would a critic, in reviewing my film, not have the right to criticize my film because all I show in Cold Jesus are penguins, with no scenes of Jesus at all (just a few intertitles discussing Him)? Even though that has more to do with the concept of my film than the, as you say, execution?

I always hate it when I offer what I meant as a reductio ad absurdum and people grasp the nettle, but you know, I have no in-principle objection to the film you describe.

My only caveat would be that The Passion of the Christ really is primarily concerned with its stated topic, and Cold Jesus is not. To maintain the parallel, you should call your film The Life of Penguins in the Time of Jesus.

My other only caveat would be that I am more interested in what was happening to Jesus during the passion than what was happening to penguins. But I wouldn't on that account criticize a movie about penguins.

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Okay, sure, but that doesn't mean that we critics of the film don't have the right to question what Gibson chose to include or exclude. Example: I am working on my own feature-length film about Jesus' resurrection called Cold Jesus.
And if you leave out any scenes pertaining to the history of the Han Dynasty in China concurrent to the events in Antarctica of this period, I will personally lead a boycott of this film. I may do so anyway.

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Prins,

That is a very valid and humorous point. That seldom happens at the same time. I think you are officially the Mark Twain of this board.

I think the only response is that whatever limitation the artist chooses is only valid insofar as it relates specifically to the material. The question is: Is there precedence? In Gibson's case there is precedence. Centuries of artwork's worth of precedence.

In your case (hypothetically), there really isn't precedence yet. So we have to ask the question in a different way. That specific limitation relates to the material in a way that so far no other work of art has. So in watching your film, we would have to question precisely what effect does this limitation have on our perception of the material (the life of Christ), and in respects to this perception, is this limitation therefore a valid one. I personally think that would make a great short film that would raise all of these questions, and therefore be valid.

As critics we do have the right to question what he excludes or includes. We have to ascertain how these limitations affect our reading of the events he is depicting. My biggest problem with the film was this lack of context. I really wish he would have taken all this cash, and all these great cameras and really shown us "Jesus". But I think there is a way of reading the film as it is that really makes sense. Its intent is accomplished.

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: I always hate it when I offer what I meant as a reductio ad absurdum

: and people grasp the nettle, but you know, I have no in-principle

: objection to the film you describe.

Um, ????? I was responding to mike_h's comment, not yours, whatever it is you're referring to. Not that I doubt he

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mike_h:

: And if you leave out any scenes pertaining to the history of the Han

: Dynasty in China concurrent to the events in Antarctica of this period, I

: will personally lead a boycott of this film. I may do so anyway.

Are you saying I shouldn't submit it to Flickerings? Or would you just leave the room when it was being shown?

Dale

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I'm sorry but this business of the critic having an objective call on issues of duration is bogus. (How's that for an objective call.) Some people look at paintings for two hours.

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: I always hate it when I offer what I meant as a reductio ad absurdum

: and people grasp the nettle, but you know, I have no in-principle

: objection to the film you describe.

Um, ????? I was responding to mike_h's comment, not yours, whatever it is you're referring to. Not that I doubt he

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