Count my $9.50 among the $117.5 million that Mel Gibson's "The Passion of The Christ" raked in the past five days. Roger Ebert noted on "Ebert & Roeper" this weekend that the focus of controversy has shifted from whether the film is anti-Semitic to whether the depiction of Christ's execution is too violent.
For what it's worth, I found neither to be true. While the violence in "The Passion" is very graphic, it is not the most violent film I've ever seen. Then again, after years of being subjugated to summer blockbusters maybe we as a culture are just numb to images of viscera.
"The Passion" is also not so much anti-Semitic as it is a lesson in how politics are universal, even when conducted three thousand years ago in two dead languages and Hebrew. The scene where Pilate and the rabbinical council led by Caiphas play chess over the fate of Jesus is a sophisticated brand of moral chess. Both realize that Jesus is a reactionary, a revolutionary that must be dealt with, but neither wanted to assume the responsibility of his death. It's like when we were grade schoolers playing a game of dare.
"You do it."
"No, you do it!"
"Oh, I insist!"
"If you want it done that bad, you do it!!"
It's understandable; in politics lawmakers try to absolve themselves of the hard decisions all the time in order to save face. That doesn't necessarily make them racist, sexist, or anti-Semitic. If anything, "The Passion" is making me reassess whether anarchy could work as a feasible political model (I kid.) It has left an even more bitter taste in my mouth with regard to monotheism and organized religion in particular.
As humans, we cannot separate ourselves as humble messengers of God's word from the gnawing feeling that we are above others in spreading the same. The ego of man is too strong to allow the word of God to be enough for the laity. Eventually, the messenger of God becomes a shameless politician. And as we know, the separation of church and state is always a delicate balance, even with Constitutional protection against abusive influence and overlapping by either side.
I can say with assuredness that this movie is an artistic marvel. If Gibson made "The Passion" in order to start a serious discussion about the need for Christ in the lives of Christians, he succeeded. When the credits rolled there were no repeating of quips, no smartassed comments being made by viewers. There was a certain solemnity with which viewers filed out of the theater that one only sees at funerals. To say the audience was stunned would be an understatement. I haven't been this floored by a movie in a long time.