MEL GIBSON'S LETHAL WEAPON.
The Worship of Blood
by Leon Wieseltier
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. The fluid is everywhere. It drips, it runs, it spatters, it jumps. It trickles down the post at which Jesus is flagellated and down the cross upon which he is crucified, and the camera only reluctantly tears itself away from the scarlet scenery. The flagellation scene and the crucifixion scene are frenzies of blood. When Jesus is nailed to the wood, the drops of blood that spring from his wound are filmed in slow-motion, with a twisted tenderness. (Ecce slo-mo.) It all concludes in the shower of blood that issues from the corpse of Jesus when it is pierced by the Roman soldier's spear . . . .
. . . . . Gibson is under the impression that he has done nothing more than put God's word into film. No Hollywood insider was ever so inside. "Critics who have a problem with me don't really have a problem with me and this film," he told Diane Sawyer, "they have a problem with the four Gospels." From such a statement it is impossible not to conclude that the man is staggeringly ignorant of his own patrimony. For the Gospels, like all great religious texts, have been interpreted in many different ways, to accommodate the needs and the desires of many different souls; and Gibson's account of these events is, like every other account, a particular construction of them. The Passion of the Christ is the expression of certain theological and artistic preferences. It is, more specifically, a noisy contemporary instance of a tradition of interpretation that came into its own in the late medieval centuries . . . . .
. . . . . The Passion of the Christ is the work of a religious sensibility of remarkable coarseness. It is by turns grossly physical and grossly magical, childishly literalist, gladly credulous, comically masculine. Gibson's faith is finally pre-theological, the kind of conviction that abhors thought, superstitiously fascinated by Satan and "the other realm," a manic variety of Christian folk religion.
It will be objected that I see only pious pornography in The Passion of the Christ because I am not a believer in the Christ. This is certainly so . . . . .
. . . . . 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 . . . . .
. . . . . . His notion of authenticity has no time for history. Historiographically speaking, after all, there is no such thing as gospel truth; and so his portrayal of the Jews is based on nothing more than his own imagination of what they looked like and sounded like. And Gibson's imagination has offered no resistance to the iconographical inheritance of Western anti-Semitism. Again, these things are not passively received. They are willingly accepted. 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 . . . . .