Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Yesterday, I saw Mel Gibson’s The Passion. I am not a man of religion, so I cannot approach it religiously. It is, without a doubt, a fanatic movie by a fanatic moviemaker. Gibson has an exclusive and obsessive focus on the suffering of Jesus. He did not care about Jesus’ life, his communal relationship with his disciples, or even his “miracles.” Instead, as you must have read, he wants you to live every moment of beating, scourging, whipping, and crucifixion suffered by Jesus. I do not like the embrace of suffering on earth: I am born to the Shi`ite faith, and there is quite a bit of exaltation of the suffering of Husayn in Shi`ism. And it is believed that some aspects of `Ashurah celebrations must have come to Shi`ite Islam from Christian passion plays, just as Shi`ism incorporates a messianic belief. (In Iran they do not have the same bloody rituals of `Ashura’ that you see in South Lebanon). The denigration of human life on earth is anti-Revolutionary, as it instills the belief that real happiness and real justice can only exist in the Kingdom of God (or the City of God, to quote St. Augustine). The movie is also in my opinion clearly and classically anti-Semitic. The portrayal of Jewish leaders is quite vicious and caricaturish, and he has no interest in exploring the reasons for the opposition to Jesus on the part of Jewish elders. He just wants your to perceive them as blood thirsty. Yet, he has the most sensitive and compassionate portrayal of Pontius Pilate, who in real life had a reputation for cruelty and savagery, and complaints about his cruelty came from Rome. Gibson has none of that in the movie, as he gives various images of the moral anguish of Pilate, and his wife. He claims that he bases his plot and details on the Bible, but this elevation of Pilate is merely Gibson’s. Yet, as I reread the relevant sections of the Gospels last night, (I am referring to the Beirut 1884 edition which was translated from Greek so I may err in translating names into English), the Gospel of John talks about Pilate whipping Jesus. The verse reads as Pilate himself whipped him, but I do not know how it reads in other translations. He, I believe, wanted to save Pilate’s reputation, to further lead the audience to condemn the Jewish opponents of Jesus. I do not believe that medieval Christian passion plays, which often produced anti-Semitic rituals and crimes, would have been different from Gibson’s “sensibilities.” I do not wish to enter into the theology of the film, although I feel strongly against it, because I approach the topic from the standpoint of unbelief entirely. He as you know kept that verse in Mathew (I belief) in which the line “his blood will be on us, and our children” although he took out the subtitled. How sneaky. It was cool for me to understand quite a bit of Aramaic. As you know, Arabic, Hebrew, and Aramaic belong to the same family of language. I have studied some Hebrew but cannot say that I know it of course, but many of the words either are shared, or the roots are shared. So Jesus says in Aramaic: Ana Ho (I am he—to the question “Who is Jesus?”), and in Arabic it is: Ana Huwa. It was also overly overdone, and overly and excessive over-dramatized. It was also sinister on his part how he shows Satan (a woman for Gibson) moving sneakily among the Jewish crowd. Gibson will do less artistic and (im)moral damage if he goes back to making his silly action movies.