The Passion of the Christ wasn’t even out yet when the controversy surrounding the film started making waves among religious communities.
Some have said that the film is bound to incite anti-Semitism and destroy the years it took to build peace between Jews and Christians. But the truth is, the film doesn’t focus on what it is rumored to propagate.
Director Mel Gibson, whose anti-Semitic father has been a focus of news stories and editorials, made the movie in a way that would surely upset his dad. Sure, the Jews are the ones who give the command to execute Jesus (surprisingly, that’s what the Bible says, too, but no one looks to the original for the main source of destruction of Judeo-Christian relationships).
However, the film is not about the people who killed Jesus. It’s about the love Jesus had for his followers.
Pious or not, audiences will flock to see the movie, anyway. After all, there’s no better publicity than a little bit of controversy mixed in with a highly sensitive topic. Maybe that’s what Gibson was going for; maybe it was bound to happen. Either way, it’s working for him. The Passion of the Christ has sold an estimated 9 million tickets before it even opened.
Still, the fire of controversy rages. Gibson was recently interviewed on ABCNEWS’ Primetime.
“Critics who have a problem with me don’t really have a problem with me in this film,” Gibson said in an interview with Diane Sawyer. “They have a problem with the four Gospels. That’s where their problem is.”
Gibson, whose film is an adaptation of a combination of the Biblical four Gospels, defends the movie by saying it’s not his fault the Bible may be percieved as anti-Semitic. Darrell J. Fasching, a professor in the religious studies department, thinks that the film will feed anti-Semitism and some of it may be attributed to Gibson.
“(The film uses) bits and pieces of the four Gospels, in a quite artistic and creative way,” Fasching said. “(But it is) not the story of one of the Gospels. When you pick and choose (it becomes) your story.”
He’s right. Gibson does portray the Jews in a negative light. But movies made about the Holocaust portray the Germans in a bad light, yet the German people do not rally against the release of such films as Schindler’s List or Life is Beautiful.
In The Passion, Christ emphasizes that no one is taking away his life, he is giving it up voluntarily. But could one such line save the movie from being labeled racist? Not according to Fasching.
“What the movie does is what Christianity has typically done with (its) stories,” Fasching said. “(It presents) a two-level message (that is) very ambivalent.”
This message — that those who follow Jesus are saved and those that don’t are damned — is the most controversial according to to Fasching.
“God’s love is unconditional or (just) for those who accept Jesus. Christianity cannot make up its mind,” Fasching said.
The movie may have its ambiguous moments, but the overwhelming theme of the film is not hate. With flashbacks to the Last Supper and the Sermon on the Mount, The Passion of the Christ is a testament to Jesus’ love and devotion to mankind.
In the end, Gibson decided that to end the quarrel of who killed the film’s Jesus, it would be his own hands nailing The Messiah to the cross. Whether that was a smart choice, only time will tell.
But that’s not the important point here. With The Passion, even those that are far from religious will be touched not because of the piousness of the film but because of the message of love that applies to everyone.
Entertainment editor Olga Robak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.