Rebirth of Reason


The Passion Of The Christ: A Review
by Matthew Humphreys

Whilst imbibing serious amounts of vodka on a pub crawl one night, it came to my attention that a couple of my (non-Objectivist) acquaintances planned to go and see The Passion Of The Christ the following evening. I had yet to make up my mind whether to see the movie at all, and gave this some thought throughout the next day. After a full and detailed consideration of all relevant factors and potential repercussions, I made the fateful decision to accompany the aforementioned acquaintances, and view this most controversial of movies. Here then are my thoughts.

First, everything you've heard concerning the gore and violence is true, and then some. It starts within the first few minutes, and goes totally over the top within another few.  There is scarcely a moment where Jesus is *not* under some form of torture from then until the final scene. There were repeated occasions when I was thinking "Ok, we get the point." There was a particularly disturbing moment when Jesus was being whipped, and the type of whip being used visibly dug into Jesus' flesh and tore chunks out. The process of actually nailing Jesus to the cross was likewise needlessly extended (having nailed one hand to the cross, the Roman soldiers had difficulty getting the second hand into position, and eventually tied a rope around Jesus' wrist and pulled it into place - in another context, this might have seemed comical!).

Speaking as a lapsed Christian, I am very intrigued by the fact that the movie spends more than 2 hours showing Jesus' torture and execution, but all of about a minute at the very end dealing with the resurrection. The emphasis here is overwhelmingly on suffering and death rather than the promise of salvation and eternal life (which is at least in some sense positive). This leads me to question Mel Gibson's motives in making the movie - if he wanted to simply tell the Gospel story, then the resurrection, and indeed Jesus' post-resurrection acts, ought to have been given some more screen time. The answer is perhaps that Gibson didn't want to tell the Gospel story as such: the movie is titled The Passion Of The Christ, which in and of itself signifies a seemingly deliberate emphasis on Jesus' suffering and death.

Having said all that, I did actually manage to find a few worthwhile scenes amidst the overwhelming gore. There was something deeply moving about Jesus' mother Mary running to him in the street when he buckled under the weight of the cross, flashing back to Jesus falling over outside the house while playing as a child, and Mary similarly running to him at that time. She was there for him as a child, and she is there for him now, as he goes to his death.  The early scenes show Jesus remaining resolute and true to his convictions despite the fact that the very people he sought to help have become a baying mob clamouring for his execution, and repeatedly refusing to back down when given the opportunity, despite knowing the terrible fate ahead. This has parallels with certain other historical individuals whom many Objectivists admire to varying degrees - for example, Socrates (though from an Objectivist perspective, there are serious problems with the way both simply accepted their executions).

It must be noted though that the movie doesn't go into any great detail about exactly what convictions Jesus was fighting for - there are a few brief flashbacks to both the Last Supper and the Sermon On The Mount, vaguely emphasising the altruistic elements of Jesus' teachings. I recall no mention whatsoever of the more individualistic elements (I make this distinction because Rand actually expressed admiration for Jesus' individualist teachings, and went so far as to suggest that the altruistic elements might be the result of distortions by Jesus' supposed followers).

All in all then, this is not a movie I would recommend to the majority of Objectivists, as there is little (if anything) that you will appreciate. Mythology buffs and Diabolical Dialecticians are a different story of course.

My thanks to Lindsay Perigo and Chris Sciabarra for their criticisms and other comments on a rough draft of this piece.

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