“A Clockwork Messiah” or What’s Next, “Penitentes Gone Wild!”?
Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of The Christ” is a rather tedious exercise in graphic brutality and strained reaction shots, with a generous dollop of anti-Semitism and a soupçon of anti-paganism thrown in for good measure. In a clever fusion, Gibson melds the aesthetic sensibility of the plague-ridden late Middle Ages with the over-the-top mayhem of a contemporary shoot-’em-up video game to craft an ultra-violent “religious” film fit for today’s box office.
His Satan, an omnipresent, androgynous, deep-voiced figure wrapped in a cloak, is perhaps inspired by medieval depictions of “death triumphant”: a sexless, worm-riddled avatar of corruption. Satan at one point parodies images of the Madonna and Child by hefting a bloated demonic infant. It certainly suits the aesthetic choices made by the director, but is not congruent with our symbol of Satan as heroic individualist.
It seems pretentious to have the actors speak in Latin and Aramaic, but it’s all part of the director’s attempt to create a “you are there” sensibility in the viewer’s mind. In fact, the gospels which served as the source for this tale were crafted long after the time of the alleged events by people who could not have been present. Gibson is trying to sell the audience a myth by presenting it as if it were as authentic as a historically-accurate recreation of a Civil War battle. Additionally, the dialogue is often not even subtitled, particularly when Yeshua is being abused by the Romans, so those unfamiliar with Latin will miss the precise meaning of the epithets being showered upon the bruised Nazarene. Translating Latin curse words is a no-no; rubbing your nose in graphic violence is A-OK!
of a Civil War battle.”
Like the Dark Age passion plays, the film focuses solely on the beating and crucifixion of Yeshua, and Gibson wastes no time in presenting the culprits. With a full-moonlit night to set a horror film context, Judas goes to the Sanhedrin and betrays his mentor for the traditional 30 pieces of silver. The Hebrew priests are depicted as heavyset, overdressed, and utterly dedicated to the murder of Yeshua, whom they consider a rival to their spiritual authority. They send their military lackeys, also Jews, to “begin the beguine” by putting a beating on Yeshua and his hippie-like followers in the garden of Gethsemane.
Contrast this image with the later depiction of the pragmatic figure of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of this far-flung cesspit of a province filled with religious maniacs. He does not see why Yeshua should be killed, and only orders the already-battered and obviously meshuggah fellow to be flogged in hopes of appeasing the bloodthirsty Jewish ruling class. Now do you wonder why some folks might contend that this film has a certain slant?
Of course, the fellows who administer the punishment are a bunch of rowdy pagan brutes, dull-witted frat-boy-turned-corrections-officer types, who go too far. Here follows the most brutal whipping ever filmed. Yeshua, rather buff for a desert-dwelling prophet, is first caned until he is beaten down, his back deeply marked in the closely-depicted process. But he stands again, which prompts the sadistic Romans to choose more damaging implements, to wit, leather-thonged flails woven with metal beads. These are used with utmost effort and we are treated to close-up views of gobbets of flesh being torn from Yeshua’s body. He is nearly beaten to death, finally lying on the cobblestones in a literal sea of blood, and Greg Cannom—who is known for having done make-up effects for horror films—has wrought a body suit that lovingly details the ribs showing through the flayed flesh. Splatter fans may find this of interest. It certainly goes way beyond anything that could remotely be considered erotic sado-masochism into the realm of disgusting atrocity.
You all know the rest of the tale, but Gibson has added some personal touches.
of thankless tasks?”
We are treated to a number of flashbacks, one of which depicts Yeshua the carpenter as having crafted a table which is too tall for local traditions. When his mother remarks upon it, he says he’ll make chairs to match. So, not only is he the Messiah, but he’s a brilliant innovator of furniture design! I wonder if that bit was in one of the non-canonical gospels?
When Yeshua stumbles the second time on the way to his place of execution, his mother recalls in flashback a scene wherein little toddler Yeshua falls and she rushes to comfort him. Not particularly subtle.
We need not deal in detail with the inherent contradictions in the tale. However, it is interesting to note that, as shown in this film, Yeshua knows at the “final nosh” that he is going to be executed (as his deity-father wills), and he knows that Judas will betray him to set the deal in motion. But then Yeshua seems angered at Judas who is only doing what his God has ordained him to do. You’d think Judas, who supposedly loved and revered his mentor and thus felt great pain at being the one who had to do this, might actually be considered a hero by Christians for having to be placed in such a painful situation that he is driven to suicide. Perhaps he should be considered the patron saint of thankless tasks? Such an odd cult is Christianity.
Also of interest is the scene wherein the two criminals crucified along with Yeshua express their take on the situation. One believes in him as a holy man, the other challenges this dying Messiah to exercise his powers to get them the hell out of there. The doubter is punished when a raven arrives and pecks his eye out. Seems a tad bitchy of God, wouldn’t you say? The Romans who savaged Yeshua are unscathed, while somebody under great personal duress who presents a verbal challenge gets mutilated. Anyone else think this is a strange hierarchy of values? And of course, the Almighty lets his son be abused and saves the vengeful earthquake as an after-death climactic scattershot retribution. Poor timing? Why wreak havoc upon those who are doing what you wanted them to do, Jew and pagan alike? Seeking sense in this myth system has been fruitless for millennia.
When Longinus’ spear pierces the side of Yeshua to make certain he is dead, it releases such a fountain of blood and body fluids, that one must recall “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” to find a similarly overdone gout. Several people ecstatically bathe under this torrent; the director celebrates this revolting behavior.
The penultimate pieta image of Mary embracing the shattered body of her dead son was one of defeat and resignation. Indeed, that is a human touch, and would be the natural reaction to witnessing such events. There was no triumph and resistance and looking ahead to resurrection—only pain, degradation, and intense suffering. And since the director clearly blames this death on the Jewish community leaders, it wouldn’t surprise me that Christians who hold this myth dear might find such imagery spawning vengeful feelings toward those depicted as being responsible—as they also forget that their own deity is supposedly the ultimate author of the scenario. We all know that throughout history, Christianity, when linked up with the state, did turn implements of torture, similar to those used on Yeshua in this film, against anyone who would not buy into their sick faith, as well as against those “heretics” prone to hair-splitting of doctrine and dogma. They’ve had plenty of “tit-for-tat” over the past two thousand years, so one might reasonably expect they should now be sated.
This film takes abuse, torture and execution to pornographic excess and it is not suitable for viewing by children. If a film depicted any other individual—fictional or otherwise—being put through such a harrowing experience, I would think it likely that it would have been rated X, or banned outright as being obscene, perhaps even if it had been Hitler cast as the victim. That such generally objectionable imagery can be made palatable to a broad audience by placing it in a religious context is food for thought.
With that in mind, I could speculate that innovative pornographers might find this to be the time to introduce a new Messiah. A “spiritual” young lady (“hot” by contemporary standards, with her legal age statement properly on file), a true daughter of God, receives a vision that Mankind is so sinful that the death of Yeshua just wasn’t enough. She claims that God has inspired her to subject herself to the ultimate degradation of the world’s biggest “gang-bang,” so that Mankind’s multitudinous sins will be expiated through her selfless act as a receptacle for the jism of thousands of “fallen” men. They too will be saved through contact with this prostitute-paraclete. If such were realized with enough piety, perhaps in time this myth could be the foundation for a new religion? Is it any less ridiculous or obscene than what Gibson has portrayed?
It seems that many are forgetting that the imagery of Gibson’s film has been previously approached with the same glee. Recall the sequence in Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” wherein violent delinquent Alexander De Lodge finally reads the “Holy Scriptures” while incarcerated and imagines himself as a Roman, lustily flogging Yeshua on the way to Golgotha. Gibson has made little Alex’s wet-dream into a feature-length snore/gore fest. Perhaps one day, this director—much as another one who uses savior images but casts extraterrestrials in such roles—will feel the need to retouch his work. He might see that he gave torture too much of the center stage, and so he will create a revised “special edition.” In this, the brief image of resurrection will be extended into a view of Yeshua and the believer-thief entering into a brightly-lit heavenly kingdom, thronged with angels, much as Spielberg’s Paul Neary entered the mother ship in the revamped “CE3K.” Or perhaps the impulses that fueled “Braveheart” will come to fore and he’ll depict the risen Yeshua harrowing Hell in a flashy action sequence.
Your present humble narrator leaves you now with the proposal that this dull work is indeed an embodiment of the essence of Christianity. Witness the concentration on pain and suffering as the central value, joined with the idea of a father-deity torturing his child to death and this being celebrated as a positive image. We Satanists find it accurate to the spirit of Saul of Tarsus (aka “Saint Paul”), the true creator of Christianity, and we reject all of this as a vile creed, unfit for anyone who loves life and seeks joy in the world. I’ve always thought it a perversion to link the word “passion” to these mythical events of hideous torture, and this film has more than confirmed my opinion, as well as my wariness of those who do feel that this is a proper use for the word. Such twisted folk cannot be trusted.