Is The Passion of the Christ Good Because It's Accurate? Is It Accurate?
The period of speculation, worry, warnings, assurances and hype over The Passion of the Christ is coming to an end. The film is finished, and some audiences have seen it. An original soundtrack has replaced the music that supported early screenings of director Mel Gibson's rough drafts. The final cuts have been made. Here it comes, along with reviews.
While it's not the first mainstream magazine to offer an "early look" at the film, the story in the new issue of Newsweek is the flashiest and most ambitious to date. Critic Jon Meacham has seen the film twice, and carefully explains the moments that are causing the cries of anti-Semitism, noting the differing perspectives of Christian audiences and Jewish audiences. He also highlights which portions of the film are unsupported by Scripture. In conclusion, Meacham offers these thoughts:
Amid the clash over Gibson's film and the debates about the nature of God, whether you believe Jesus to be the savior of mankind or to have been an interesting first-century figure who left behind an inspiring moral philosophy, perhaps we can at least agree on this image of Jesus of Nazareth: confronted by violence, he chose peace; by hate, love; by sin, forgiveness—a powerful example for us all, whoever our gods may be.
The New York Times reports that Gibson has been igniting the fires of religious fervor for the film. "Gibson … has tried to stoke [religious leaders'] enthusiasm by screening it the past two months for at least 10,000 pastors and leaders of Christian ministries and media. Many emerged proclaiming it a searing, life-changing experience. Now those leaders are buying blocks of tickets, encouraging church members to invite their 'unsaved' friends and co-workers and producing television commercials that start with scenes from the movie and finish with a pitch for their churches."
Advance tickets are selling fast. Taking a distinctly positive stand, one enthusiastic soul purchased 6,000 Passion tickets and gave them away.
Meanwhile, a sort of euphoria continued to spread through Christian communities as more and more pastors and other religious leaders were shown the film. What is supposedly the "final cut" was screened at Azusa Pacific University last week. (On the APU Web site, you will find a featured article on "The Science of the Crucifixion," which may help with those debates over the "accuracy" of Gibson's film.)
Some viewers and pundits are gravely concerned over the level of violence portrayed in the film.
As he spells out his concerns about the film, Martin Marty expresses puzzlement that conservative Catholics and evangelicals who complain about violence in other movies show no sign of complaint about this film and even seem pleased by the copious gore. "The previewers who like violence if it shows Jesus suffering, on the grounds that savagery moves people to appreciate his sacrifice, are measuring the wrong thing. In Holy Week I'll be listening to Bach's Passions, singing about 'Was there ever grief like Thine?' and meditating on the wounds of Christ, but not in the belief that the more blood and gore the holier, a la Gibson. Today, all over the world, people are suffering physically as much as the crucified Jesus. The point now is not to accept grace because we saw gore. The issue is not, were his the worst wounds and pains ever, but, as the Gospels show, the issue was, and is, who was suffering and to what end."
Some Christian leaders do seem pleased by the graphic nature of the violence. In that New York Times article, a pastor is quoted as saying, "This isn't just violence for violence's sake. This is what really happened, what it would have been like to have been there in person to see Jesus crucified."