On Wed. afternoon, Feb. 25, 2004, at the celebrated Art Deco “Senator Theatre,” in Baltimore City, I attended the premier of a truly fantastic movie. To write that Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ,” is an artistic achievement of the highest order, is to understate his accomplishment. It is more than that. It is more, too, than a superbly produced, written, directed, acted and crafted movie. It is a riveting experience that will open up the viewer, if he or she is willing, to the deepest kind of emotional, mental and spiritual responses.
For me, it was like bearing witness, once again, to every sermon, lecture and course that I had ever heard or taken on the essence of Christianity. It is one thing to hear someone talk about the death of Christ, or to read about it in the Four Gospels, or to view it, as I have in the finest art galleries of the U.S., Europe and Russia, through the expert representations of that tragic event. It is another thing, too, as I have been fortunate to have done, to walk the pathways of the “Viva Dolorosa,” in ancient, holy Jerusalem itself.
Gibson’s masterpiece, however, adds another more piercing dimension to the above process. His 126 minutes, R-rated film recreates in brutal, terrifying detail the last 12 hours of the life of Christ, beginning with the Garden of Olives, where he had gone to pray after the Last Supper. There, Christ resists Satan’s temptation. He is then betrayed to his enemies by one of his apostles, Judas Iscariot, who had been bribed with thirty pieces of silver by agents of Caiphas, the conniving High Priest.
Christ is then dragged before the Pharisees, the Jewish Sanhedrin, (High Court), who confront him with dubious accusations about blasphemy, a capital offense. At least one of the Pharisees, Nicodemus, had tried to warn Christ that “plots were being made to kill him” (“The Story of Civilization, Part III: Caesar and Christ,” p. 569). Christ is then subjected to a farce of a trial at the urgings of zealots, who were fearful of his growing popularity as a charismatic, Messiah-like teacher, a healer, and social agitator against the establishment of his day. Caiphas demands Christ’s death and that he be turned over to Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator for Palestine, to be crucified for treason. The Sanhedrin agrees.
Pilate, a cowardly politician, then caves into the hateful howlings for Christ’s blood by “a small mob,” (ibid. p. 572), in his courtyard, despite the serious moral reservations of Pilate’s wife about such despicable conduct. According to the opinion of the distinguished historian, Will Durant, it was clear from the Gospel of Luke, that this arbitrary “condemnation did not have the approval of the Jewish people,” (ibid., p. 572). Luke wrote that as Christ climbed the hill of Golgotha, “He was followed by a large crowd of the people and of women who beat their breasts and mourned for him.”
The gang that seized Christ in the Garden, on behalf of the scheming Caiphas, are shown as a bunch of fanatical thugs. Although, it is the Roman soldiers who are painted as the sadistic heavies in “The Passion.” The painful scourging of Christ was very realistically depicted in the film. His agony, whipping and mocking, particularly the embedding into his head of the crown of thorns, are also graphically shown in all their ghastly savagery. The crucifixion scene was blood-chilling.
Gibson places you there when the bruised, chained and blood stained Christ carries his Cross and when he falls again and again and again. You are at Golgotha, too, at the foot of the Cross. You are there when Christ’s hands are being nailed to the Cross and where he pitifully hangs on, seemingly forever. Finally, he cries out in despair to his Father. You are there, also, when he draws his last breath and when he, mercifully, dies. And, you watch his Mother, at the foot of the Cross, sadly weeping for her only son, her wrongly convicted, her crucified son.
With respect to the making of “The Passion,” which cost Gibson $25 million, I feel obligated to say that, it is an absolute disgrace that the rabble rouser, Abe Foxman, the Zionist director of the Anti-Defamation League, had denounced the movie, without even seeing it, as “anti-Semitic.” He, and other Zionist windbags, were looking to prevent its distribution. The hysterical Foxman had claimed that the film would “fuel hatred and bigotry…” He demanded that Gibson change his film so that it would be free of any so-called “anti-Semitic messages.” Foxman even went to Rome to urge the Pope to condemn the film. Naturally, the Pope declined. The fearless Gibson held his ground and refused all the off-the-wall orders, insults and threats of the enraged Foxman and his cohorts.
“The Passion” follows the New Testament closely. However, there is no inference in the film suggesting that the Jews living today were responsible for the deeds of the few wicked hypocrites, who dominated the Sanhedrin and conspired to have Christ murdered. None! It would have been wrong to make that leap. (The same as it was wrong in April, 2002, for the Zionist War Machine to infer collective guilt and impose collective punishment on the West Bank Palestinian town of Jenin. The Israeli Occupation Army of Ariel “Bloody” Sharon for two weeks battered Jenin, buried people alive, and killed 63 of its residents. Collective punishment of civilians is a War Crime under the Geneva Convention.)
In 1995, Gibson produced “Braveheart”, a brilliant film that championed the Scottish nationalist cause against their English oppressors. In another outstanding movie, in which he appeared only as an actor, “The Patriot,” (2000), the story was told of the gallant American rebellion against the ruthless British imperialists. It is this kind of feisty cinematic background, that I suspect spooked one Nervous Nelly-type, movie critic, Michael Sragow. He appeared fearful that “The Passion” might portray Christ’s foes as being “irredeemably evil” (“Baltimore Sun,” 02/22/04). His concern was unfounded.
Ironies abound around Foxman’s pushy opposition to “The Passion.” The movie could possibly have received the same lukewarm reception that Martin Scorsese’s movie, “The Last Temptation of Christ,” did a few years back, before it quickly vanished from public view. But no, the arrogant Foxman, who was involved in that sordid Marc Rich/Bill Clinton presidential pardon mess, (William Safire, “NY Times,” 03/26/01), wouldn’t keep his big mouth shut. Now, the film is slated to become a box office ultra hit. I predict, that in the important realm of artistic expression, “The Passion” will have a profound meaning for movie-lovers everywhere from both the Left and the Right of the political spectrum, Christian and non-Christians alike.
The timing of Foxman’s combative reaction was way off, too. His demeaning attempt, via a dictatorial tone, to “reeducate” Gibson about his Christian beliefs comes at a juncture of rising anger in America towards Zionist Israel. The list of grievances include: Israel’s unlawful occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; its murderous attack on June 8, 1967, on the USS Liberty, which took the lives of 34 brave Americans and wounded 172 others; its unjustified killing of peace activist, Rachel Corrie; the scandalous Jonathan Pollard spy case; its extracting of over $100 billion in grants from our national treasury, since 1948; and finally, the fact that its intransigence, in the Middle East, which embraces the erection of its notorious “Apartheid Wall,” continues to make more enemies for the U.S. in the Islamic World.
As for the bottom line: a gutsy Mel Gibson crafted a film masterpiece, a classic, cosmic drama. And, he stood up for his art, his convictions and the First Amendment, too, against the self-appointed censor, “Big Brother” himself, that raving know-it-all, Abe Foxman, and his clique of naysayers.