April 12, 2016

Watching Jesus: Background and Reflection on The Passion of the Christ

Last week, I watched The Passion of the Christ for the first time. After Easter Sunday, I decided to watch a bunch of Jesus films, mostly because I simply have not watched many Jesus movies in adulthood. Much of the reason why was because of The Passion of the Christ.

When it was released in theaters, I was deeply tied to the evangelical tradition. Leaders across denominations had high evangelistic hopes for this film. There was sincere pressure to invite non-believing people to theaters to see it. I decided to drop out of the whole experiment for a few reasons.

For starters, I found the hype around this film short-sited. This film came out on the heels of the Left Behind novels phenomenon. Those books had a strong impact on many people. Yet, they were filled with such extrabiblical, suspect theology that there was a question, for me and my 20-something idealism, as to what people were being "converted" to.  I had similar concerns about this film and the broad evangelical response.

Movies don't convert people in and of themselves. Even if they did, I was still in a stage of reacting to western evangelicalism's obsession with conversions and neglect to the long-tail task of discipleship. I've learned since then that a Christian tradition can lack the passion for conversion and still fail to attend to discipleship. That's another conversation for another day.

Secondly, when art becomes a blatant tool it feels more like propaganda. My artsy self reacted to that as well.

Lastly, western Christianity has long history of anglicizing Jesus. As I said in my first post on this subject, Jesus wasn't white and he didn't have an English accent. From stained glass windows to the silver screen we have for centuries created Jesus in our own image. This is problematic in that in our cultural experience whiteness is synonymous with dominant culture. Jesus was not a part of the dominant culture of his time and this has a critical impact on his narrative, the biblical narrative and our theology. This may seem trivial to some white folks but imagine if you were a person of color and the image of Jesus displayed to you was always Caucasian. How would that feel?

So, there you have it: those were my reasons for checking out of Jesus movie watching for approximately 20 years. The above remain valid concerns but I take myself a lot less seriously than I did a couple decades ago. All my objections aside, I got curious and here we are! With that, here's a quick reflection on the film.

It was really Catholic
I wrote on Tuesday about the evangelical fervor around the film when it came out. Because of that I was a little surprised at how Catholic the film was. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive labels and I should've figured this from what I've heard about Mel Gibson's faith. Nonetheless, the nuances in the portrayal of Jesus' story that are most closely associated Catholicism stood out to me. Mary's near supernatural/telepathic sense of Jesus' presence. Additionally, the story sticks closely to the Stations of the Cross and mythology around it that is not necessarily unbiblical but is certainly extrabiblical. By the way, this was simply an observation not a strike against the film.

Judas' The Sixth Sense experience
Speaking of extrabiblical, the extrapolation of Judas' final hours, the portrayal of his haunting was fascinating!

Satan, who knew!?
Another creative aspect that I appreciated was Satan. Super creepy! And the asexual representation was really interesting. One of the coolest moment is [spoiler alert] when Jesus dies and Satan screams, noting his defeat.

So gory!
Man, this movie is super gory. From what we know in the Gospels about Jesus, most of what is portrayed could be true but the obsession over the suffering is really over-the-top. I'm ready for a film that looks at his pre- and post-resurrection story.

Jesus invented the table and chairs.
Did you pick up on that? Amazing. I didn't know.

Nice touch using the ancient languages.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, April 13), I'm going to be watching The Life and Passion of Jesus Christ from 1903. I'll start around 9:30pm. It's a silent film so I hope I don't fall asleep. Watch for this on Twitter. You can check out my tweets while watching the previous film here.