Blogs > Liberty and Power > The Passion

Mar 6, 2004 5:09 pm

The Passion

I just had a chance to see the"Passion." It is a fine piece of film-making, much better than some recent movies that have made the Oscar finals such as the unremarkable,"Lost in Translation."

I do not think the film is anti-Semitic. Gibson takes the opportunity more than once to underscore Jewish divisions at the time on the trial and crucifixion. For example, he inserts dissident voices in the Sanhedrin. He also adds a highly sympathetic, and explicitly, Jewish cross-bearer who is belittled by the Romans. The Romans soldiers are portrayed as crude, sadistic, and ugly. Pilate comes across as superficially sympathetic but in actuality Clintonesque and opportunistic.

Some of the critics have stressed the"Jewish features" of the persecutors. This is rather silly. If anything, the"Jewish features" of the disciples and other sympathetic characters are just as pronounced.

Having said this, I had a Lutheran upbringing which included heavy exposure to the Gospels from"mainstream" Christians. I may have felt differently if I had come from a different background.

The film has several violent and highly intense scenes but they are no worse than many other (often nihilistic) films praised by these same critics. Gibson shows a director's care in keeping it within certain limits and interspersing flashbacks. The scourging and crucifixion scenes are not for children or the faint-hearted but mainly because of their intensity, not because of the blood and gore as such.

Gibson's use of Aramaic and Latin is effective. It eliminates much of the artificiality and sentimentality which are so common to Biblical epics. For a informative piece on the Jesuit priest who did the translations, see here. Interestingly, the translator drew on ancient Roman graffiti to include elements slang and obscenity in the conversations of the Roman soldiers. None of this was shown in the subtitles. I don’t know enough to comment on the accuracy of the translations. I understand that Roderick Long, who does have such knowledge, takes a more critical view of some of the uses and misuses of Latin in the film.

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