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The Passion of Mel Gibson

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Mel Gibson spared no expense in his attempt to make his new film The Passion of the Christ look as authentic as possible. Every detail was finely tuned with the intent of transporting the viewer back to the first century to witness the brutal crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

But apart from how it looked, this film, which will be released in theatres on Ash Wednesday, suffers in historical and biblical accuracy. Scholars and theologians around the globe are taking the well-known actor and director to task for his carelessness in attending to the facts.

Icon Productions and Newmarket Films, the production company and distributor of the film respectively, are touting the pains to which Gibson went in order to give it first-century realism. Firstly, all of his actors spent months learning Aramaic or Latin, the languages spoken in Palestine in that era. Gibson hired one of Hollywood's top cinematographers, Caleb Deschanel (The Patriot, The Right Stuff). He contracted with Italy's most famous production designer, Francesco Frigeri and set decorator, Carlo Gervasi. They worked together at Italy's top studio, Cinecita Studios in Rome to reconstruct Jerusalem in a single mammoth set. Make-up and costumes also tapped into the best in the business. Much more cost-effective locations could have been chosen than the small Italian town that was used for the majority of the outdoor scenes. Film makers have long known that Morocco and Tunisia are much less expensive places in which to recreate Jerusalem and Palestine, and extras come very cheap.

The effort was worth it, as far as the look and feel. This production was second to none in its technical aspects. It was, as Gibson had wanted, a moving classical painting, modeled on the artwork of the Italian Baroque artist, Caravaggio. All this because the highly successful actor and director wanted to 'remain as true as possible to the story.'

Ironically though, like Caravaggio did in his paintings, Gibson takes too much license with the actual history of his subject. Faced with this criticism, he is quick to respond that he was given contradictory opinions among the experts he consulted. 'Since the experts cancelled each other out, I was thrown back on my own resources to weigh the different arguments and decide for myself,' he said in one interview. 'This is my version of what happened, according to the gospels and what I wanted to show,' Gibson told the U.S. television network ABC this month.

The emphasis should be put on what Gibson 'wanted to show.' This is all fine. After all, it is his money and his script. He's paying the bill, he should have the freedom to make it as he desires. But the problem is that the film has not been marketed as a subjective and interpretative treatment. Instead, he went to great lengths to advertise the film as true and accurate. The fine attention to dialect and language, costume and set all are techniques that say to the audience, 'What you see here is exactly how it happened.'

Many supporters would argue that this is nitpicking on the part of scholars and reviewers. But consider those who may come to the film unfamiliar with the story. The producers claim that the screenplay is put together from the Bible?s four gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But so much extra dialogue, narrative and scenes are added to this version that the claim becomes misleading to a Biblically illiterate audience. The question then arises, if they can't get the minor details of a very plain narrative correct, how can we expect the larger, more important message to be accurate?

Because of the hype, many who have studied and written on the subject for years were looking forward to the promise of a celebrated movie that would help set the record straight. Gibson had a real chance to undo hundreds of years of misconceptions and erroneous conclusions about the life of Jesus. Instead the audience is given, not only the same old story, but new errors and assumptions to further confuse the believer and non-believers as well.

'He has a long-haired Jesus...Jesus didn't have long hair,' said physical anthropologist Joe Zias, who has studied hundreds of skeletons found in archaeological digs in Jerusalem. "Jewish men back in antiquity did not have long hair."

"The Jewish texts ridiculed long hair as something Roman or Greek," said New York University's Lawrence Schiffman.

Zias is also an expert on Roman crucifixion techniques. He claims that Jesus would not have carried the entire cross. "Nobody was physically able to carry the thing. It weighed about 350 lb (159 kg)," Zias said. "He carried the cross-beam, maximum."

Zias took issue with other aspects of the crucifixion such as the nailing of the hands as opposed to between the two bones of the wrists. He states that the hands could not have supported the weight of the body without tearing.

These are just a few of the minor historical aspects that the film ignores. A bigger issue is the insertion of many scenes that are not found in the Biblical record. For instance, the presence of Satan in various scenes, a fight scene when soldiers first come to arrest Jesus and a scene in which Pilate?s wife interacts with Jesus? mother all not in the gospel accounts. There are other occurrences introduced many of which come from the visions of a controversial nineteenth-century nun.

It seems most Christians are delighted that the subject is getting so much media attention and that millions will be exposed to part of the Gospel message, in spite of the inaccuracies and historical license. But what does the controversy do for the non-believer? Does it not create mistrust and ultimately destroy faith and credibility of the gospel? It is highly likely that non-Christians and skeptics will be put off by the film. Indeed the reviews so far and the controversy that surrounds the film are confirming that.

Because he chose to ignore the historical and biblical record by providing too much of his own interpretation, Gibson failed at his primary goal with this film. The distributor?s press notes quote him as saying, 'My ultimate hope is that this story's message might inspire tolerance, love and forgiveness.' So far the opposite has occurred. Jewish groups are condemning the film as anti-Semitic, scholars are attacking the film for its inaccuracy and even many Christians are upset with the portrayals and divergence from the gospel accounts.

Claims of anti-Semitism are in some ways unfounded and Gibson's defense that 'there weren't any Norwegians there' is a fair point. He does show many Jews in a good light, at least those who supported Jesus. Gibson says he did not intend the film to be anti-Semitic, but because he gives in to the Hollywood tendency of creating a story around characters that are either all bad or all good, it is easy to see how Jewish viewers will be offended. Could it be that those who accused Jesus might have been more subtle and conflicted characters? Again a touch of realism and accuracy could have helped.

But the film, perhaps inadvertently, or in the scriptwriter's desire to create drama, undoes the primary message of Christ's death that of forgiveness. While Gibson inserts a few brief flashback scenes in which Jesus tells his followers not to repay evil for evil, his depiction of the Jewish priests, Pharisees, Romans and of Judas' suicide play upon the viewer's anger at and thirst for revenge toward Jesus' accusers.

The violence of this film also played into those emotions. Gibson had a reason for showing the brutality of Jesus' death in a graphic way. But was it a good reason? This was to be one of the major differences between this version and previous versions of films about Jesus' life. The filmmaker wanted to de-sanitize the event, to help the viewers understand the suffering that Jesus went through.

Again, the sensitivities of differing audiences were ignored. For a Christian believer, this may be effective. But for the non-believer it could very well be perceived as gratuitous violence. And this problem enters in as well because of Gibson's desire to tell the story from his perspective instead of sticking to the Biblical story. The Bible does not give us much of the graphic detail. But the creators of The Passion decided not to spare the gore. A long, drawn-out scourging scene, complete with ever-deepening pools of blood and the disfigurement of Jesus' body, countless slow motion scenes of Christ being slapped, punched, cut and knocked to the ground, along with every opportunity to show blood splattering on bystanders' faces and clothing is what Hollywood does best.

This begs the question, was it effective? One could argue that the abundance of graphic detail actually desensitized the viewer. Perhaps Gibson could have learned from a master filmmaker like Alfred Hitchcock, who realized that less was more, and took movie making to a new level by what he didn't show.

But a more important criticism of the violence is that it was out of context. Can one really understand, especially one unfamiliar with the story, the violent death of Jesus Christ without understanding more about his life and purpose for coming? The story of Christ?s crucifixion cannot be told apart from the story of his life, the historical setting and the fulfillment of his resurrection.

Those who believe in the life of Jesus Christ and the authority of the Biblical accounts about it, had some hope that the credibility and fame of Mel Gibson could be used to strengthen the faith of many and bring others to that faith. Unfortunately, his passion for his own version of the story seems to get in the way.

Source... Vision.org

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I'll leave most of this subject alone. Except:

... are touting the pains to which Gibson went in order to give it first-century realism. Firstly, all of his actors spent months learning Aramaic or Latin

The Latin used in the movie wasn't authentic. It certainly was Latin, but there were terms and concepts added to the language during the Middle Ages included in the movie. I have never taken Latin, but I will accept the opinion of people who have. Hollywood Latin if you will.

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You should apply to the NY Times. Think of the space they could save.

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I just thought it was interesting to see a review from a religious perspective that said he got bits all wrong but also commending what he got right. Most seem to go to one extreme or the other.

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Most seem to go to one extreme or the other.


Good article. Well balanced.

I meant I keep it short when it comes to religion.

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