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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Much as I appreciate Braveheart, I turn the channel at the drawing-and-quartering finale. The prospect of two hours' worth of graphic torture holds even less appeal.
So while I like Mel Gibson and laud his effort to profess his faith through his art, I'm in no hurry to see The Passion of the Christ. It's not a question of anti-Semitism but of gore. Some selections from today's reviews of the picture:
"The Passion of The Christ" is violent, bloody, and sadistic. Mel Gibson's movie about Jesus' last day has to be the most graphic and brutal death ever portrayed on film. It is being described as a masterpiece -- soul-stirring and beautiful. I found it stomach-turning and deeply troubling.
[A]ny parent -- no matter how devout and well-intentioned -- who takes a child to this movie is guilty of abuse. Period.
In the film's present-tense scenes, Christ has already had his face smashed in, but that's just an entr'acte. Now he is tied to a post in a Roman courtyard, and the camera lovingly pans the tray of instruments: the scourge, the spikes. There follows a 10-minute sequence in which, first, the savior is whipped with a stick until his back is raw. Then he is whipped with a cat-o'-nine-tails that has metal barbs at the end of each tether; in one shot we see the hooks dig deep and tear out his flesh. Then Christ is rolled over and he is flayed from the front. Later, after the long march to Golgotha, he is nailed to the cross in slo-mo close-ups in which each hammer stroke brings forth a fresh gout of blood.
This is scriptural fidelity as fetishism. But how can it be otherwise? To Gibson, each drop is holy, so the more of it the better. Each chunk of flesh dug out by the lash is Christ's sacrifice in all its beauty, so bring it on. The cumulative effect, however, brings only numbness.
Remarkably brutal and often stomach-churning, it is easily one of the most violent films I have ever seen, a full-length version of the torture sequence in "Braveheart." If it had been about any other subject, it would have been rated NC-17.
The hardest-working filmmakers on Gibson's set may have been make-up designers Keith VanderLaan and Greg Cannom (``Pirates of the Caribbean''), whose job it was to make Caviezel look like he was flayed alive. Emmerich repeatedly describes the body of the beaten and scourged Christ as "one wound," and that is how Gibson depicts it. Caviezel is covered head to toe in welts, cuts and gashes with large patches of flayed skin.
Everything you’ve heard about the violence in The Passion of the Christ is true. It’s jarring, almost sickening. Yet I didn’t find it gratuitous, given the film’s initiating premise, though the scourging of Jesus went on well past the point of diminishing artistic returns, however "realistic" it may have been. In any case, there is nothing in The Passion of the Christ that will startle viewers familiar with Western religious art. The difference—and it’s a big one—is that this is a film, not a mural. Photographs pack a punch quite different from even the most gruesome paintings. To say that The Passion of the Christ suggests a Caravaggist Crucifixion come to life, while true enough, understates its impact. Of course it’s only a movie, and we’ve all read about the special effects, but Gibson and his collaborators create an illusion of reality so enveloping that it’s possible to forget yourself.
I appreciate a rich tradition exists in Spain and elsewhere of gloriously bloody religious art. But this film doesn't sound at all my cup of tea.