Friday, April 16, 2004 (SF Gate)
How To Gag On 'The Passion'/Nine fun-filled ways Mel Gibson's brutal snuff film makes a mockery of true belief.
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Perhaps you, like so many across the planet, are more than a bit baffled by the runaway success of "The Passion of the Christ."
Perhaps you, furthermore, are more than slightly disturbed that millions have flocked to this bizarre ultraviolent blood-drenched revisionist flick and that so many actually believe its story to be absolutely true, and that it just surpassed "The Return of the King" in total box office and is the No. 8 most successful film of all time and it was No. 1 again across BushCo's flyover states during Easter weekend and has sold 650,000 books and 125,000 creepy pewter nail necklaces and you find it all just incredibly warped and disheartening and what the hell is the world coming to.
You are not alone.
I have seen the movie. I have endured the spectacle so you don't have to. Here, then, are some counterthoughts. Nine random points of spiritual contention and pointy perspective check, a small pile of juicy karmic stones to toss at the next utterly depressing screening of 'The Passion' and perhaps at Mel Gibson's very sad and deeply tormented ego.
Why? Because he deserves it. Why? Because this is not a movie. It is a sad phenomenon. It is a gross spiritual emetic. It is, clearly, a cry for help.
1) It lasted more than a full half hour, the central beating scene, wherein a squad of monosyllabic demon Romans chain Jesus to a stone and feverishly flay him to oozing pulp on one side, then casually flip him over like a veal cutlet and thrash the other side until he is nothing but a puddle of dripping stage blood and flappy flesh and cavernous moans.
You catch glimpses of this revolting cartoonishness through barely parted fingers and you think, goddammit, there goes half an hour of my vital life force that I will require much sex and vodka and Buddhism to recover. And you realize, with a sort of perfect and holy divine clarity, that Mel Gibson is utterly, thoroughly insane.
2) You are not stupid. You have read The Da Vinci Code. You know damn well that the truth about Mary Magdalene -- along with all juicy goodness of the divine feminine in general -- has been beaten out of Christianity like joy is beaten out of American teenagers.
And you know that if Mary Magdalene looked the slightest bit like Monica Bellucci, who plays her in this film, well, Jesus would've been preaching a lot more of the gospel of oh my freaking God look at those lips. Instead, Mel focuses on nothing but endless pained female expressions and Satan as a sallow woman with wicked cheekbones. Touching.
3) You wail, you scream, you nearly call an ambulance when you burn your finger on the stove while making popcorn. You know for a fact that no human body, no matter how divinely inspired, could ever withstand so much gleeful ultraviolent comical blood-drenched flesh rending as poor ol' Jesus does in the Jerusalem Chainsaw Massacre and not instantly pass out and/or immediately demand three quadruple Martinis and a fistful of holy Vicodin. I mean, please.
4) There were children. Small children, most of them under 10, in the theater where I endured this spiritual mess, their grim parents apparently believing Mel's R-rated bloodbath would offer up some sort of constructive lesson, something deep and divine and unforgettable.
And then the whips rended and the blood gushed and the sadomasochism amplified to a fever pitch and the families all sat there, stone faced and lost, apparently convincing themselves they were seeing something glorious and profound, as the hapless kids stared down a future full of bloody Jesus nightmares and psychotherapy until many years and many prescription meds later when they finally realize, damn but that movie messed me up.
Remember "Jaws"? Remember how that flick traumatized the entire Boomer generation back in '75? Same thing. "Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the church ... WHIPWHIPTHRASHARRRGGGH."
5) Oh right. The nails-through-the-hands thing. Like that's important to fetishize so explicitly, Mel. You sure you couldn't get the camera a little closer? Maybe more blood splattered directly on the camera lens as the mallet slammed down? Maybe you could've jammed one of those tiny medical cameras inside the bloody hole itself and really hit your point home, so to speak? Mel, I'd like to introduce you to my close personal friend, perspective. Here, have a pamphlet.
One tiny anthropological point: You cannot drive a nail through the human hand and hang a body from it and not have it tear away like some sort of disgusting hamburger. Did you think of that, Mel? I bet you did. I bet you wished with all your might you could've filmed Jesus' body being torn from the nails and falling to the ground in gruesome slo-mo. Man, how much more fake blood and pig guts you could've poured over poor James Caviezel! Whee! Two words, Mel: Zoloft. Now.
6) Many argue that, despite the truckloads of blood and unchecked violence, Gibson's heart was surely in the right place and his objective was pure. But let's just say it right here and now: bull. You could feel Mel's fetish for torture veritably oozing off the screen like visual razor blades. There was no loving intent in this film. There is no tender message. There is no deep desire to move and inspire and uplift.
There was only, I believe, copious gobs of curiously sad intent to decimate any notions of gentle divine intimate open-hearted mystical love and forgiveness you may have once believed Jesus was all about, and replace them with one very disturbed and sadomasochistic B-grade actor's very disturbed and sadomasochistic vision of old-school Catholic brutality and anti-Semitism and blood-soaked guilt. In a nutshell.
7) The answer is, if I recall, about eight. The question is: How many times can you watch Mel's whipped, blended, frapped, pureed Jesus, his body rife with so many oozing crimson gouges it looks like some decimated animal you ran over with your car, twice, with snow tires -- how many times can you watch Jesus fall to the hard gravel ground with a long, low moan in terrible blood-drenched slow motion without, finally, stifling a laugh?
8) This is not Christianity. This is not a message anyone needs. This is the exact opposite of spiritual progress or insight or gentle divine heat and if Jesus came back right this minute and was made to sit through this film, he would sigh gently, shake his short, shaggy hair (long hair was forbidden by Jewish law -- wrong again, Mel), and, you know, hold a nice seminar or something.
You think this is how I want to be remembered? This is what he'd say, calmly and lovingly and more than a little sad. You really think this was my message? You believe this is what I want the world to focus on, two hours of deranged apocryphal torture and close-up butchering? Is really where humanity is still stuck, in bloodlust and shallow emotional manipulation and cheesy movie tie-ins and $17 popcorn? And then Jesus' gaze, it would slowly drift away as radiant images of Monica Bellucci floated before his sparkling eyes.
9) And, finally, Jesus, he would absolutely agree with the following: If you must see this movie just to see what the fuss is all about, do what I did: Sneak into it after seeing some other, wildly superior film -- like, say, "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" -- so as not to contribute one dime to the Mel Gibson Fund for the Spiritually Hysterical.
Rest assured, Jesus would've wanted it that way.