December 13, 2003

Mel Gibson's Ultimate Hero Movie

An Art Historian's View of "The Passion", by Elizabeth Lev:

In "The Passion of the Christ," Gibson has made the ultimate hero movie. In the opening scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus suffering with the foreknowledge of his imminent passion, pleading to be spared this task. The eerie figure of Satan, who would be distressingly at home in an MTV video, softly tempts and dissuades. "No man can bear this burden," he whispers while Jesus lies prostrate, seemingly helpless on the ground. But Jesus lifts himself up, and with a decisive crack that makes the audience jump, he crushes the head of the serpent Satan has sent to tempt him.

Another classically heroic Gibson moment finds Christ on his knees, crippled under the weight of the cross. His mother runs to comfort him, whereupon he smiles bravely and promises, "See Mother, I make all things new." The camera follows him up as he again shoulders the cross and struggles forward with renewed vigor.

Spurious charges of anti-Semitism have upstaged more important debate regarding the religious and artistic value of this film. The intensity with which Gibson forces us to think about Christ's passion highlights the power of cinema as an art medium, as well as a tool for evangelization.

Personally, perhaps the sweetest note on seeing this movie was that my adolescent hero has become a hero in my adult life, showing courage and vision in professing his belief in Christ's salvific sacrifice against formidable odds. Hats off to Mel.