I walked out of a packed theater last night, turned to my friends, and asked: “So what was all the fuss about?”
The weeks and weeks of hand-wringing activism and complaining about Mel Gibson’s movie had me expecting the most violent movie ever made, rife with anti-Jewish slander. What I actually saw was a believable portrayal of a man’s scourging and crucifixion. Was there too much blood? I’m not a doctor, and neither are most film critics. We don’t know. It was a lot of blood, but then there were a lot of whips and nails.
In all, I’d say the movie was well-drawn and expertly put together. The brutal violence strengthens Gibson’s use of Marquez-style magic realism – demons appear to torture Judas, a pasty Satan pops up to leer over the processions (and wait for Jesus to call it quits, I think). Today, after sleeping on the movie, the part I remember best came when Satan appears at the flogging cradling a mottled, mutated baby, which turns to sneer at Mary. This is an unexplained image. Its meaning is obviously bleak, but what else? That’s left up to the viewer.
The whole picture is the equivilent of Donald Woods’ book “Biko.” We are not introduced to Steven Biko from the beginning, watching his philosophy develop and influence unfold. We come in understanding that this guy is important and soulful, and then we watch his trial, death, and the government coverup. Those aspects tell us about Biko’s character and about the weight of the oppression he faced. Gibson set out to show us the last 12 hours of Christ’s life, and he succeeds completely.