Those of us not much impressed by Bravefart were probably distant enough from it while watching to sense how Mel Gibson foreshadowed something like The Passion of the Christ. The former’s climax—with Gibson virtually hanged, then nearly yanked apart, then stretched out as if Christ on the cross and disemboweled and ultimately beheaded—was the warning of a future violent extravaganza. What Gibson the director didn’t put into Bravefart (or The Patriot) is what he stuffed into T P of C—savagery that’s sickeningly and gratuitously explicit. (St. Bridget claimed Christ came to her in a vision and said he had received “5480 blows” on his body; it feels as if we’re watching that many being struck.) If the passion of Christ has moved countless millions through two millennia without the need of explicating the assumed tortures, why would the story be more moving when told this violently? Gibson might fantasize he’s out to spiritually grab us, but what he’s done, under the guise of conveyance of divinity, is nullify Christ’s message of gentle passivity by feeding the growing ferocious hunger for more violence. That’s the sole reason this movie has made roughly $750 million worldwide. The reasoning didn’t last: the March 2005 re-release of Passion dropped an I.E.D. at theatres.

Despite his on-going denials, Gibson’s malignant with anti-Semitism. Of course he also goes after the Romans—most of whom are drunks with villainous yellow teeth—so the blame appears shared. But Gibson’s treatment of the Jews is irrefutably ingrained, as is his use of an effeminate Devil (played by a woman) who has this sly yet nevertheless idiotic smile during the crucifixion very similar to the one seen on Bravefart’s deceased wife when she returns to comfort him as he lay dying. Prejudicial use of suggestive gender isn’t exclusive to Satan: Gibson’s Christ, in immoderate close-ups, couldn’t be a more beautiful white boy, so strikingly unlike what a real Christ might have appeared to be that there’s a disturbing mélange of confused emotions brushing against the movie’s sadomasochistic voyeurism.

More than a decade has passed since The Passion hit screens and hardly anyone seems eager to talk about it, certainly not as a good movie. It’s the residue hangover—a resentment over being duped by a foxy showman-liar who knew how to sell a lasting mythology as a horror show. There’s more, too: the overdose of violence in The Passion produced a sense of blasé; like porno, we were sated fast and then turned off. (Nobel laureate Toni Morrison said she fell asleep during the movie; others, including this writer, sat untouched by all the verbal convulsions from a packed house of Christian right-wingers.) Gibson’s movie making isn’t entirely dishonorable—technically and visually it seems decent enough and the sound effects are realistic (the same is true for Apocalypto)—but his intentions remain highly suspect. In interviews, Gibson’s religious beliefs are marked by a defensive immaturity, a lack of intellectual cogency. Perhaps this comes about because he’s attempting to persuade himself in the process of convincing others, and as a result he appears cretinous—as he did with Diane Sawyer. (Confirmed when he was arrested for drunken driving and re-confirmed later when audio tapes of his misogynistic rages were released.) Chicago critic Don Selle wrote that The Passion of the Christ is “like going to a bad production of a lousy opera—what with all that Berlitz School of Languages.” Gibson didn’t and maybe still doesn’t think we’re smart enough to see through his Grand Guignol education as a way to hide behind his many unresolved hatreds.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2004 RALPH BENNER  (Updated 7/2013)  All Rights Reserved.