Those of us not much impressed by Bravefart were probably distant enough from it while watching to sense how Mel Gibson foreshadowed 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 as producer of The Patriot) is what he stuffed into T P of C—savagery sickeningly and gratuitously explicit. (St. Bridget claimed Christ came to her in a vision and said he had received “5,480 blows” on his body; it feels as if we’re watching all of them 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. And the sole reason this movie has made roughly $750 million worldwide. The reasoning didn’t last: the March 2005 re-release of T P of C 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.

About two decades have passed since T P of C hit screens and no one 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 brutality produces the aftereffect of blasé; as with porno, once emission occurs we’re sated and move into refractory mode. (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 houseof Christian right-wingers who will call Twitler God’s Chosen One.) 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). His doggedness, however, gets exposed. In interviews, his religious beliefs are marked by a defensive immaturity, a lack of intellectual cogency and as a result he appears cretinous—as he does with Diane Sawyer. (Confirmed when he’d be arrested for drunken driving and re-confirmed later when audio tapes of his misogynistic rages were released.) He probably still thinks we’re not smart enough to see through T P of C as a way to hide behind his many hatreds. But Chicago critic Don Selle does, summing up the Grand Guignol propaganda as “a bad production of a lousy opera—what with all that Berlitz School of Languages.”

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2004 RALPH BENNER  (Updated 4/2024)  All Rights Reserved.