"We call people who speak to God, pious.
We call people to whom God speaks, lunatics."
Philip K. Dick, author of The Transmigration of Timothy Arthur
I had a plan.
a movie character, Jesus has issues. He also has more baggage
than any other human being in human history. The most recent
entertaining bit of Jesus-lore was Simon Pegg's observation
that Jesus was really the world's first zombie. Not much help
there but I loved the snapshot of what George Romero's Passion might look like. I had to find a way to look past the baggage
and try to see The Passion of The Christ as a movie, an entertainment, a distraction if you will. I
have the religious conviction of a microscope (I have no problem
with the idea of everyone being nice to everyone else but
organised religions leave me deathly cold). And yet, The
Passion is being presented as a sort of Christian
Boot Camp. Endure this global million dollar conversion-to-Christianity
snuff movie project and salvation awaits. Actually a man with
a leaflet was awaiting. The good Samaritan outside the small
cinema didn't help my plan of objectivity. I was accosted
as I left. I can't abide leaflets. I smiled a thin lipped
smile wondering what force on Earth could compel a human being
to stand outside a small cinema in the hopes of snaring a
potential church-goer. In fact, it made me quite sad. No,
it didn't. I admit it. It pissed me off.
tried. I really tried. I knew what I was in for and because
all the details of the details had slowly leaked into the
press, no amount of self-censorship could stop the flow. I
knew it was Gibson's hands that smashed the nails into Christ's
palms. I knew the devil's snot was a maggot (go figure). I
knew how all the effects were done (I admit I read specialist
magazines and was curious) and above all I knew I was in for
a two hour experience, an hour of which was full of the most
brutal torture a cinematic 'hero' ever had to endure. This
was trouble in the Middle East that was remarkable for two
things. The first was the domino effect the incident had on
a significant number of people in the world and secondly,
no Americans were involved.
pushed away the baggage. I really pushed. But the baggage
sat there staring at me from a-cross the way. The Way. The
Truth. The Light. See how pervasive all this stuff is? Jesus.
I was pummelled by Sunday School in the mid-seventies. I rebelled
(more to do with ITV's The Big Match clashing with
Bible studies than anything else) and I came to the conclusion
that we - as a race - needed myth when we knew very little.
The (probably) true story of Jesus' execution had been ear
marked by either honest to goodness prophets or self serving
zealots and voila, we had a faith. As celebrated atheist Douglas
Adams once said (God (!), I miss him) while beating his head
against his office wall "This is the 21st century!"
He was having to entertain a Jewish businessman with strict
dietary requirements. We may note that God is fickle and decided
to get rid of Douglas before any more uncommon common sense
escaped from his remarkable mind.
is the 21st century now and we know that religious fundamentalism
is not serving the same function as it did in the past (with
the exception of misery, pain and death). Once you lock in
what worked in the past and apply it to a changed out-of-all-recognition
present, you create a not-working thing. Look at that bloody
line from the US Constitution about bearing arms and all the
people that line has helped to kill over the years. Dare I
say the internet is serving us as a knowledge base. We now
know things that we didn't know before. But that said, the
Christ myth is still something our children are subjected
to by default. I despise the argument that if it's normal
it is unquestionably right. The notion of secularity being
offered in British education makes me very happy. Choice is
may represent another word for Christmas but it's a powerful
tool of indoctrination. You learn this stuff as you learn
one and one is two. Jesus takes on a hearty significance if
only by ubiquity. As I said, I'm all for loving my fellow
man (no caveat however smart-ass I try) but following my own
way. What is it about God Botherers that are so tiresome,
smug and ultimately contradictory? But the faith stuff is
powerful mojo. An oft repeated tale often takes on not only
the mantle of fact but irrefutable fact. Gibson is obviously
a man of strong religious beliefs and despite the slew of
starring roles in less than Christian productions, he has
made a film that has passion. Anyone who makes a movie with
passion is - in my book - someone worth talking about. I don't
care that he stands to make $500 million for the work - money
is important but not creatively speaking. I don't care that
he's made an extraordinarily gory movie in which the 'hero'
has nowhere but bad places to go. I care because the film-maker
cares and whether I think his views and opinions are, ahem,
poppycock (oh, how I hovered over that word for what seemed
like months), I will defend his right to have them and express
them in such a form.
back eighteen months.
of the top Hollywood stars was embarking on a project that
had every atom of commercial disaster written all over it.
Mel Gibson is a star because he's regarded as good looking,
starred in internationally famous films and lucky enough to
have come to the attention of certain people. He is probably
one of the most famous Catholics in the world and his father
(no doubt the probable source of Mel's own beliefs) gained
notoriety for downplaying the horror of the holocaust. But
given all this, Mel understands Hollywood. He should also
understand that L.A.'s God is money. Just look how much of
his own he was willing to throw away... The film was to portray
the last day of Christ's life (sadists take note, there's
a lot of blood, a lot of pain). It would be shot in Aramaic
with English sub-titles (say, what? Mel's lost his marbles).
Steve Martin's superb New York Times parody ("What if The Passion was a studio movie") is
so funny, it's worth the movie being made for that piece alone. Lethal Passion! Priceless. Naysayers take note. Mad
Max has paid for and directed the most commercially
successful independent film ever. I was comforted more when
that film was HALLOWEEN but I can adapt.
- let's drop the baggage. Let's pretend I don't know any religion
but a smattering of history...
frightened bearded hippy called what sounds like 'Eshwar'
wanders around in a wood while a cloaked figure has a maggot
up his nose. Eshwar's mates fight to save him from a group
of soldiers who are doing the bidding of MIORs - men in ornate
robes. A mentally tortured man takes money revealing Eshwar's
whereabouts. In the fracas of capture, one soldier cuts his
face and Eshwar touches his wound and the wound disappears.
Eshwar has made a convert. Eshwar is dragged in front of various
judiciary bodies (a Roman who's reluctant to punish a man
for saying what the MIORs are calling blasphemy). They keep
passing the whatever passed for a buck in 32AD. Eshwar's friends
desert him in fear for their own lives. The betrayer, after
many images of demons in children's faces, hangs himself near
the rotting carcass of an ass. As you do. We are reminded
that this Eshwar fellow made claims that he was 'the son of
God' and that he had stepped on a number of toes of self styled
pious men. The Roman (a decent guy all told) orders Eshwar
to be severely punished but not killed.
is dragged away and attached to a low rock. Taking considerable
relish, five or six drunken, loutish Roman guards use a variety
of instruments to tear the skin off his back while their sergeant
looks on. Even his ribs are exposed by the brutality. Also
looking on are two women, Eshwar's mother and another, a stunning
beauty. The cloaked figure also re-appears with what looks
like one half of The Krankies suckling at its teat. Eshwar's
back looks like tenderised steak and the most horrifying image
of the sequence? The sergeant indicating with a wrist twist
that Eshwar should now be turned over and flayed again. Eshwar
is once more brought in front of the masses and despite his
terrible appearance the mob and MIORs bray for crucifixion.
The Roman has the power to let a prisoner go and despite the
choice between a flayed pacifist and a raving loony murderer,
the crowd go for the latter. What cha gonna do? The Roman,
reluctantly, gives in.
his way to the place of crucifixion Eshwar falls over many
times (as well he might given the horrific nature of his injuries)
and is helped by a man who shoulders the cross with him. The
guards are indifferent and by the time a hill is climbed,
Eshwar thinks back to happier times (just how difficult is
that?) and we realise the stunning beauty accompanying his
mother is a woman who crawled to Eshwar's ankle - was she
saved by Eshwar? The guards then take what seems like great
pleasure in nailing Eshwar to his cross in a protracted scene
while all the while the poor man keeps asking God to forgive
them. Mr. Gibson spares us nothing. They even flip the cross
over and hammer down the nails from the back so he's nice
and snug. Eventually, God lets a tear fall as Eshwar breathes
his last. The MIORs temple is rent in two (as Eshwar had predicted)
and some of the principle MIORs look shocked as in "Oh
Jesus, he was the real deal? Faaack!"
then we find the perfectly normal non-skinned naked Eshwar
(with hands that simply could not hold Smarties) leave his
place of rest. I remember thinking why does he have holes
in his hands and yet all the other wounds have healed? And
then I remembered the line that would explain it all.
moves in mysterious ways...
So Braveheart wasn't a fluke. Gibson has the
passion to make movies and it's clear that however one disagrees
with where and how the passion is channelled, The
Passion of The Christ is at least a film with a soul.
True, we don't really understand why Jesus has pissed off
the VIPs so badly but then how many of us understand the politics
of the time? Historians tell us that Monty Python's
Life of Brian was a reasonably accurate depiction
of the Middle East at the time of Jesus. It was so hard, so
hard for me not to add a line every time I heard 'Eshwar'
being told he was 'not the Messiah'. Yes, that's right. He's
not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy.
can easily see myself in many arguments with the religious
Mel Gibson but hell, as a film maker he gets my vote. But
I did prefer the mad Scotsman as a protagonist. Jesus? Too