Friday, 13 April 2012

"The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre"?

by James Smith 

Mel Gibson is never far away from controversy. His alcohol fuelled anti-Semitic rants are well documented (see yesterday's bust-up with Joe Eszterhas over his proposed new film, The Maccabees.
And his film The Passion of the Christ was certainly controversial.

The Passion Of The Christ is not a movie you can enjoy, per se, as many critics have noted. It tells the story of Good Friday, in the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life. I have to say, I’m a Christian and I don’t remember some of the things that occurred – but these parts have been subtly edited out of the Bible, such as Satan (in the guise of a woman, interestingly to note) trying to tempt Jesus and him stamping on a serpent’s head, or Judas being chased by multiple children who are ‘demons’. Gibson and co-writer Benedict Fitzgerald apparently read writings which weren’t included in the Bible, and that was certainly evident.

The film had certainly a mixed reception on release; Rotten Tomatoes calculating a 50% fresh rating (i.e. half of the critics liked it). It also received great criticism from a number of factions – Controversy occurred over some of the anti-Semitic dialogue (with one phrase being removed from the subtitles at the bottom of the screen due to pressure from the Jewish community), over the use and authenticity of writings from outside the Bible, and the last controversy is obvious in the age rating given to the film. The BBFC gave the rating of 18 with the information “contains scenes of extended violence”.

The Irish only gave it a 15, so I went into watching the movie believing that perhaps it was like Alien (well, I think Alien should only be a 15) but what do I know? I was incredibly wrong. It is noted that in the Bible there is one sentence in 3 of the Gospels that mention the flogging of Jesus, unmentioned in the fourth, so you would expect a short scene describing this? No. Of course not. We’re talking about Mel Gibson here. So, we have a 10 minute scene of Jesus being beaten with sticks, whips, and a multi-headed whip with nails on the end, leaving the floor covered with blood. This was honestly one of the most violent scenes I have ever witnessed (and I certainly doubt I will see another movie where a character is whipped so hard there is more blood visible that skin – and ribs showing). And this caused a huge furore, especially in America (they gave it an NC-17, so only those aged 17 or over could watch it) where critics warned that “no level-minded parent would ever let their children watch it”, and David Edelstein likening it to a “two-hour-and-six-minute snuff movie – The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre – that thinks it's an act of faith”.
I am in a position to agree. Gibson certainly dwells on the excessive violence that is only hinted at in the bible: there is a slow motion sequence where the nails are hammered into Jesus’ hands, and for most of the film Jim Caviezel’s Christ is absolutely covered in blood and cuts. The violence is almost pornographic in its nature, and is certainly the reason for it being a film you cannot like, but only marvel at.

I did marvel at the movie. The cinematography is utterly stunning, and you can feel a connection with the characters, helped in the most part by brilliant performances by Jim Caviezel as Christ, Monica Belucci as Mary Magdalene and Maia Morgenstern’s award winning performance as Mary, mother of Jesus. What impressed me further was the fact they did this in a foreign, and dead, language, and Gibson was definitely correct to maintain its Aramaic and Latin roots. Overall, it is impossible for me to say I ‘enjoyed’ it, but it certainly hit me like no other film has.

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