of the Christ &
The Japanese Story
by Dennis Morton
9, & 10, 2004
Theres no way to talk about Mel Gibsons The Passion
Of The Christ without ruffling someones feathers, probably
a lot of someones and a lot of feathers. So I wont tiptoe
through this review imagining I can avoid offending some listeners.
But before I jump into the middle of the fray re: Gibsons
film a very few words about a movie.
The Japanese Story, starring Toni Collette, is one of the best
movies Ive seen in recent years. Collettes performance
in The Japanese Story is on a par with Charlize Therons
performance in Monster. Out of respect for a plot twist that
jumps a good movie into the realm of near greatness, I will
say nothing about this film except that I loved it. It took
me several hours to decompress after I left the theatre. I was
deeply moved. If you can tolerate a narrative that takes its
time in the telling, I think youll be richly rewarded
by The Japanese Story.
As for the Gibson movie, I know that many found it inspiring.
But not me. I was raised as a Catholic. For years I bought the
dogma, hook, line and sinker. I was in my late teens before
the indoctrination began to wear off. Guilt is a powerful tool,
and the hierarchy of the churches I grew up in was expert at
wielding it. There may well have been kinder and gentler parishes
around. I hope so. But I dont miss the church I knew at
all. And Gibsons movie stirs not one nostalgic bone in
my mortal body.
Youve heard, no doubt, that the movie is violent. With
the exception of a few brief flashbacks, the movie is indeed
an almost unrelieved run of violence. The point, apparently,
is that Jesus suffered mightily for our sins, and consequently,
the gratitude of believers should be proportionate to the sadism
inflicted upon his tortured body. But how the blood and gore
that Gibson so energetically and obsessively splashes around
his sets should be construed as inspiring is beyond me. Gibsons
reading of Christianity is hooked on violence. Is he suggesting
that the suffering endured by the man named Jesus was a good
thing - that Jesus was unmercifully whipped, flayed and nailed
to a cross so we, millennia later, could get through heavens
gate? That strikes me as a bit too easy Mel. It makes about
as much sense to say that the sins of the fathers stain their
children for all time to come. And who would say a preposterous
thing like that?
But forget Gibsons theology. Has he made an artful movie?
My answer is a resounding No. The acting in The Passion
mediocre. The fellow who plays Pontius Pilot has a bit of charisma.
Hes certainly more compelling than Jim Caviezel, the guy
who plays Jesus. But Pontius gets only a few lines. And the
character of Mary is a mystery. She looks more like Jesuss
sister than his mother. And her performance is as flat as unleavened
bread. The background actors are mostly cartoons, especially
the high priests of the temple. They sneer, theyre ethically
challenged, and theyre dressed to the nines. Theyre
way over the top. Worse yet are those who play the sadists in
the Roman torture squad. These guys are laughing all the way
to Calvary. Theyre so nasty that at times they had me
laughing in disbelief. Now Satan is a moderately interesting
character, a dead ringer for Golum, but better dressed.
The whole film is a mess. And the most ludicrous scene is saved
for last. Gibson has the effrontery to have God shed a single,
literally earth shattering tear at the moment of Christs
death. The camera is on high, shooting through the tear as it
crashes to earth. As absurd as it is, its easily the most
imaginative moment in the film.
I did like one thing about the movie, though. The actors speak
their lines in the ancient languages of Latin and Aramaic. This
is supposed to provide verisimilitude. But that choice forces
Gibson to use subtitles throughout the film. My fervent hope
is that this will have the unintended effect of demystifying
subtitles for the legions of film-goers who have previously
avoided foreign movies. Perhaps it will open up a whole new
world for tens of thousands of movie fans who have had to suffer
through Gibsons abomination.
For KUSPs Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.