A World of Speculation

I know it’s heresy in these waning days before the “post-Passion of the Christ era begins, but I repeat: It’s a movie. It’s a movie by a man who cut his teeth in the action genre. This is not a put-down. I have no doubt of Mel Gibson’s sincerity, and I know that any genre can be sanctified by content, but it’s a movie.

It is not Instant Mind Control (wasn’t there a SF movie in B&W about a message on the radio that turned people into anti-Semitic zombies? maybe not.). Nor is it the fifth Gospel. It’s a work of art. Any artist in any medium chooses the elements that will communicate his vision, whether he’s working from Napoleon’s invasion of Moscow or the life and times of a certain Scottish patriot. It’s Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, not Matthew’s, Mark’s, Luke’s or John’s. It’s based on the Gospel, informed by a certain approach to history and a certain religious tradition. This neither nullifies nor exalts its value. It is what it is. A movie. I recommend that viewers maintain contact with their brains throughout it, the same way they did watching Lord of the Rings and Lost in Translation.

This rant is prompted but not caused by the remarks of a sincere priest, Fr. Steven Kostoff from Cincinatti, writing in the Orthodoxy Today blog.

The Orthodox Church does not for one moment doubt or deny the horrible sufferings of Christ on the Cross. “One of the Holy Trinity” — the incarnate Logos — was crucified, and we know full well about the torturous horrors of crucifixion. Our Holy Week hymnography will allude to that suffering. We also believe that “the blood of God” (or “His own blood” — Acts 20:28) delivers us from our sins and bestows upon us the gift of salvation. The Epistle to the Hebrews, the book we read throughout Great Lent, is all about the shed blood of Christ. We are not “docetic” (a heresy that basically denied that Christ actually suffering on the Cross).

However, the Orthodox Church — when not unduly affected by “Western influence” — has always followed the Gospels in being reticent and restrained in its liturgical tradition, theological and spiritual writing, and iconography when avoiding an emotional and overly pietistic account of the Crucifixion of the “Lord of Glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8). The mystery of the Crucifixion has a theological dimension that should never be obscured by the truly human drama of the events leading up to and including the Crucifixion.

I have no quarrel with Father Kostoff’s basic point, nor with Frederica Mathewes Green’s, who said much the same thing in her review. And if anybody is thinking of showing the movie as part of Good Friday services, I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not liturgical art, filtered and refined through the ages in the Church (see above; it’s Mel Gibson’s movie). And if anybody decides not to watch it, whether because of the violence or because they hated Lethal Weapon, I have no quarrel with that either.

Because it’s a movie.