Gibson and His Psyche
February 24, 2004
weeks, Mortimer Zuckermans tabloid
the New York Daily News has been trashing, in advance, Mel
Gibsons film The Passion of Christ. In
news articles, opinion pieces, and editorials, it has
published predictions that the move will (not
might) incite violence against Jews and maybe ruin
Gibsons Hollywood career.
The paper is shocked
shocked! at Gibsons cynicism in marketing
the film, in contrast, one supposes, to the usual lofty ethics of Hollywood
hype. And on the films release, its reviewer, Jami Barnard, called
it surprise! the most virulently
anti-Semitic movie since the Third Reich. (Cant they ever
find another adverb than virulently?)
Jonathan Foreman, a reviewer in
New Yorks other tabloid, the Post, calls the film
sadistic, pornographic, and the
product of a distinctly perverted sensibility.
reviewer, David Ansen, concedes generously that I dont
think Gibson is anti-Semitic, but has plenty of opinions about the
directors motives: I have no doubt that Mel Gibson loves
Jesus. But what he seems to love as much is the cinematic
depiction of flayed, severed, swollen, scarred flesh and rivulets of spilled
blood, et cetera. Got that? Yes, Mel loves Jesus, but no more than
he loves gore.
The film, Ansen explains,
plays like the Gospel according to the Marquis de Sade.
Its marked by sadism. It gives rise to the
suspicion that on some unconscious level, [it] is, for Gibson,
autobiography. Ansen too manages to work the word
pornographic into his review.
When I studied literature in
college, we were taught that the meaning of a work of art shouldnt
be sought in the artists supposed intents and motives: that was
the intentional fallacy. This quaint idea seems to elude a
lot of todays film reviewers. For the past year Gibsons
motives for making the film have obsessed his critics
enemies would be more like it long before they saw
the film itself.
Now that theyve actually
seen the film, some of them we can disregard Miss
Barnards directed verdict are changing their tune a bit.
Gibson may not be anti-Semitic (aw, shucks!), but
I used to think all literate people
understood that sadism means taking sexual pleasure in inflicting pain. So how is Gibson sadistic? Because he shows violence graphically?
I cant imagine anyone
finding pleasure, sexual or otherwise, in Gibsons depiction of
Christs agony any more than I can imagine being inspired by it to
commit violence. Its just horrifying. Its meant to be.
Offering a mere suspicion about Gibsons
unconscious motive is one more kind of pseudocriticism.
But not only have the hostile
critics damned Gibsons suspected reasons for filming the Gospels;
theyve even attacked his father as well. As a rule, even negative
movie reviews leave the directors parents (and unconscious minds)
out of it, but all sorts of exceptions are being made this time. The Anti-
Defamation League has actually called on the Pope to condemn the film!
Surely we must thank the ADL for rushing to the defense of Catholic
orthodoxy, but the Holy Fathers health is failing and he may not
feel up to doing movie reviews. Maybe Miss Barnard could ghostwrite one
One reviewer, Richard Corliss of
Time, is far closer to the truth when he notes that Gibson is
inspired as much by Renaissance iconography, the Stations of the
Cross, and the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary as by the Gospels
terse narratives. Anyone familiar with Catholic culture will
recognize this, especially in the tender portrayal of the Virgin Mary,
which relieves the viewers pain at watching her sons
suffering. A sadistic film would hardly make use of such
If were looking for
Gibsons motives, we should start with the role of Mary in the
story, which has received little attention. She is shown, with the utmost
compassion, witnessing and sharing Jesus torment. We see a
flashback of her consoling him as a boy when he falls down, just as she
consoles him when he carries the Cross. All this adds emotional depth and
spiritual meaning to what some of the reviewers see only as a gruesome
spectacle of physical pain.
While others try to project their
own hostility onto Gibson, Corliss makes an eloquent effort to see the
film on its own terms. And the film he sees is serious, handsome,