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Before Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ even opened, it was
already fodder for watercooler conversations all across the country and
of the world. The film, which centers around Jesus Christ's final twelve
hours on Earth, is brutally graphic in its depiction of Christ's
and the talk surrounding the film was as much about that graphic brutality
as it was about its religious subject matter. But perhaps even more
interesting than either of those topics on their own is the way people
responded to the film. Reaction to The Passion was so strong that while
thousands of Jews protested the film's release without seeing it,
upon thousands of Christians bought tickets before the film even opened.
does this movie have such an effect on people, viewers and non-viewers
alike? The answer is ideologies. People's personal ideologies often affect
the way they respond to films, particularly films that are steeped in ideology.
In the film's depiction of Christ's final hours, Gibson is single-minded in both his approach and his purpose. The Passion of the Christ is the first film to show Jesus' beatings and scourging in this kind of graphic detail. Renowned film critic Roger Ebert called it `.the most violent film I have ever seen,' and indeed most of the film's 126 minutes are filled with horrific images of torn flesh and flowing blood. The film is unrelenting in its presentation of the scourging, and it is unapologetic; it does not attempt to understand Jesus' emotional pain as a human, nor does it offer any ounce of spirituality or love. Gibson wanted to make a film that would show the true brutality of the Crucifixion and the events that led up to it, and he has done that. Anyone who watches the film should agree without much haste that the Jesus Christ portrayed here goes through as much physical punishment as any other character in the history of cinema.
And yet while this surface message is obvious, the film divides its audience with its subtext, the `so what?' that must be answered while watching the movie. Why is Gibson telling this story, and why is he telling it in this way? What is the purpose of scene after scene of torture? The reason for the overwhelmingly divided response to the film lies in that subtext. As a devout Christian, Mel Gibson believes that Jesus died for all of mankind's sins. To Gibson and other Christians, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice by remaining true to his word despite the extreme pain and suffering inflicted upon him. Showing the violence at such an extent allows Gibson to say `See, this is what we're talking about when we say that Jesus died for us. This is what he went through. This is how much he loves us.'
But if showing how much Jesus suffered were Gibson's only intention, the negative reaction would not have been as strong. After all, this is not the first movie that has depicted an incredibly violent true story so that people would understand that it happened. Platoon, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Boys Don't Cry, and Elephant are all examples of films from the last twenty years that violently but accurately portrayed a horrible event. Each one of those films centers around a 20th Century event, and the purpose of each film's gritty realism was to show the viewer that something terrible happened, and hopefully we will keep it from happening again.
That is not the purpose of The Passion, as Mel Gibson and other Christians are not worried that another son of God will come to earth and be brutally tortured and killed. By focusing the entire film on Jesus' death with little insight into his life, teachings, or personal struggle, Gibson is not simply showing us how awful Jesus' death was. He is also leading us-intentionally or unintentionally-to the question `Who killed Jesus?' That question is what sparks such a negative reaction along the ideological line because the film is saying: `Look at how brutal Jesus' death was. Somebody is to blame for this.for the physical nature of this beating. For the actual carrying out of this terrible murder.' For the people who make this argument, that `somebody' has almost always been the Jews. Is it possible that Gibson made the film without intending to blame the Jews? Absolutely. But regardless of his intentions, the fact remains that many Jews will not be able to view this material without feeling blamed due to the history involved in similar arguments about Jesus' death.
The blame factor led to most of the protests from Jews who had not yet seen the film because they were nervous that it would lead to anti-Semitism. And while it is possible that Gibson did not intend to blame Jews for Jesus' death, it is well known that Gibson does believe that anyone who does not take Jesus as their personal savior will go to hell. If the movie's purpose is to show how much Jesus sacrificed for us, then it is assumed that the film would want us to pray to Jesus. Since Jews aren't going to do that, it is then assumed then that they are going to hell. Thus, to many Jews, The Passion of the Christ is nothing more than a two hour snuff film that blames them for Jesus' horrific death and thinks that they are going to hell.
But Jews are not the only people whose ideologies heavily affected their response to The Passion. The film set a few box-office records by making $117.5 million during its first five days of release, and much of that advance interest came from churches and other faith-based groups that bought out entire theaters. For them, the film represents an affirmation of their faith and beliefs, and a popularized affirmation at that. Because the film gives very little character depth, the film's Jesus Christ is not a character viewers will be able to grow to love. Most viewers, regardless of ideology, will cringe as chunks of Christ's flesh tear off, and in turn most viewers will feel sorry to some extent for the character on screen. But since that character is not fleshed out as a human, where does the empathy for Christ come from? Well, it comes from each viewer's own personal tie to Christ. If a person enters the film with that tie, their love for Christ could very well increase, as seems to be the case based on the overwhelming response from Christians who saw the movie. But if a viewer enters with no tie to Christ, what will that viewer get out of the film? Not much, because the film is not designed to take new people into the fold; it is a classic example of preaching to the converted.
But while the ideal viewer of The Passion is already in the fold as far as Christianity is concerned, most viewers are not in the fold with the violence. When Ebert called the film the most violent he'd ever seen, he wasn't kidding. For most of its running time, the film carries out its brutal and savage beatings and crucifixion in the name of religion, and many audiences who would normally rally against this kind of violent filmmaking instead fall in love with the film due to its subject. Had Jesus Christ been just some guy, how would audiences have reacted? For starters, there would have been as much protest over the film's violence as there was over the film's subject matter. Because the film gives no insight, explanation, or character depth, we are simply left with a stark portrait of a horrible murder.
Usually when a film presents a horrific true-life violent story with no insight or explanation, a certain number of people come away from the film upset. In 2003, Gus Van Sant made a movie called Elephant. That film was near-documentary in its approach, and was based on the Columbine shooting. Unlike Michael Moore's documentary Bowling for Columbine, Elephant does not attempt to understand the shootings or offer an explanation for them. Instead, Van Sant's film is just a fly-on-the-wall account of what the day may have been like. Many viewers and critics came away from that film feeling abused. People generally don't like to see unblinking, realistic violence without some kind of purpose or message.
So why was that rarely discussed when people talk about The Passion? Why was the film's controversy centered on the subject matter rather than the approach? The reason is that the film's religious subtext and backstory fills in all of those questions. The Passion is not simply a straight forward account of Jesus' last hours, because if it were there would be a lot more negative response concerning the film's exploitation of violence. On the surface it is a straight forward account, but the heavy ideological response from both Christians and Jews comes directly from the film's religious subtext, the unspoken assumptions about blame, responsibility, heaven, and hell that figure heavily into all passion plays. Without those assumptions, many people would have responded to The Passion in the same way that they responded to Elephant: angry over the use of excessive violence without explanation. That those assumptions exist and are so well known is the reason why there was such intense reaction on both ends, and the reason why people understood the purpose of the violence. If a person were to watch The Passion with absolutely no background as to who Jesus was historically or Biblically as well as no background into the history of passion plays, that viewer would be confused and upset, and would not take much away. Mel Gibson says that his film is simply an account, but being a man of such faith and a filmmaker and actor of such experience he had to know the kind of assumptions that people would bring into a movie like this. And if he knew, then he was consciously playing on those assumptions in order to get an effect.
And of course, Gibson the filmmaker has his own beliefs and ideologies. Many of Gibson's most popular films-Braveheart, Mad Max, Lethal Weapon, The Patriot-are violent, and as a director and filmmaker he has used history to justify that violence. In 1995, Gibson won the Oscar for Best Director for his film Braveheart, which also won Best Picture. That film was about William Wallace-or the myth of William Wallace-as he led the Scots into battle against England. Like The Passion, Braveheart is a film filled with graphic violence, blood, and medieval tortures. Both films use history as a mask for violence, though the subject matter of Braveheart is obviously not as controversial as the subject matter in The Passion, and while the former gives explanation and meaning to its violence, the latter doesn't.
In the end, Gibson's claim that The Passion of the Christ is an objective, unbiased account is a half truth. The viewer's ideologies play heavily into their response to the film as do Gibson's own beliefs and ideas as a filmmaker and as a man of faith. It is impossible to remain objective with so many outside influences, and so The Passion of the Christ is a controversial film not so much because of what is on screen, but because of what is not.
Snooch to the motherf*****g nooch! Jay and Silent Bob, the ever-present
stoners from Kevin Smith's four New Jersey films, are back and in fine
in Smith's fifth film, `Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.'
When they find out that they are not getting royalties on a movie called `Bluntman and Chronic,' a comic book they inspired, they go to Hollywood to stop the film's production. Along the way they hook up with a foursome of diamond-stealing girls, a nun, Scooby-Doo and the Gang, and an orangutan named Susanne (you'll remember her from the last scene of `Mallrats.') Many old characters return, including Dante, Randal, Holden, Brodie, and Banky (Jason Lee in a double role). It's got the feel of the last episode of `Seinfeld,' and will certainly be funnier if you've seen the previous four movies. Kevin Smith has taken the old saying `Half the fun of the trip is getting there' to the extreme, as some scenes have no bearing on the film's outcome, but are just fun. The film doesn't deal with relationships, homosexuality, or religion, or any other topic from the other films. Instead it sets out on being fun from the first scene to the last. It pays homage to the series' characters, mocks Hollywood, and gives Jay and Silent Bob a forum for their comic skills. Fans of the duo will get their fill of `nooch,' `snoogins,' and `fatty-boom-batty blunts,' something they haven't gotten since `Mallrats.'
`J&SBSB' is the final chapter for Jay and Silent Bob, as Smith is retiring the characters. Jay was out of control in `Clerks,' but has been tamed (relatively speaking) since then. However, Smith held nothing back in writing Jay's lines this time around, as he let Jason Mewes go to the ceiling with his alter ego. Almost every word out of his mouth is dirty, and we even see in the first scene that his mother was no speech saint herself. The movie can be shocking at times, but not to anyone who loves and know Smith's work. The reintroduction of old characters, especially Dante and Randal from `Clerks,' receives loud cheers and applause from the audience, and each joke from a previous film is treated like a favorite uncle you haven't seen in a while. That is one of the beauties of the film: the more you like Smith, the more you like this movie.
Somewhere in `I Am Sam' there is a very compelling story. There is a story
of a man with the intellectual capacity of a 7-year-old, and the struggles
he faces while raising his daughter. There is a story of a girl who will
smarter than her father by the time she gets to 1st grade, and the
difficulties she will face in school and at home knowing that `Daddy is
different.' These two stories are played out in the film's first 35
at which point the filmmakers chose to abandon them in favor of a
drama. It was an unfortunate decision, because it turned a very insightful
and touching film into a frustrating yawner.
Sean Penn plays Sam Dawson, a man with a lower than normal IQ who is forced to take care of a daughter all by himself when the mother runs away just after birth. It is later explained that she was a homeless woman who just wanted a place to sleep. Sam raises Lucy (named after the Beatles' song) as best he can, and tries to operate under the advice of the Beatles: All you need is love. However, while he has more than enough love, he does not always have the intelligence required to raise a child. Good intentions and a loving heart are not substitutes for enough food and a good place to sleep. But instead of showing all of these problems and how he and his daughter deal with them, the movie takes the easy way out by having lawyers and witnesses discuss how they feel he will deal with them.
Sean Penn does an outstanding job in this role, but unlike Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump or Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Penn is not surrounded by great writers, directors, or actors. That makes it difficult for his talent to really be appreciated, and it was frustrating to see a great performance go to waste. It was also frustrating to sit through a film that chose to fill its soundtrack with poorly done remakes of great Beatles songs.
Some people who have seen what Charlize Theron looks like in her new film
`Monster'-either from the film or in publicity photos-have said that she
looks `fat and ugly.' There is a perfectly good reason for people to have
this reaction: they are morons. Anyone who sees this film and complains
about Theron's looks should probably stick to `The Cider House Rules' or
Days in the Valley' or something, because to come away from a performance
this magnitude and complain that Theron isn't hot is like getting a free
tour of heaven and complaining about the altitude. Theron's transformation
into serial killer Aileen Wuornos is so complete and perfect that it will
impossible to discuss the all-time greatest acting jobs in the future
without mentioning this one. She's that good.
The film is based on the true story of Aileen Wuornos, a lifelong hooker who killed seven of her patrons in the late 1980's. Like any good story, `Monster' lives in its details. In less caring hands, this movie would have been nothing more than an exploitative shocker. The pieces are there: a lesbian relationship, a hooker, serial killings. But the actors and filmmakers have made a truthful film about real people, and that is what most viewers will come away with. `Basic Instinct' was another movie about a lesbian murderer, and that film took a lot of hits for presenting lesbians as evil, manipulative killers. This film will not have that same kind of backlash because it is not a film about lesbians as killers; it is a film about a woman who is driven to kill, and happens to be a lesbian.
While Theron has gotten all of the press, Ricci is also very impressive as Wuornos' young lover. While I am not surprised to see Ricci in this kind of a movie-she has always been an actress who takes chances-I was surprised to see her performance. She is not her usual sardonic, cynical self; her Selby is more innocent and naïve than the character she played in `Casper.'
`Monster' is a frightening movie, but it is also filled with intensely dark moments of comedy as Wuornos struggles to relate to people like a normal human. She is so inept in social conventions that when a man tells her to `call him daddy,' she asks him if it's because he likes to sleep with children. Wuornos is not like any serial killer I've seen before; aside from killing them, she did not horribly violate or mutilate her victims like Bundy or Dahmer, and she was not an intellectual like Hannibal Lecter. Perhaps more interesting and more telling than the fact that she was the first female serial killer is that she was the first serial killer to simply use a gun.
`Monster' does not excuse the actions of Wuornos, nor does it present her as some kind of super-villain. It simply presents her story honestly and unflinchingly. Theron took a chance by bulking up for this role, and it paid off. This is a terrifically powerful movie.
What a great detective show. Danny Aiello solves crimes, helps the common man, kicks ass on bad guys, and still has time to give a cool little wrap-up monologue while looking tough during his walk through New York. He even got his brother Rick into the action. What's not to love? My dad and I watched every episode.
Like the final episode, the pilot is actually pretty good, when you consider the circumstances. No Elaine, Kramer is Kessler and he knocks when entering a room, and George has a steady job and confidence. All that said, some quality moments, like when Kessler pulls to pieces of bread out of his robe pockets in Jerry's apartment and says to him "Got any meat?" Funny stuff.