Nice Review of the Passion

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Available at Mr. O'Rama's site


One scene in the film has now been forever etched in my mind. A brutalized wounded Jesus was soon to fall again, under the weight of the cross. His mother had made her way along the Via Dolorosa. As she ran to him, she flashed back to a memory of Jesus as a child, falling in the dirt road outside of their home. Just as she reached, to protect him from the fall, she was now reaching to touch his wounded adult face. Jesus looked at her with intensely probing and passionately loving eyes (and at all of us through the screen) and said, "Behold, I make all things new."

"Behold, I make all things new." Praise God.

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Deacon Fournier's review sort of gave me the creeps:

"In addition to being a masterpiece of film-making and an artistic triumph, 'The Passion' evoked more deep reflection, sorrow and emotional reaction within me than anything since my wedding, my ordination or the birth of my children. Frankly, I will never be the same."

Do I really want to surrender my emotions to Mel Gibson -- or to artist -- so unreservedly and so permanently?

Dear Tom,

I took that to be the hyperbole of the moment and did not read much into it; however, you raise an excellent point. Thank you.



I also think that Tom - as usual - raises an excellent point. If we are to think that Mel Gibson has made a movie that reflects his deeply-held convictions, and that recent news stories have accurately conveyed those convictions, we can expect a film that many will rightly see as 'Tridentine' or 'pre-Vatican II'. Now, 'pre-Vatican II' spirituality, despite what we too often hear, did have many strong points - I'm writing this on the campus of Notre Dame, which, among other things, has a replica of the Grotto at Lourdes at which I regularly pray. But, generally speaking, it also nurtured a spirituality of the passion that excessively focused on the 'Man of Sorrows' and an emphathetic identification with Jesus' physical tortures. Frederica Matthewes-Green has, a bit too simplistically, pointed this out.

This 'Man of Sorrows' spirituality has, at least potentially, a certain weakness. Rowan Williams writes, "It shows itself in a tendency to sentimentalize the death of Jesus and to make paradigmatic for Christian devotion a sense of individual reproach, the covertly resentful guilt provoked by accusations of ingratitude and unresponsiveness. It is perhaps not too much to say that this tradition profoundly eroticizes devotion to Jesus; our relation to him is the kind of thing found in a stormy love affair, or even in the dangerous territory where pain is close to orgiastic delight."

So Deacon Fournier's statement, "'The Passion' evoked more deep reflection, sorrow and emotional reaction within me than anything since my wedding, my ordination or the birth of my children," might actually reflect a weakness of the movie. We'll have to see.



I'm not so much concerned with the "Man of Sorrows" angle -- and, pace Dr. Williams (by the way, any plans to move on to Dr. N.T. Wright any time soon?), it perhaps is too much to say it "profoundly eroticizes devotion to Jesus" -- as with the idea of "experiencing" ("you do not 'view' this movie" -- Rev. Mr. Fournier) a movie of any kind designed to be one of the most religiously significant events of my life.

You've written elsewhere about the incompatibility between the Gospels and movies, how the filling in of details a movie requires removes an essential silence in the Gospels (if I'm paraphrasing accurately). I wonder how far the ability of a movie to trigger certain emotional responses should be praised, even when the emotional responses it triggers produce good fruit.

At the same time, similar emotional triggers have been sought and used for centuries in the "Man of Sorrows" tradition.

In any case, my answer to my own question above is, "No, but I do want to see 'The Passion.'"

Very interesting comments. I read Deacon Fournier's review along the lines of what Cardinal Newman said - that man is not convinced and converted so much by argument as by sentiment and images - in fact the exact quote mentioned sometimes "a look" (i.e. image) will do it. We are affected by images more than we know; it's obviously part of what it means to be human.

But these comments have given me pause on how healthy it is to surrender one's emotions to an artist.

Dear Tom,

Williams sees the "eroticism" of some sorts of medieval and Tridentine spirituality towards the passion reappearing in current "praise and worship" music. "Jesus as object of loving devotion can slip into Jesus as fantasy partner in a dream of emotional fulfilment." This slippage can occur rather easily because eroticism is addictive. As Augustine says, "My love was returned and finally shackled me in the bonds of its consummation." Such can happen even in our devotional lives, under the guise of piety.

I only bring this up to agree with your qualms about "experiencing". As Williams goes on to say about our devotion to Jesus, "he is and is not the terminus of devotion, and there is (as Christians writers from Gregory of Nyssa to John of the Cross to Michel de Certeau have recognised) an absence at the centre of the Christian imagination, a space opening up to the final otherness and final intimacy of encounter with the Father."

Like I think that I've said elsewhere, a Jesus movie can be emotionally engaging and tremendously moving, but can - at the same time - serve as an obstacle to moving into this "absence." A very self-consciously 'Tridentine' movie about the Passion may be, for the reasons I've enumerated, especially prone to that risk. Of course, a very self-consciously 'liberation' themes movie about the Passion also runs that risk.

But hopefully not.


PS I'm working on reading more Dominican authors.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 15, 2003 8:43 AM.

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