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Sunday, February 22, 2004

Screenplay by the Paraclete?

Stephen Prothero has written a very helpful overview of the basic problem with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ:

Even if we take the Gospels as gospel, we simply do not have enough information to squeeze out anything close to a two-hour movie. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are not screenplays, or even treatments of them. To make a Jesus film based on the Bible you have to go outside it (as Gibson reportedly did, consulting the visions of a female mystic recorded in "The Dolorous Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ"). You have to make millions of idiosyncratic choices about dialogue, sequence, action. You have to choose this line from John rather than that line from Luke. And you have to make things up.

Among the most monumental choices Gibson made was to restrict himself to Jesus's final 12 hours — in other words, to make a passion play. Having made that choice, Gibson inherited an unholy host of genre-specific conventions not only from medieval European anti-Semitism, but also from the ancient thirst of drama for conflict. There is conflict in the Gospels themselves, but they are not dramas intended to entertain. So while the temptation to crank up the violence against Jesus and turn the Jews into bad guys can be justified by the Bible (for example, the "blood curse" in Matthew where the crowd cries out, "His blood be on us, and on our children"), it is really inspired by Dionysus.

But Gibson is committed to the silly notion that his movie is more accurate, more faithful, more realistic, and more true than any other depiction — and he has taken special delight in contrasting his vision with that of scholars and historians. For more on Gibson's passion play, read "Honest to Jesus" (entitled "Troubled Passion" in the print edition), Boston Globe 2.22.04.

P.S. For a definition of "paraclete" and lots of other New Testament vocabulary, click here.

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 22 February 2004 at 9:03 AM

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