A movie review.

SPOILER: He dies in the end. OR DOES HE? Eh? Eh?

Almost everything you’ve heard about this film is true. It’s a two-hour slow-motion pop video for sado-masochists. It’s overblown, pious and wildly pretentious. It’s almost painfully misanthropic. And it’s certainly a vehicle for Mel Gibson’s crushing sense of self-loathing.

It’s also fairly impenetrable if you don’t have a fairly good advance knowledge of TV’s famous The Bible. Characters are rarely properly introduced or identified -  there’s a lengthy bit near the start, for example, where some wimpy JC lookalike is inexplicably hounded out of Jerusalem and through the desert by a gang of horrible children, who then disappear to be replaced by what looks like a dead camel surrounded by flies, whereupon the bloke hangs himself from a tree with the camel’s harness For Some Reason. Who he is or what he’s thinking is anyone’s guess, and the incident is never referred to again.

What the film definitely ISN’T is anti-semitic, and anyone suggesting otherwise should be treated with the utmost suspicion, for they surely have an agenda of their own. This is a film about the shitness of people, and about the hypocrisy and evil of those in power who wish to hold onto that power. The Romans in the film (above) are, with few exceptions, portrayed as vicious, sneering thugs. The Jews (below) are depicted, again with few exceptions, as a stupid, credulous and vindictive mob. Both “sides” get it in the neck equally from Gibson, yet there’s been no outcry and controversy about the movie being “anti-Roman”. The Jews are shown as being the driving force behind Jesus’ torment and execution, but as far as this reporter can recall that’s how the story is presented in the book too, so it’s hardly fair to blame it on the screenplay. But anyway.

It’s a pretty bad movie, in truth. It starts off like a cross between The Matrix and Braveheart, with a long scene of unfathomable mystical bollocks in a misty wood, heavy on hackneyed imagery (the moon! A snake!) and featuring a mysterious, malevolent-looking bloke in a cowl (probably Satan himself, as far as we’re informed or are able to ascertain), a scene which is brought to an end by JC stomping brutally on the serpent (hey, weren’t you supposed to be non-violent?), then a short slow-mo swordfight between soldiers and disciples that appears to end with the Big J sticking a soldier’s sliced-off ear back on, miracle-healing-stylee.

After an opening 35 minutes conducted almost entirely in near pitch blackness, from then on the film’s pretty much one long drawn-out torture scene. Our hero gets beaten up by the soldiers, beaten up by the Jewish priests, ridiculed by Herod and then savagely flogged by the Romans for about 15 gory, blood-spattered minutes before being finally delivered back to Pilate – played sympathetically as a miserable put-upon colonial administrator, caught in a situation he can’t win, which may be the source of most of the allegations of anti-semitism – for the infamous hand-washing and condemnation. Then there’s more beating by brutish and sadistic Roman guards, flogging through the streets with the cross, and then the crucifixion itself. The only relief is the occasional short flashback to happy days of innocent carefree carpentry and such, but there’s barely a 30-second stretch anywhere in the movie free of fetishistic close-ups of torn flesh and gaping red wounds.

Now, this reviewer has no trouble with accepting that particular fact – the movie is specifically about one short and bloody period in the protagonist’s life, and the punishment and execution of the convicted in Biblical times WAS a horrific and extraordinarily gruesome business. But the film lingers in what’s an uncomfortably pornographic manner over both the actions and the results, and one imagines this will be popular viewing in S&M dungeons for many years to come (which may or may not have been the director’s intention). It doesn’t just depict a man’s suffering, it glories and revels and wades in it, leering lasciviously at the dripping blood and the anguished screams - as if perhaps Gibson was stung by criticism that William Wallace's hanging-drawing-and-quartering death scene in Braveheart wasn't quite unpleasant enough, and decided to really go for it this time - and if you’re not sure what the artistic motivation behind that choice is, you may want to check out the “authentic cross-nails jewellery!” merchandising before arriving at your decision.

In short, this movie is a fascinating cultural artefact which is worth a view just to see what everyone’s talking about (and saying “But I don’t want to fall for the hype by giving them my money” seems something of an irrelevant point, given that Mel Gibson could already buy and sell most of the Western world anyway) but if you know anyone who goes to see it more than once, immediately expunge them from your life and never talk to them again. They are not to be trusted, and you’ll probably end up having your tea spiked one day and waking up chained to a basement wall in a rubber gimp mask having electrified clamps attached to sensitive parts of your anatomy by a giggling freak with an oddly familiar silhouette. It’s undeniably an interesting film, and a bold one to have released (ancient languages, subtitles and all) but to enjoy it you’d need to be pretty damn sick in the head.

The movie almost rescues its own soul as a message of universal peace and love towards the end with the non-committal, non-denominational, non-sectarian quoting to the disciples of "As I have loved you, so love one another", but then blows it all moments later with "No-one comes to the Father but by me", in other words Gibson's real motivation and intended subtext in making the film: "THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IS THE RIGHT ONE! ALL THE REST OF YOU WILL GO TO THE ETERNAL AGONY AND DAMNATION OF HELL NO MATTER HOW GOOD A PERSON YOU ARE!" It's a bit of a shame that a story so nearly about truth and peace and forgiveness and love and everything ends up getting turned into a partisan declaration of war, of course, but then that's religious fundamentalist fanatics for you. This movie isn't anti-semitic, but it IS essentially just a party political broadcast.

And the moral of the story? Well, this particular minister came away from the film with his views unchanged. “God” and “the Devil” are just names we give to things that are inside ourselves, better to pretend that they’re not within our control, or our responsibility. We bear the sole burden of our own actions, and must answer to our own consciences for them. But 2000 years along, it's probably a bit late to start trying to get that one to catch on.

Rev. Stuart Campbell
"Good Friday", "2004" "AD"

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