Sunday, April 11, 2004

A question of faith: 'Da Vinci Code,' 'Passion,' Jesus action figure: What would Jesus think?April 10, 2004
from the Star

The three divergent phenomena of Dan Brown's novel "The Da Vinci Code," Mel Gibson's film "The Passion of the Christ" and the Jesus action figure reveal a culture that is fascinated with religious themes but prefers to explore them on a superficial level. Though Gibson's film has a maturity to it, Brown's novel (especially given the plethora of blatantly erroneous statements to be found in the mouths of his characters) and the action figure operate on a lower plane. Even given the quality of the film, the media furor it has generated somewhat eclipses the piece itself, and it is this media fascination -- often operating on a rather shallow level -- that is probably the more accurate gauge of popular interest in the religious sphere, rather than the film itself. Were he engaging in his earthly ministry today, I daresay that Jesus would make every effort to tap into this fascination with religion, but I am convinced that he would also seek to draw interlocutors into a deeper dialogue regarding questions of God, faith and religion. These events could serve as a stepping stone or a starting point, but hardly a terminus of any kind.

In lieu of the recent fascination with religion and more specifically with Jesus Christ, it is my belief that Jesus would be highly displeased with the manner in which he is being marketed for profit and not introduced for peace. Indeed as it relates to Jesus, because of the recent media and movie frenzy, many are engaged in the right conversation for the wrong reasons. While we flock in droves to movie theaters and watch in sorrowful disbelief at the horrific punishment inflicted upon Jesus, while we read with heightened curiosity the spiritual nuances lifted in "The Da Vinci Code" or buy a Jesus action figure for our children, those who create these things make the economic discovery that Jesus is profitable. As one movie producer recently stated, "The hottest name in Hollywood right now is Jesus." To answer the cliched question, "What would Jesus do?" Jesus would inform us that he did not come for the financial windfall of moviemakers, authors and toy manufacturers. I believe Jesus would take this opportunity to enlighten us of his divine identity and the purpose of his death, resurrection and imminent return.



David Denby hits the nail on the head with his review in The New Yorker (3/1/04) of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ"
Having read this, I see no purpose in subjecting myself to the cinematic experience.

In “The Passion of the Christ,” Mel Gibson shows little interest in celebrating the electric charge of hope and redemption that Jesus Christ brought into the world. He largely ignores Jesus’ heart-stopping eloquence, his startling ethical radicalism and personal radiance—Christ as a “paragon of vitality and poetic assertion,” as John Updike described Jesus’ character in his essay “The Gospel According to Saint Matthew.” Cecil B. De Mille had his version of Jesus’ life, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Martin Scorsese had theirs, and Gibson, of course, is free to skip over the incomparable glories of Jesus’ temperament and to devote himself, as he does, to Jesus’ pain and martyrdom in the last twelve hours of his life. As a viewer, I am equally free to say that the movie Gibson has made from his personal obsessions is a sickening death trip, a grimly unilluminating procession of treachery, beatings, blood, and agony—and to say so without indulging in “anti-Christian sentiment” (Gibson’s term for what his critics are spreading).

For two hours, with only an occasional pause or gentle flashback, we watch, stupefied, as a handsome, strapping, at times half-naked young man (James Caviezel) is slowly tortured to death. Gibson is so thoroughly fixated on the scourging and crushing of Christ, and so meagrely involved in the spiritual meanings of the final hours, that he falls in danger of altering Jesus’ message of love into one of hate.

And against whom will the audience direct its hate? As Gibson was completing the film, some historians, theologians, and clergymen accused him of emphasizing the discredited charge that it was the ancient Jews who were primarily responsible for killing Jesus, a claim that has served as the traditional justification for the persecution of the Jews in Europe for nearly two millennia. The critics turn out to have been right. Gibson is guilty of some serious mischief in his handling of these issues. But he may have also committed an aggression against Christian believers. The movie has been hailed as a religious experience by various Catholic and Protestant groups, some of whom, with an ungodly eye to the commercial realities of film distribution, have prepurchased blocks of tickets or rented theatres to insure “The Passion” a healthy opening weekend’s business. But how, I wonder, will people become better Christians if they are filled with the guilt, anguish, or loathing that this movie may create in their souls?

I read The Da Vinci Code and I thought it was a
real stinker. What a disappointment! The research was quite shallow and the writing
--a "fast-paced thriller"-- was a preposterous chase scene. I am dismayed that excellent books, written with care and attention, transformative and transporting works of art, fall by the wayside - while this tripe earns accolades and millions for
hitting the right note - ka-ching! in the cultural mainstream.

The only thing that interested me was the revelation that Mary Magdalene is
seated at the right hand of Jesus in the famous "Last Supper" by Da Vinci.
Funny, I never noticed her before! That is a woman, undoubtedly...

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