New Identity Magazine - Issue 14

Page 50


The Space Between

Rescuing The Passion of the Christ

Viewing this epic Easter classic for all it’s worth.

KEVIN C. NEECE Kevin is a writer and speaker in Fort Worth, Texas. He has written for Art House Dallas, Rethinking Everything Magazine and more, including the forthcoming book Light Shining in a Dark Place: Discovering Theology Through Film. He’s also a contributing editor for Imaginatio et Ratio: A Journal of Theology and the Arts. Connect with him at kevincneece. com and


t this time of year, as Christians worldwide are focusing on the passion—the suffering and death—of Jesus, there is a perennial resurgence of interest in films on the life of Christ. Of course, in recent years, The Passion of the Christ has risen to the top of a short list of such films as a favorite for many people. Since its release in 2004, it has incited intense emotion—from pastors urging their congregations to the theatres in droves, from critics assailing the film as defamatory and from film-goers moved to either tears and life-changing decisions or disgust and anger by a theatrical experience. Seven years after its theatrical debut (seven is a good Biblical number, right?), I thought I might return to The Passion of the Christ and ask how one film can wear so many faces. 50

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When I first heard that Mel Gibson was making a new movie about Jesus, I was incredulous. Yes, my mom had read it in the newspaper, but so many things get printed in newspapers about movies that never materialize. I thought this was surely a rumor, misinformation, even a hoax. But, of course, Gibson did make that film and in no time its figure loomed large in the genre of Jesus films and the culture at large. It was infamous almost from the beginning. A big Hollywood movie about Jesus was coming. Would it portray him in a positive light? Was Mel Gibson a Christian? Should Christians see the film? Then came the news that the film was actually independent and was to be shot in Aramaic and Latin, followed early accusations of Antisemitism, reports of extreme violence, church screenings, endorsements from Christian leaders, and debates on TV. It unfolded like a national drama, like the OJ trial or a presidential election. No matter how early in its theatrical run you saw the film, its reputation preceded it. But, now that the presses have run, the DVDs are in the clearance bin and Mel Gibson’s drunken, rage-filled reputation has once again overshadowed his artistic brilliance, what are we left with? What is the film’s message, its legacy, apart from the media tumult? Does it, can it have one? I’ve made films on the life of Christ an area of personal study for 20 years. I’ve explored over a century’s worth of film history to learn as much as I can about this curious little sub-genre. As you can imagine, I was therefore in the theatre for The Passion of the Christ as fast as I could get a ticket. I saw it theatrically three times and have seen it numerous times since. I’ve read essays,


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