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Sunday, April 04, 2004

Jesus in Furs

Quit your whining!

I just saw Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ", and I must say, I'm speechless. Not because the film was shocking or blew me away, but because it is clearly having such a huge impact on audiences and has done phenomenal numbers despite being nothing more than a high profile snuff film. The woman sitting next to me was holding her mouth and crying at the end of the film. Half of the audience refused to get up at the end, preferring instead to sit through the credits. Did I enjoy it? Yes. But I enjoyed it much in the same way that I enjoyed Titanic; it was perversely, perversely thrilling, even sexually exciting, to witness this excessive brutality around one single character for a whole film. There are very few analogues I can come up with for a film like this, maybe Requieum for a Dream, that plotless junkheap of purified cinematography dancing eloquently down into the trash compactor of oblivion. The other might be Die Hard, whose macho protaganist is subjected to such tooth-grinding physical pain that you can't help but wince and then root for him when, say, he must scale a bathroom covered with shards of glass in his bare feet. I might also suggest, perhaps most poetically, old Warner Bros. cartoons, in which the only gags are repetition, defeat, and consistent physical pain. One imagines "The Passion" opening with a shot of the roadrunner sprinting through the desert, scientific species name apearing at the bottom of the screen in Aramaic. Jesus chases on foot, eventually descending off of a cliff, a long birds' eye shot shows him falling into a ravine as a gentle puff of smoke marks his impact. Beep Beep!

The true cross?

Then there are the inaccuracies, evidence that this film is less about "accuracy" and more about selling violence, brutality and suffering as not only gloriously sexy, but actually deifyng the Hollywood formula and suggesting that it is Holy. The cause of death in crucifixions is not bloodloss, the cause of death is dyspepsia and dysentery. Lack of fluid and nutrition causes the internal organs to liquefy and slide out the anus in huge chunks. In other words, homeboy shat himself to death. If Mel really wanted to show The Lords' final moments with painful accuracy, he would have portrayed the bucketloads of viscera, bile, kidneys, feces,urine,blood, and rectal mucus flooding down onto the ground below the cross. Was it...taboo? I thought this movie was all about breaking taboos? The other huge inaccuracy: there are no anthropological or historical claims of anyone being crucified in a loincloth. One is typically nude when crucified. Whether or not Mel was frightened to show the savior's uncircumsised cock flapping about in the wind is anyone's guess. But the total lack of any nudity in the film, coupled with the insane aand graphic amounts of violence, just underscore the now cliched doubel standard of Christian and mainstream American values. You don't want me to repeat it.

Jesus had a cock, you idiots. Intertextually returning to the Adam's descent and donning of figleaves in Genesis, Jesus saves us from our sins by waving his dong in the air. It's all in the Bible.

So...what does this movie "mean"? I don't fucking know. I do know that this is arguably the worst possible time in recent history to glorify martyrdom so excessively, particularly religious martyrdom. It's not a point we need hit over our heads, Mel, people are blowing themselves up as we speak for Jesus. People understand martyrdom. They love it. Dying, or sending one off to die in order to validate your own ethical binaries is all the rage. Worse, the film seems to make suffering itself as profoundly beautiful and sexy. Watching the film, a useful signification of villainy is "the smile". Anyone who flashes a grin in this film is, by default, a villain. The soldiers who beat the living fuck out of Jesus have wide, profound, ear to ear grins. The Priests who condemn Jesus smile radiantly when his verdict is carried out. The androgynous Satan character flashes a smile towards the end of every scene s/he appears in.(On a tangent: the fact that the "villain" is characterized by his/her androgyny while the "hero" was resolutely, distinctly masculine was doubly disturbing.) The demons that apear in the film take the "smile" formula even further, their demonic apearance is first and foremost characterized by a grin so large it must be computer animated to reach out of the barrier of their face. The possessed children that torture Judas flash mad, large, malevolent grins. In one scene, a baby is seen suckling Satan's chest/breast. When it stops to look at Jesus, it is evident that it is profoundly evil. Why? Huge, powerful, ear to ear grin. That's it. Jesus smiles once in the whole movie, during a flashback in which he playfully splashes water on his mother. Play is damnation. Suffering is salvation.

Jesus Saves.

This Times article discusses the film in relation to a new trend of a masculinized, 21st century Jesus, embodied in a culture war with secularism. It is related to the "Left Behind" series, in which Jesus apears on Judgement day, causing unbelievers' blood to boil and explode through their veins, their eyeballs melting, simply by speaking. Cool! Mel: Sequel? If tough-guy Jesus is the new religious model we will be forced to endure this century, than the Die Hard analogy is wholly apropriate. In the last scene, a boulder moves by unseen hands and the shroud of Turin floats down as the mass of Jesus' body vaporizes. He then apears, kneeling, much like the T-1000 in the Terminator films, arse-naked. Then he gets up and walks out, holes in his hands..just like the T-1000! But one can't help but think, watching this scene: if the man is aware all along that he will immediately return to life, that he will live as the king of Heaven, which we can all agree is a really rad position, especially in this job market, for ALL OF ETERNITY, then doesn't it invalidate all the pain he subjects himself to in this film? I mean, ETERNITY. KING. UNIVERSE. The better question is not, how brave must Jesus be to endure this, but who in their right mind wouldn't mind being filleted for a few days if the reward is that high-stakes? At least Bruce Willis' character was an athiest. And it least he was fighting to live, in order to enforce the sanctity of willpower and resolve, not fighting to die poetically to give us all a profound symbolic gesture. It's more admirable to face death when you don't know what's on the other side.

(The face of the one true God)

All that being said, as I stated above, I did kind of enjoy the film. I'd be lying if I said I didn't sport an erection at least twice. There is literally not a three minute span that goes by when the film begins in which Jesus is not being whipped, hit, punched in the face or filleted in some way. The arch of the film is somewhat rhythmic,I can imagine the chain-whipping mixed into microsound mp3s and DJ mixes. I imagine myself renting this movie in the future and watching, perhaps, during sex, timing my orgasm with the ground thumping raindrop that signifies Jesus' mortal passing. ahhhhhhhhh.


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