Friday, February 27, 2004

Another excellent, and subtle, review of "The Passion" -- The Worship of Blood by Leon Wieseltier in the New Republic.

He says:
In its representation of its Jewish characters, The Passion of the Christ is without any doubt an anti-Semitic movie, and anybody who says otherwise knows nothing, or chooses to know nothing, about the visual history of anti-Semitism, in art and in film. What is so shocking about Gibson's Jews is how unreconstructed they are in their stereotypical appearances and actions. These are not merely anti-Semitic images; these are classically anti-Semitic images. In this regard, Gibson is most certainly a traditionalist.

....it is plain that the controversy about its inclusion of Matthew 27:25, the infamous cry of the Jews that "his blood be on us and our children," the imprecation that served through the centuries as the warrant for the Christian assault on the Jews, was a fake, a cynical game. When Jewish groups objected to this passage in the script, Gibson expediently deleted the English translation of it. I say expediently, because decency would have prevented him from including it, from shooting it, at all. But he may as well have kept it in, because it is entirely of a piece with the Jews whom he has invented. The figure of Caiaphas, played with disgusting relish by an actor named Mattia Sbragia, is straight out of Oberammergau. Like his fellow priests, he has a graying rabbinical beard and speaks with a gravelly sneer and moves cunningly beneath a tallit-like shawl streaked with threads the color of money. He is gold and cold. All he does is demand an execution. He and his sinister colleagues manipulate the ethically delicate Pilate into acquiescing to the crucifixion. (You would think that Rome was a colony of Judea.) Meanwhile the Jewish mob is regularly braying for blood. It is the Romans who torture Jesus, but it is the Jews who conspire to make them do so. The Romans are brutish, but the Jews are evil.

....his portrayal of the Jews is based on nothing more than his own imagination of what they looked like and sounded like. And Gibson's imagination has offered no resistance to the iconographical inheritance of Western anti-Semitism. Again, these things are not passively received. They are willingly accepted. Gibson created this movie; it was not revealed to him. Like his picture of Jesus, his picture of the Jews is the consequence of certain religious and cinematic decisions for which he must be held accountable. He has chosen to give millions of people the impression that Jews are culpable for the death of Jesus. In making this choice, which defies not only the scruples of scholars but also the teaching of the Catholic Church, Gibson has provided a fine illustration of the cafeteria Catholicism of the right.


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