The dust of reviews has settled on this film and so: the time has come, perhaps, for a more dispassionate, a more considered, a more reflective, little review. Perhaps review is not quite the right word; perhaps what I have written here is just a comment, but it is no less provocative than the most provocative youve read thusfar and I hope you will find here some refreshing and intelligent insight into the way the film was made and perceived.
This film is not intended to be a masterful historical documentary as, say, Ken Burns' work on the Civil War or one of many others done in the first century of the existence of the cinema. Gibson's work is far from possessing what some might call an intellectual poverty in its pretensions at historical documentary. Shawn Rosenheim says all TV documentaries possess an intellectual poverty. If Rosenheim is right the visual media are simply incapable of producing historical documentary.1 And if Rosenheim is wrong, as I tend to think he is, historical documentary of an event 2000 years ago is not impossible. It is, rather, a recreation. We simply do not know enough about the event Gibson is recreating to claim that what we are seeing is a documentary.
We all know that Gibson did not take his camera crew to downtown Jerusalem or into the little hamlet of Nazereth in some kind of time-warp to produce an anti-Jewish, anti Roman clip for the evening news. Even if he had and he then produced for us all an evening two hour special, spectacle, called "the crucifixion," there would still be questions about visual manipulation and the program's service in the name of directing popular thought toward a new religious movement. New religious movements have always had trouble getting popular exposure unless they can be associated with conflict and violence, eccentricity and the bizarre, indeed, anything visually stimulating and distracting.
No one would claim that Gibson's is a neutral recording of objective events. It is a construct operating from a certain point of view. It is a rhetorical argument achieved through the selection and combination of elements that both reflect and project a world, a world view, a cosmology if you like. It is achieved by certain cinematic conventions that try to erase any signs of cinematic artificiality. An ideology is promoted by linking the effect of reality to social values and institutions in such a way that these values seem natural and self-evident. In the case of Mel Gibson's work, a work that I found quite stimulating in its own way, the ideology is simply and strongly: fundamentalist Christianity.
History has a thousand faces, a thousand forms, and Mel Gibson has given us some very stimulating ones, perhaps a little too visually acute, in his film, The Passion of the Christ. They will serve for some of the millions who watched it to bring them closer to One whom Baha'u'llah, the Baha'i Faith's founder, said "when Christ was crucified the world wept with a great weaping." Bill Graham wept; many stayed home; millions viewed the film as it went into the top ten money spinners in cinema history two weeks ago. Some were appauled; some stimulated. To each his own.