Today is Ash Wednesday. Like most Catholics, of whom I am not one, I went to see a popular movie about a person who suffers the sins of Man. A true story about someone who is tied up, beaten down, sold out to authorities by a best friend, and murdered by the ruling class. That’s right, folks: tonight I finally got to see Monster. Charlize Theron was phenomenal and should win the Oscar. Finally, a story about a hooker without a heart of gold!
Arguably more interesting than—and equally disturbing as—the movie was what took place beforehand. I made the mistake of seeing it the same day Mel Gibson’s glibly titled, The Passion of The Christ opened nationwide. Timing such as this might not matter in small-town America, for whom this movie was made, but I live in New York City. In New York everything has to be insane. That’s the law.
I bought my ticket for Monster at the 34th Street Loews Cineplex then proceeded up the escalator to the bathroom. I was handed a flier by a young man in a suit and tie who I assumed was an usher. He wasn’t. The flier was about accepting Christ into my life, the glory of something called “god” and a host of other things we heathens have never heard about. This and my bladder made me remember some art exhibit called “Piss Christ” that pissed off Christians in the 90’s.
Business finished, I escalated back downstairs to wait for a friend in the lobby. I stood alone reading a book entitled, Can Humanity Change?, when a different man in the same suit came up and stood next to me. “You going to see that movie?” he asked me.
I barely glanced up from the page. “What?” I half mumbled.
“You going to see that movie about Jesus? I thought there would be a line around the block waiting to get in.”
A stranger was talking to me, a man engrossed in a book. I looked up and met his thick Stevie Wonder sunglasses. It was dusk. Physically, he wasn’t blind. It must be the other kind of blindness, I surmised inwardly
“No,” I said. “It’s sold out.” I held my poker face not wanting him to see my hand and know I had zero intension of watching that movie about Jesus.
“Yes. That’s why there’s no line. The next two showings are sold out.”
“Really? What if I have an advanced purchase ticket?”
“Well no, then you get to go in. You have a ticket.”
“Yeah, they probably seat you on the rooftop, right?” he said, chasing this rhetoric with his own laughter.
I’m no snob… but yes I am! Leave me alone, I’m reading a book!
Secure in the knowledge that this not-as-unpleasant-as-I’m-making-it-seem exchange was finished, I stuck my hooked Jew beak back into the pages of my book…. Okay, I’m not Jewish either. But if I were, given the evidence of my physicality, I’d probably look like a stereotype.
“Hey, you use this?” He was rubbing his hands ferociously.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Hand sanitizer.” He pulled out a small bottle of Purell hand sanitizer. It’s like a soapy alcohol that disappears on contact with the skin. There is no research to dispute my claim that Purell is not a leading cause of skin cancer. But that’s neither here nor there.
“It’s great if you go to a greasy hamburger restaurant or even after you touch these door handles, you know? You never know what germs are out there.”
“Yeah, “ I said. “I have a friend who uses that.” I didn’t tell him this but the friend I was referring to was the female buddy I was waiting for.
“I bet you thought he was a sissy for using this stuff, huh?” the guy said. He laughed again. Beak to book, I continued reading.
“So are you going to see that Jesus movie?” he asked again.
“Um…no,” I said emphatically.
“Don’t want to.”
He looked at me cockeyed. “Do you know what the movie is based on?”
“Yes,” I said, “Mel Gibson’s version of the Bible.”
“No! The King James Version! I bet you didn’t know that!” he exclaimed.
“Either way,” I said. And then, yes…back to the book.
After a brief few moments of very-comfortable-on-my-end silence, the man asked me if I’m famous.
“Are you famous?”
“Yeah, I’m famous,” I guffawed (whatever that means).
“You auditioning for something? You an actor?” He asked this with the straight-faced sincerity of Travis Bickel.
“Yes, I’m an actor. I’m auditioning for the sequel. Passion of The Christ Two: The Return,” I joked. He didn’t get it. Or maybe he did because with as much warning as he had arrived, he vanished. Poof. Gone. Replaced? Certainly. By whom? You guessed it!—Nation of Islam militants!
They came armed with protest signs and a bullhorn. As usual, any good points they made about “The White Devil” were overshadowed by their own prejudice.
“The White Man wants us to believe—wants YOU to believe—that Jesus was a White Male Homosexual!” the man with the bullhorn shouted. As if actor James Caviezel isn’t having enough problems playing Jesus Christ, now these militants hold his likeness up as the poster boy for Faggot Christ.
They had set up camp just outside the lobby entrance doors. I don’t know if this is irony but the spectacle did not sit well with the Black usher who assessed the situation. “Fuck, no!” he huffed to himself.
Within minutes police had arrived. My special lady friend finally showed up at around the same time, so we went into the movie without seeing how this thing got resolved. All the cops were White so I imagine it was a grand ol’ time.
After the movie ended and we left the building, we saw the resolution: The Nation of Islam guys didn’t get booted, they got fencing. They got corralled to a piece of the sidewalk. They didn’t seem as angry as they had earlier in the night. Perhaps they had a collective epiphany, woke up, saw that they were dressed like Dungeons & Dragons characters, and decided that calling anyone homosexual might be…well…disingenuous.
My friend and I walked the streets chatting about how sad the film we had seen was. All these zombies with black shit on their faces darted around us trying to escape the cold of night. What are those black crosses on their foreheads for, really? To what?—ward off vampires?
Her voice became a dissonant echo; the crowds, a swirling blur. It was March, 2004 and none of this hollow medieval Ash Wednesday ritual made sense to me. I felt queasy in the belly. I fell to one knee and dropped my head until the pain ceased. When I lifted my noggin, all the people had vanished, including my friend. There was only light. Brilliant, glorious Light!
“Mel?” I asked. I thought maybe Mel Gibson had literally become a star and now my heathen ass was f***ed.
“Nope,” the voice boomed as if from the four corners of the sky. (Note: those corners are The Empire State Building, The Chrysler Building, the Queensboro Bridge, and the Brooklyn Bridge, respectively.)
I waited for the voice to reveal itself. It didn’t. As if in answer to my mental show of respect it demanded that I guess again.
“Trump. Donald Trump.”
“NO! Come on, you KNOW this!” the voice berated.
“Jesus? Jesus Christ? Or is it Jesus The Christ?” I asked.
“It’s D, none of the above—okay, look, fine. It’s God. I thought you’d be smart enough to figure it out,” the lisping voice sniped.
“Well we all make mistakes,” I said. And then there really was a painfully uncomfortable silence. “Did you…Did you want something?”
“What? Ah…yeah. Yes. Yes! I command thee to…um…”
Okay, reader, I admit it. I made up that whole last part about God talking to me. Know who else made that up?—JESUS! Know who else?—MOSES! Know who else?—MOHAMMAD! Know who else?—JOSEPH SMITH! Know who else?—ORAL ROBERTS!
Oh, you never believed Oral Roberts talked to God anyway? Yeah, you know why?—BECAUSE HE’S ALIVE WHILE YOU’RE ALIVE! THAT IS THE ONLY DIFFERENCE! DO I NEED A BULLHORN FOR THIS?!
So yeah, I’m good and pissed off at The Passion of The Christ and just like everyone else who’s pissed at it, I haven’t seen the film. The Islamic protestors dressed like community theater gladiators on 34th Street haven’t seen it and they hate it. The Jewish protestors dressed like concentration camp survivors—I shit you not—on 84th Street haven’t seen it and they hate it. The Buddhist monks don’t watch shit. But they’d hate it if they could, be sure of that!
The only people who like this movie are Mel Gibson’s Jewish accountant and the ones who have seen it—and that’s a pity. What happened to the good old days when Christians would protest violent movies in general and anything artistic having to do with Jesus? Does, The Last Temptation of Christ ring any bells, people?
Is this what happens when the Media Gods equate entertainment with news? When Janet Jackson’s nipple gets more TV time than any lie coming out of the White House? Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people are protesting a film—and the period should go there but it doesn’t. Let’s start that sentence over and see where the period lands: Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people are protesting a film they have not seen. Many of those who have seen it feel rejuvenated in their faith somehow. Seeing this man brutalized and being told it’s for our sins somehow makes certain people crack a joyous smile. But the movie based on a true story that I saw was the same premise—except the lead character wasn’t just beaten and killed, she was molested, raped, and sodomized. Granted she becomes a serial killer where Jesus becomes…well…Jesus—but come on! He had better parenting! Plus, I hear that in the alternate DVD ending for The Passion, Jesus’ crucifixion is a freak carpentry accident.
Look, at the end of the day I only know two things: 1.) I haven’t seen the movie. 2.) I won’t see the movie because that would mean sitting next to people who want to see the movie who, as I think I’ve made clear, are creepy beyond belief. 3.) No society in its right mind would protest a movie, let alone one they haven’t seen. 4.) God does not talk to people loudly. You only believe that because those people are dead so it’s harder to tell that they are lying. 5.) The Greatest Story Ever Told is now The Greatest Irony Ever Missed because all of this—like the movie itself—is really a description of the Fall of The Empire.
So five things.