A debate on “The Passion”

An exchange a few days ago about violence in movies, particularly that of The Passion:

LA to several correspondents:

I’m thinking of seeing The Passion of the Christ the day it opens, just so I won’t have to be listening to other people’s opinions about something I haven’t seen.

Let us hope that Gibson’s obtuseness is limited to his views about the Holocaust, and that the movie is not what some people fear, and that all will be well.

However, apart from the Jewish issue, I must say that I am not looking forward to seeing two hours of Jesus being graphically tortured. This kind of extreme graphic violence may take us deeper into the meaning of Christ and the Crucifixion, or it may just brutalize and coarsen us further. Remember, this is a culture in which many conservatives think that “The Fellowship of the Ring”—the most relentlessly violent, noisy, anxiety-producing, in-your-face, and unpleasant movie I’ve ever seen—was a great movie. So there is this attitude in the culture now, shared by many traditionalists, that enjoys peddle-to-the-floor sensationalism and intense emotional negativism in movies and regards them as normal and unobjectionable. I fear this movie may partake of that sensibility.

Correspondent to LA:

Larry, go read Homer’s Illiad and then rent The Sands of Iwo Jima.

Life is war, the driving force of history is conflict, and the ultimate determinant of human societies is organized violence.

Culture must tell the truth about this. This is not the same thing as glorifying it.

LA to Correspondent:

I know and love the Iliad. I know long parts of it by heart. And I’m a fan of World War II movies. I enjoy war stories. I even liked the graphic combat scenes in Platoon (otherwise an ideological bomb of a movie) because it was an unusually realistic portrayal of battle.

If you don’t see the difference between the incredibly over-the-top sensationalism of today’s movies with their special effects (think of those battles in the mines of Moria in FOTR), and the realistic violence of the Iliad or Sands of Iwo Jima, then I’m wasting my words.

Correspondent to LA:

It’s obvious a different aesthetic and one you don’t have a resonance with. The European Dark Ages from which it springs was an unattractive time, but had points of brilliant light and heroism within it.

I grew up with Tolkien, as did many of my generation, some of whom are still playing Dungeons & Dragons and similar simulation games.

I concede it’s not for everybody, but then again, I don’t get Mozart or Dostoyevsky. Not everyone responds to every article of culture.

But can anything the opposition hates so much be bad?

LA to Correspondent:

I could ask the same question about, say, Bush. Can anyone the opposition hates so much be bad?

I agree there is an aesthetic difference, and it’s a profound one. You’ve also said you have no problem with cell phones, an innovation that in one fell swoop has destroyed the public spaces and turned ordinary human beings into self-absorbed monsters.

[Note: Here is a blog entry at Powerline I just came across that presents a view of the movie similar to my own, attacking it for its wildly excessive brutality and crudity more than for its supposed anti-Semitism, though the Powerline writer sees more anti-Semitism in the film than I did.]
Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 26, 2004 08:46 AM | Send

Read Odyssey book 22 again, and rethink your comments on Homer. That said, I fear the violence in the Passion not because it may be brutalizing, but because it seems theologically unsound. Christianity isn’t an extreme sport: “Our Messiah suffered worse than your Messiah!” Many people in this last horrible century suffered pains and tortures worse than a scourging and crucifixion. Would Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf have been greater if, say, he had been tortured an extra day? Or if he had been given a couple of electric shocks before being crucified?

Posted by: Agricola on February 26, 2004 10:51 AM

Agricola raises an interesting point. I think part of Gibson’s desire for “The Passion” is to counter the tendency one observes within US Chrsitianity to sanitize Christ and thus make him un-real. Of course, to most devout Christians, Christ’s worst suffering wasn’t physical but spiritual and came at the point when God the Father turned his back upon God the Son and the entire weight of the world’s sin fell upon his shoulders. Christ suffered not only a horrendous physical death but the infintiely more horrendous spritual death.

Posted by: Carl on February 26, 2004 1:29 PM

I agree with Carl about Gibson’s intentions. I saw the movie yesterday and was deeply moved and, despite by apparently debased admiration for FOTR, appropriately disturbed by it. Let it be said that I am not a Christian, although I have been moving in that direction lately. The version (not necessarily representative) of Christianity I grew up with seemed to me the Hallmark version, a cliqueish, backwards, anti-intellectual fideism with hazy pastel pictures of fluffy white sheep and big cuddly lions. It may be a shame that the kind of graphic physical violence of Gibson’s film is necessary to reach some people (like me), but it is. This violence is “good”.

BTW, to determine if this is a generational difference, I was born in 1980.

Posted by: Damon on February 26, 2004 2:22 PM

Review from a Catholic (I would assume late 20s-30ish) film critic:

Posted by: Damon on February 27, 2004 9:08 AM

Thanks for posting this link, Damon. FWIW, I’m 37 — the leading edge of Gen-X. And I do think there’s a generational thing going on here, with people maybe 50 or older seemingly much more willing to take an a priori stance against violent movies or other outre subject matter, whatever their overall point, stance or whatnot might be.

It’s not that I didn’t find the violence in PASSION disturbing or shocking as much as I wasn’t bothered by the fact it was that way, given the overall film, in which I thought the excess was the point. People significantly older than myself remember a BELLS OF ST. MARY’S culture; I don’t. I was born in 1966, the year before BONNIE AND CLYDE and a couple of years before THE WILD BUNCH.

It may also be a matter of simple necessity. We now live in a culture deaf to the old virtues and to Christ, and Flannery O’Connor said “to the hard of hearing, you shout.”

Posted by: Victor Morton on February 27, 2004 4:17 PM

Interesting issue suggested by a commentator and this movie: should Christ have suffered more than any human has ever suffered and could ever suffer?

Certainly most have read about horrors that seem worse than the crucifixion. Generally I avoid reading about real life crime horrors, but there is one I saw on TV that was the most awful I can think of. I hope this does not lead others to try to top this post. It is provided to illustrate my point that follows. The sensitive might skip the next paragraph.

A young girl (12-14) was abducted by a man and his wife and tortured for two weeks in a basement until she died. They sexually abused her, tortured her by, among other things, pulling all of her teeth out, and they made her watch videos of their torture and murder of another young girl. This girl was their third and final known victim; one victim was the wife’s little sister. There are many worse examples of prolonged suffering that some could repeat. Many would choose Christ’s path on earth over this young girl’s.

The response is that Christ suffers with every person that suffers. He suffered with that young girl and suffered right along with everyone that has suffered great and small. We are anxious, He is anxious. It follows that His suffering is unimaginable in its horror, a mystery. His crucifixion is both a concrete demonstration and a symbol of His suffering that we humans seem to need.

Some might argue that well, he is God the Son, so he can take it. Sure He has infinite endurance, but His actual suffering is infinitely painful. Thankfully, God took the young girl home after two weeks; Jesus doesn’t get to go home early. Add to His suffering our pleasurable sinning, and we can see logically how graced we are.

Posted by: P Murgos on February 27, 2004 7:53 PM

I saw the film last night for the first time. I think it is one of the most emotionally intense movies I have ever seen. The violence is horrendous and graphic, to be sure - but completely necessary to the central thrust of the film. The charges of anti-Semitism are utterly hysterical and ridiculous. There isn’t anything remotely anti-Semitc about this film. If anything, this viewer left the film with even more admiration for God-fearing Jews than he had walking in.

I urge fellow posters to read a good literal translation of the Gospels from the original Greek. Jesus is described as having been beaten to the point where his features were unrecognizable. This was alluded to in the film when Mary approached the crucifixion site and asked which one was Jesus of Nazareth.

Mr. Murgos: Yes I think it is entirely possible that there have been individuals who have been tortured even longer and endured even greater physical pain than Jesus did in the Roman Protectorate of Jerusalem of AD 33 or thereabouts. There’s something quite beyond the physical suffering here, though. Christ also experienced something that only condemned souls in hell itself experience - on my behalf and yours (since I believe you are a devout Christian) - the total separation from God the Father - spiritual death. When he cried out at the end “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”, all the iniquity and wickedness of mankind - past, present, and future - fell upon his shoulders - the ultimate act of love. When he died, the curtain in the most holy place of the temple was ripped from top to bottom. Jesus Christ is thus the perfect and complete sacrifice for all who accept it, Jew and Gentile alike. This is the message of the Gospels, a message repeated by Mel Gibson in his film.

Posted by: Carl on February 27, 2004 10:13 PM

In America, everyone has a God-given right to express his opinion on “The Passion,” so here’s mine. No offense intended to anyone.

I saw “The Passion” today. While it has a few, all-too-brief moments with some dramatic or spiritual power, those moments are overwhelmed by the general badness of the movie. The crudeness of the direction and of the dramatic action turned me off quite early on.

Anti-Semitism is a non-issue in this movie. The Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob are not portrayed as stereotypical evil Jews, but as stereotypical movie bad guys. In fact the word “Jew” is barely pronounced. So anti-Semitism is not the problem. The problem is that this is a very poor movie.

Nor did the extreme violence per se bother me. It was the utter _stupidity_ and _unbelievability_ of the way that extreme violence was portrayed that turned me off. Thus as soon as Jesus is arrested, the officers who are bringing him back to Jerusalem start to beat the hell out of him, smashing his eye, even throwing him off a bridge. Why would they do this? He had surrendered voluntarily, he had even made his own followers stop fighting. These are men under orders, bringing back a prisoner, under very unusual circumstances in the middle of the night, and they would not want to bring attention to what they were doing. So their extreme attack on him was totally unbelievable in dramatic terms, apart from its not being in the Gospels.

Then consider the absurdity of those Roman soldiers going completely berserk, even disobeying orders, in their incredibly excessive whipping of Jesus. What motive could they have for that? Why should they have such extraordinary hostility to him? He wasn’t anything to them. The governor had made it clear he didn’t have any particular animus against him. In fact, their superior reprimands them for beating Jesus within an inch of life when they had been explicitly ordered not to kill him. So why did they do it? Answer: Gibson wanted to ratchet up the violence as much as he could. So that’s what he did, even though it makes no sense and destroys any dramatic verisimilitude.

(I’m sure someone will answer that the Roman soldiers are not supposed to have a motive, since “They hated me without a cause.” But to me what happens in the movie does not convey that idea; it just conveys stereotypical Hollywood bad-guy sadism raised to the nth degree.)

Also, after that scourging that ripped the flesh off from most of his body, in which the metal tipped whip seemed to hit him with the impact and the sound of a truck hitting the side of a building, any human being would have been dead or very close to death, certainly unable to stand upright, to walk, or to carry a cross even for 10 feet.

Similarly, as the soldiers trying to get Jesus to Golgotha and on the cross, they keep whipping him, knocking him down and almost killing him, thus making their own job even harder. It makes no sense. But Gibson, in the mode of the contemporary, Spielberg-influenced director, has this compulsion to bring every sensation to the max. That compulsion, combined with his peculiar view of the Gospels, leads him to fill every possible moment of the movie with as much violence as possible.

Crucifixion was a standard method of execution. The Roman soldiers would have been coldly efficient in the way they went about it. It would have have a routinized quality about it. Yet the movie shows the Romans as out-of-control, crazed sadists.

This leads to another point, which is that all the bad guys are portrayed in the cartoonish manner of the typical action movie or politically correct movie of today; they’re not believable human beings, just incarnations of _meanness_. The High Priest has this one unchanging “mean” expression on his face through the whole movie, yet no motivations for what he was doing, no character development. The Roman soldiers are unshaved, crazed looking. They don’t look like Roman soldiers, who of course were highly disciplined, but like the bad guys in “Deliverance.”

The movie is filled with this kind of crude, motiveless, dramatically senseless action and characterization.

People keep talking about the movie’s truthfulness to the Gospels. Then who is that weird hermaphroditic Satan who keeps creeping around the edges of the movie? Answer: Gibson likes to have homosexual villains in his movies, as in “Braveheart.” In this movie he has _two_ homosexual villains—Satan, and Herod, whose entire court is portrayed as a gay salon. But wasn’t Herod the man who had John the Baptist beheaded out of lust for his step-daughter Salome? Hmm, well, I guess this movie is not so true to the Gospels after all, is it?

And what about Pilate, who in this movie is not, as in the Gospels, a tough and cynical urbane figure who is impressed by Jesus despite himself and undesirous of having him killed, but, instead, a _sensitive guy_, deeply troubled by what is being done to Jesus. That’s not in the Gospels at all. Gibson’s excessively gentle and non-Biblical portrayal of Pilate as compared with his portrayal of the murderous Jewish mob is one point where it is arguable that there an anti-Semitic motive at work in him, though as I said, anti-Semitism is overall a non-issue in this film.

To me, this is not a significant Christian film, though, as I said, it has a few scattered moments with real power. I think Christians are making a mistake when they praise this movie as highly as they are doing, and especially when they see it as bringing about some Christian revival. This is a very bad film, made by a director who is a complete product of the contemporary pop culture with all its debased, coarsened sensibilities. Fortunately, the ongoing life of the Christian religion is not dependent on Mel Gibson’s overwrought creation. In a couple of years I think this movie will have been forgotten.

I certainly hope it will be forgotten. Because if Gibson’s insanely over-the-top view of the crucifixion becomes the accepted view, it will only further coarsen the sensibilities of Christians and of our whole culture. It will no longer be enough that Jesus voluntarily accepted torture and death, that he was beaten, whipped by scourges, humilitated, and nailed to the cross where he died an agonizing death. That Gospel-based understanding will no longer satisfy people accustomed to Gibsonesque violence. For Gibsonized Christians, it will have to be that Jesus was thrown off a bridge with a chain around his neck so that he was almost suffocated, had his eye smashed, was repeatedly hit with an impact that would have knocked over a fire truck, and was whipped by insane sadists with a whipping which, if it had been done in reality, would have left the flesh hanging from his exposed bones and left him dead on the spot. Anything less than such perverted excess—including the unadorned Gospel story itself—will no longer seem like the “real thing” to minds darkened by Gibson’s tawdry vision.

I devoutly hope that Christians and Jews alike think more carefully about this movie and reject Gibson’s incredible vulgarization of the Passion of Christ.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on February 27, 2004 11:40 PM

For an essay that moves as it illuminates on the huge and terrible subject of Christ’s sufferings, see the great and Venerable John Henry Newman’s sermon “The Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion.” I wager this essay will outlive Gibson’s film, however powerful the latter is.


Posted by: Paul Cella on February 28, 2004 7:32 AM

Perhaps I should reconsider my original comments, as I see that Andrew Sullivan is saying almost the same thing.

Posted by: Agricola on February 28, 2004 12:41 PM

Mr. Auster’s aesthetic judgment of the film has made me think twice about it, coming as it does from such a respected source; but I would remind readers that his perspective of film, as revealed here in this blog-entry and elsewhere, is decidedly contrarian. A man who dislikes The Fellowship of the Ring simply does not view movies the way I do. That must be considered.

Also, I urge readers to take a look at John Allen’s fascinting discussion of The Passion.


Posted by: Paul Cella on February 28, 2004 12:48 PM

There is definitely some kind of tomayto-tomahto thing going on here.

The scene in FOTR where Gandalf fights the demon in the mines of Moria was for me one of the most electrifying ever seen in a movie. “You shall not pass!” This is simply the modern rendition of “Horatius at the Bridge.”

Valor, bravery, and resoluteness in the face of impossible odds are not immediately beautiful things in reality; as the sayng goes; war is hell. If that’s all you learn (cf. “Saving Private Ryan”) you come away saying *nothing* can be worth that much horror, and that is a very dangerous lesson to take away from history. It’s partly what caused the French army to collapse in the face of the German invasion, they didn’t want to relive the horror of the Front of WWI.

Romanticized and idealized portraits of valor are a way of overcoming horror to show the more important lesson, that by such acts civilizations are saved. These acts are glorious, and we must inspire current and future generations to believe in the righteousness of defending our way of life. Pure realism is a false idol if by its observation we learn the wrong lessons.


Posted by: Colin Kingsbury on February 28, 2004 3:09 PM

Prisoners were scourged to reduce how long it took for them to die on the cross - by leaving them short of dead. Seneca called it the most horrible of deaths. The violence may well be historically accurate. And remember, this took place in times when adulteresses were stoned to death. They weren’t going to read Christ His Mirandas…ask Abner Louima if sadists have stopped hiding behind uniforms in our more enlightened age, or Reginald Denny if out of control mobs have behaved any better lately.

That said, the violence was disturbing. Mission accomplished: it was supposed to be disturbing.
I will never ever just pass over “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified..” in the Creed again.

There are lots of comforting, easy listenin’ Dashboard Jesus movies about His message and that we are redeemed…but they all gloss over exactly what the price was. Movies that ask nothing of us and give us a comfy little glow while we go back to our normal lives of phoning it in to God.

Not here. This movie makes us uncomfortable because the violence forces us to focus on the price He paid for us. We must look at it. We can’t forget it. It shocks and disturbs us to see an innocent man tortured and murdered in such excruciating detail.

And for people with spirituality, it leads them to consider if they have been worthy of His sacrifice. They are shocked out of complacency. Even people who have been numb inside for decades are shocked out of complacency.

That’s why this is a dangerous, subversive movie. Usually the chattering classes and the elites applaud art that shocks people out of complacency. The difference here is that the complacency is spiritual…the type of values many chatterers have spent their lives -and made their careers - avoiding, ignoring and decrying. It is dangerous and subversive, not to people of faith, but to people of little faith.

People like Chris Hitchins look at the Passion project all kinds of weird violent, erotic overtones to it because they can’t process it. (For the first time I feel really really sorry for his wife.) They don’t have the spiritual bandwidth to handle it. Everyone seems to take from the movie what they bring to it. Some are so frightened of the power of the signal they are trying to turn off the radio or distort the music because it’s too loud and insistent….and perhaps, albeit faintly….too familar.

Posted by: virge on February 28, 2004 3:31 PM

Chris Hitchins look at the Passion project all kinds of weird violent, erotic overtones to it because they can’t process it.

How ludicrous and condescending. I’m a former fundamentalist Christian and I came to many of the same conclusions as Hitchins. I can process fine, thanks. Maybe it’s the people whose thinking is so clouded by religious superstition who can’t see the forest for the trees.

Posted by: Robert S. on February 28, 2004 4:01 PM

For those of us not blessed by faith, depictions like Gibson’s, as well as paintings of the crucifixion from centuries gone by (e.g. Matthias Grunewald’s) seem to involve an appalling fixation on human brutality. Perhaps it is necessary in order to bring home to viewers all of the evil in the world, and how much all of us can be complicit in it through our shortcomings. For me, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion does it on a higher plane, but whatever it takes, the present culture badly needs to be shocked out of its shallow enlightenment optimism about humanity and its possibilities.

Posted by: thucydides on February 28, 2004 6:20 PM


1. Also, after that scourging that ripped the flesh off from most of his body, in which the metal tipped whip seemed to hit him with the impact and the sound of a truck hitting the side of a building, any human being would have been dead or very close to death, certainly unable to stand upright, to walk, or to carry a cross even for 10 feet.

You underestimate how tough the human body is and how convincing torturers can be in making people do things. In historical terms I suggest you look up the punishment practices of the British Royal Navy with regards to the use of whips and whipping.

I also suggest you consider some of the more esoteric tortures of the pagan era Celts. One where they open an incision in the lower abdomen, pull out a section of intestine and nail it to a tree. The victim is then forced to walk around the tree, and consequently pulls his intestines and attached organs out the hole, until he dies.

2. Prisoners were scourged to reduce how long it took for them to die on the cross - by leaving them short of dead. Seneca called it the most horrible of deaths. The violence may well be historically accurate.

Actually this is very true. Crucifiction was a very slow way of dying. The victim generally died because of suffocation. This was due to the pressure placed on the diaphram with the body hung from the arms. If the victim was intended to suffer even more, his legs were nailed to the cross so it would take even longer to die. Perhaps as long as 4-5 days.

3. I need to point out, considering the hysteria here, that there are many many more films far more violent than The Passion. Really folks. Texas Chainsaw Masscare 3 anyone? The Passion is about the abuse, beating and death of a single man. Most current horror films involve a number of selected victims and a rather grotesque myriad number of ways of killing them.

The Passion at least doesn’t involve cannibalism, skinning alive, removal of bones from a living victim, shoving a victim through a shredder, etc.

Posted by: ed on February 28, 2004 8:26 PM

The one point Ed makes that is relevant to my points is that scourging was indeed used to leave the prisoner just short of death. That would partly account for the extreme violence. But I did not deny the scourging, in fact I mentioned it myself. Further, if there were such scourging, that would have been a routinized operation, not the over-the-top Hollywood-villain sadism portrayed in this movie, where the soldiers keep gratuitously knocking Jesus down even as they’re trying to get him to walk to the place of crucifixion. With the amount of unnecessary energy they put into punishing this one man, they wouldn’t have been able to perform many crucifixions, when in fact they performed thousands. What I’m trying to say is that the dramatic action of the film was so implausible that it destroyed the “suspension of disbelief” that is key to absorbing oneself in a film.

Also, Ed does himself no honor with his snide reference to “the hysteria here.” Ed has arguments to make, and he’s made them. He should have stayed with that, instead of going for a cheapshot.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on February 28, 2004 8:50 PM

With respect to the routinization of crucifixion, I think much would hinge on how many were performed. Were crucifixions a daily event in Jerusalem? Weekly? Perhaps 20 or so per year? I suspect that the “celebratory” manner with which the guards in Gibson’s film performed their duty might increase as the frequency of crucifixion decreased. Sort of a special event. Certainly if this were a full time “job” it would be more routine.

Posted by: Matt K. on February 28, 2004 10:03 PM

I took the stylized violence in The Passion as symbolic of the violence we do to God every day through our sin, not necessarily as a cinema verite account of scourging and crucifixion, despite all the claims some have made of the movies “realism”. One can say that the violence fails to do this and so comes across as just pointless brutality, as many believe, but the realism or plausibility seems secondary to why it’s shown at all.

Posted by: Damon on February 28, 2004 10:11 PM

To me, the attitude of the Romans in the scourging scene was not unrealistic. The one in charge *was* treating it as a run-of-the-mill event. The two doing the whipping probably were sadists, they very well might have volunteered for whipping duty, or were working out some issues.
Notice that they just used canes at the start of the session and seemed satisfied when Jesus slumped to the ground, but then he got back up, as if challenging them, saying “Is that all you got?” That insolence, clearly, enraged the two because it implied that they were weak or inadequate torturers and they made up for it by almost killing him.
And if you don’t believe that it is realistic, cat-o-nine tails were not infrequently used (those are the whips with bits of nail, glass etc imbedded in them). Remember, people were hardier in those days, and this was a man who was an itinerant for the past 3 years, sleeping outside, begging for food, living a hard life. It was a violent time.

Posted by: Hyacinth on February 28, 2004 10:45 PM

Finally saw The Passion tonight, and I must say it was one of the most impressive movies of all time. Simply put, any Catholic who has been to mass during holy week: saw the mass come to life. Everything about the movie was awesome. If anyone has issues they need to go to Mass starting April 8th and, (as Chris Farley would have said, “For the Love of God”) pay attention.

Posted by: Kevin Middleton on February 28, 2004 10:47 PM

LA is mistaken about the Iliad and its uses of “realistic” violence as opposed to the sensational violence seen in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The tradition of sensational violence used for entertainment goes back as far as the Iliad and Odyssey. The Iliad is not all that realistic when the great heroes such as Achilles or Hector have their moments of aristeia and kill mulitudes of the enemy at one time. As far as the battles scenes on Moria, just remember the fantastic adventures that Odysseus underwent with his men on their journy home. In the Polyphemus (Cyclops) scene, for example,the monster literally smashes the heads of some men and then eats their bodies. Homer describes this in great detail and even goes on to describe the chunks of human flesh that flow out of Polyphemus’ mouth when he passes out and vomits. And both the Iliad and the Odyssey where known by heart by most educated people of the ancient world: they were the blockbuster entertainment of their time, with a box office span of almost a thousand years. Remember that they were originally oral poetry heard by large groups of people at one time. Also, we must remember that the Romans were themselves a culture soaked in violence and blood. The delight that the soldiers take in torturing Christ would perhaps not be too far off from the what an average Roman soldier would have done. Just remember the entertainment of the ampitheater (people killing people, animals kiling people, people killing animals, animals killing animals)as well as doucmented (see Tacitus) persecutions of the early Church under Nero. The Christians at that time were burned alive along the streets of Rome and used as street lamps. Now imagine showing that in graphic detail in a movie today. And yet Tacitus himself shows no great disgust at this which reflects an aristocratic Roman’s attitude towards such things. So while this violence seems excessive to us, to the people at the time it would have been nothing out of the ordinary. So Gibson’s film is probably more correct than not in its depiction of the delight that the soldiers take in torturing and humiliating Christ.

Posted by: davidm on February 28, 2004 10:55 PM

“I need to point out, considering the hysteria here, that there are many many more films far more violent than The Passion.” One of Mr. Auster’s points was that today’s movie audience is desensitized to violence and needs spectacular violence to catch its attention. We see this in most of Mel Gibson’s films, and The Passion is in the vein of today’s popular culture in this respect. Your statement is just another confirmation of the low standards that Christians are setting for themselves, because they have allowed themselves to be immersed in popular culture and degraded by it.

“The Passion at least doesn’t involve cannibalism, skinning alive, removal of bones from a living victim, shoving a victim through a shredder, etc.” You do set a high standard for what is acceptable on the screen, don’t you?

Posted by: Clark Coleman on February 28, 2004 11:20 PM

Mr. Auster’s review has been referred to on NRO’s The Corner, so I checked it out. On NRO Mr. Auster is called a “thoughtful Christian” but I really don’t think a “thoughtful” person could fail to see the cinematic virtuosity brought to the film by its creative team, Gibson et al. The film is “crude”? Nonsense. A highly refined sensibility guided the making of this movie. The bloody crucifixion it depicts is “insanely over-the-top”? More nonsense, and ahistorical to boot.

Every negative review I have read of this film from the secularist Paragons of Pretendland, the Denbys etc., has masked a hidden agenda. No surprise there. But from “thoughtful Christians” like Mr. Auster, identifying the real reason for their displeasure is a more difficult task.

Masterpiece is not too grandiose a word for this film. One can only conclude that those well-disposed to the Christian message who dislike the film resist somehow the admittedly bizarre choice God made about the form of redemption. Rather than take it up with Gibson, who’s been responsible to that form, they need to take it up with God.

Posted by: Tom B. on February 28, 2004 11:30 PM

The following statement is very uncharacteristic of me, someone who has always advocated “knowledge over ignorance”, but I choose to stick my head in the proverbial sand on this one.

I profess ignorance on this issue, in large part because I don’t believe in paying some Hollywood studio—even thought the director is a Republican—to see gratuitous violence. There’s enough in Ben Hur, The Ten Commandments, Sodom and Gomorrah, The Bible and countless other sword and sandal/biblical megafilms since those to last a lifetime. I personally do not want any more bad dreams (which one gets from viewing overly gratuitous violent films)—I have enough of them just reading about Bush, the Democrats and how Iran has the nuclear bomb!

While this film certainly brings out grist for the film-gossiping mill, I feel it is below the level of (the) superb discourse on this site—which is 99.9% first-rate. I’d better get back to doing the dirty dishes and feeding the kitty. I’ll join the ostriches on this one. Wake me up when you get back to Bush, Iran and the (apparent) capture of Bin Laden.

Posted by: David Levin on February 29, 2004 12:03 AM

I cannot comment on the graphic nature of “The Passion of the Christ” as I have not seen it yet. However, I would like to answer the question about the frequency of crucifixion.
It was a common form of execution for non-citizens, used primarily to strike fear into a populace. The occasional crucifixion of a murderer or rebel leader normally kept subject peoples in place. It was also used militarily to subjugate an area (Ceasar used it in the Gallic war, to destroy the spirit of his opponent. Vercingetorix, at the siege of Alesia.)

However, there were instances were it was used as wide scale punishment. The execution of Sparticus’s fellow slaves terrified every Roman slave.
It was also used thousands of times during the two great revolts in Judea. During the fall of Jerusalem in 70ce, the Romans built a wall around the city. Any Jew attempting to enter or leave without Roman approval was crucified. Eventually, the Romans circled much of the city with rotting crucified corpses. Josephus was quite explicit.
I have no doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was tortured beyond most. He was crucified as a dissident at Passover, the time of most rebellions. Jesus would have been tortured over a considerable period of time, in a manner that made the injuries apparent.
Of course, Jesus was not the only political prisoner killed publicly by the Romans. The Romans executed many religious leaders. For instance, Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef was flayed alive. Others were burnt alive, surrounded by soaked wool to extend the suffering.

For more on the tragic Roman-Judean experience, please see http://www.livius.org/judaea.html

Posted by: RonL on February 29, 2004 1:25 AM

Thanks for several interesting comments here, including those which have corrected me on historical points.

What I don’t understand are imputations of bad faith. I carefully laid out the exact reasons why I feel about the film the way I do, and this self-righteous person Tom B. assumes I must have some hidden agenda, because, he says, no sincere and genuine Christian could _possibly_ dislike this film. Tom B. demonstrates a mentality seen more and more among Christians and conservatives today. They feel so embattled by the left that they feel they must form a phalanx against it. Thus the lock-step defense of The Passion goes hand in hand with the defensive, lock-step adoration of Bush, and the need to regard as an enemy or apostate anyone who has a different opinion.

On one hand, this reaction is somewhat understandable, since both The Passion and Bush have been subject to such vicious attacks from the left and need to be defended. On the other hand, by making their defenses against those attacks the basis of their collective belief system and identity, the conservatives and Christians become increasingly ideological and rigid. It strikes me that American conservatives and Christians in their ongoing war with the evil left are becoming like the Spaniards of the late Middle Ages in their centuries-long contest with the Moslems—that is, they are becoming ultra-orthodox warriors. A further connection between the two situations is that Islam and Leftism are both universal totalitarian ideologies.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on February 29, 2004 1:36 AM

Two points only: 1) You misread my comments. I did not say that you had a hidden agenda. On the contrary, I made a special effort to distinguish you from the secular Paragons of Pretendland (Hollywood) who manifestly do have hidden agendas in respect to the film. 2) All the other stuff you assumed about my politics and “ideology” (quite wrongly, with apologies to Cervantes) forever exclude you from the appellation “thoughtful.” You fit more comfortably into the “wildly speculative, prone to tossing in the kitchen sink” category.

Posted by: Tom B. on February 29, 2004 2:20 AM

The “B” in Tom B. evidently stands for Blusterer. He insists that he did not say that I had a hidden agenda, and that my suggestion that he did say that shows a complete lack of comprehension on my part. But here’s what he wrote:

“Every negative review I have read of this film from the secularist Paragons of Pretendland, the Denbys etc., has masked a hidden agenda. No surprise there. But from ‘thoughtful Christians’ like Mr. Auster, identifying the real reason for their displeasure is a more difficult task.”

Tom B. is saying that every single negative review of The Passion by a secularist has a hidden agenda; according to him, not one of the negative reviewers is being honest about his real reasons for disliking the film. In other words, they’re pretending they dislike it because it’s hokey, or too violent, or anti-Semitic, when the real reason they dislike it that it’s _Christian_. But, he continues, since I’m a Christian, and since I dislike the movie, my “real reason” for disliking it is harder to figure out, i.e., I’m _hiding_ my real reason. QED.

But that’s not all. Tom B. continues: “[T]hose well-disposed to the Christian message who dislike the film resist somehow the admittedly bizarre choice God made about the form of redemption. Rather than take it up with Gibson … they need to take it up with God.” So, to dislike this movie is to reject the Christian revelation itself. Such rejection is my real, hidden motive. Notwithstanding Tom B.’s insistence that he was distinguishing me from the secularist liars, he was in fact only distinguishing me from them in the sense that my concealment is even deeper than theirs.

As for my further comments, I was both describing Tom B. himself and going beyond Tom B. to speak about a general phenomenon of which I saw his rigid dogmatic orthodoxy as an example, namely a “mentality seen more and more among Christians and conservatives today. They feel so embattled by the left that they feel they must form a phalanx against it. Thus the lock-step defense of The Passion goes hand in hand with the defensive, lock-step adoration of Bush, and the need to regard as an enemy or apostate anyone who has a different opinion.” Now people—though they are usually liberals—just hate it when you describe what they’re up to and place them in a larger category, either because they think you’re in error by placing them in that category; or because they reject the existence of that particular larger category; or because, being nominalists, they reject the existence of (or rather the possibility of knowing of the existence of) all larger categories.

Of course, it’s always possible that the assignment of a particular individual to a category is incorrect. Nevertheless, Tom B. was plainly saying that for a professed Christian to dislike this movie indicates that he is rejecting Christian truth itself. So there is no question that the narrow dogmatic reactivism I was describing—the attitude of equating Gibson’s movie with Christianity itself and therefore seeing any criticism of the movie as an attack on Christianity—applies to Tom B.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on February 29, 2004 7:33 AM

My own view of the film is nicely expressed by Virge above. Obviously, there is disagreement among Christians and conservatives about the effectiveness of Gibson’s portrayal. Robert Locke, for example, is quite disparaging about the film.

Mr. Auster’s criticism is that the film isn’t very well done, which is quite a different thing than leftist attacks - most of which do, in fact, have a not-so-hidden agenda. Moreover, Mr. Auster has conceded sevral points regarding the violent practices of Roman troops and specific aspects of crucifixion. I don’t see where he has attacked Gibson’s motives for making the film. While it is true that there are some boundaries one cannot step over and remain conservative (as George W. Bush has demonstrated so well), let’s not become like the left by trying to enforce a narrow form of political correctness of our own.

As to the effect of this film on our society, it remains to be seen. God is quite capable of using any vehicle He chooses, even if flawed, to spread the message of sacrifice and salvation. It is my hope that this film will awaken many to the truth in this land. It is important to keep in mind that the movie is merely a vehicle whose purpose is to advance the knoweledge of Christ. It is not Christianity itself.

Posted by: Carl on February 29, 2004 1:01 PM

Carl, where has Locke written about the Passion?

Posted by: Damon on February 29, 2004 4:54 PM

Damon, I think it was in either an e-mail or as an entry on another blog site. As I recall, Locke’s critcism was much along the same lines as Mr. Auster’s except it was more severe.

At any rate, the point of my previous post was that it is perfectly possible to criticize “The Passion” as a movie from various aspects without being a leftist or renouncing and betraying conservatism or Christianity.

Posted by: Carl on February 29, 2004 6:56 PM

This is a slightly different take on The Passion, a piece by Time’s Richard Corliss on the hypocrisy of liberals in Hollywood and the media. Here is the link:

Posted by: David on February 29, 2004 7:02 PM

How about “Mel Gibson for President”? I mean, Ronald Regan was an actor..

Posted by: Matt W. on February 29, 2004 10:29 PM

This was a particularly inept and puerile review of the movie. I wouldn’t trust this guy to review a comic book let alone the greatest movie ever made.

How someone can live so long and know so little about life, truth, art, and spirit is only a little amazing.

He clearly came to the movie with poor judgment, and a weak grasp of historical facts (see others comments correcting his ignorance).

One other factoid on Roman soldiers. They didn’t enjoy the work of flogging and crucifying. They usually were drunk in order to do it, as many Nazi murders got plastered in order to murder innocent Jews.

I know those Roman soldiers. I’ve seen those men in real life. I have been one in real life. Not every risk Gibson took paid off, but so many did that the whole of the work is GREAT.

If you don’t see yourself in every type of person the movie shows, nor see yourself in Jesus, you will miss it all.

Posted by: mark butterworth on March 1, 2004 12:56 AM

I have inadvertently discovered a path to instant unpopularity: speaking my mind about a movie that all too many people are describing as “the greatest movie ever made.” You know, I had thought the four Gospels were pretty good, but we seem to have got ourselves a fifth.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 1, 2004 1:34 AM

To Mr. Auster:

Nothing shall ever change your “popularity” with me!

The problem with (the subject of) pop movies—or should I say, movies of the past 30 years or so (when those horrid “disaster films” like Airport and Towering Inferno changed films forever)—is that once the publicity gets going before the release, the publiticity becomes “larger” than the film itself. That a verile stud (or, formerly verile stud) like Gibson made the film is a huge “draw” for many women, even though he wasn’t seen in it. I remember when everyone thought that “Butch Cassidy…” was the greatest movie made up to that time. It was the “stud factor”, and it became a huge draw because of Newman and Redford—long being Newman’s Own Tomato Sauce became a household item. I don’t know if anyone has bothered doing a post-viewing polling on women exiting the theatres to see what their response is to Passion. No “stud factor” in Passion? Perhaps not. I’m not going to see the film, as I’ve previously stated.

“The greatest film ever”? I thought everyone agreed that it was “Gone With The Wind” (except me). Being an expert on classic films, I’d have to put Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ “A Letter To Three Wives” or his “All About Eve” or H. King/Darryl Zanuck’s “Twelve O’Clock High” or even M. Gordon/V. Posner’s “Another Part Of The Forest” have to rate as MY favorites for “The Greatest Film Ever Made”. Do you judge a film’s greatness by the screenwriting? The acting? The directing? The music? Or, all combined? Certainly NOT for the “stud factor”!!

It’s just too tough to choose. There were not that many “great films” made, but to have to choose among those that were made is very disturbing—because one has what the other lacks and vice versa and it is so subjective a procedure.

Anyway, for directing/producing and screenwriting, I cast my vote for “A Letter To Three Wives” and “All About Eve”. For acting, a tie between “All About Eve”, “Twelve O’Clock High” and “Another Part Of The Forest”—with an honorable mention for “The Little Foxes” to which “Another Part Of The Forest” was the “pre-quel”. For historical importance only, perhaps “Sink The Bismark” which strayed factually only in a completely fictitious leading male role (played by Kenneth More) and his female assistant (played by Dana Wynter). The film was factual in nearly every other respect, and the Bismark’s sinking was of HUGE (historical) importance to the British in May of 1941 before America entered the war. For Best Costumes and Scenery and Accents, I would have to give it to a rarely show 1978 version of “The Thirty Nine Steps”. No American accents for Britishers in this one—an all-English cast. The scenery was terrific—the scenes of Hannay (played by Robert Powell) running through the beautifully moist Scottish midlands with its treeless hills and castles was absolutely breathtaking.

One other aspect of todays films (the most recent one I’ve seen was Eastwood’s The Unforgiven, and that was 12 years ago) is that they are “dark” films, with far too much bloodletting, gratuitous violence and mahem. While many here are arguing that “This is what the Romans were like” and “This is an important film”, etc., I have to take issue as many opinions of The Romans were based on cinema’s sword and sandal films and the great biblical films with Heston—not actual fact. I am certainly not “defending” The Romans. What I am hearing about this film is that it protrays violence and hate “to the nth degree”. If the violence and the acting and the direction and the cinematography and the music make it a great film, then so it is! For me, I’ll stick with “A Letter To Three Wives” or “Twelve O’Clock High”.

Posted by: David Levin on March 1, 2004 3:47 AM


It becomes very hard to take your criticisms seriously when they appear to be reaching. First you criticize the scourging for appearing too brutal, when in fact scourgings were brutal, intended to bring criminals near to the point of death. You also criticize Gibson for portraying Pilate as thoughtful, when it would have been necessary for him to have been thoughtful to have been so convinced of Christ’s innocence. After all, why would a cold-hearted cynic have persisted against the crowd in asserting Christ’s innocence?

And to top it all off, you engage in bizarre and unfounded speculation that “Gibson likes to have homosexual villains in his movies,” and that both Satan and Herod intended to be gay. First of all, this actually goes against Braveheart. Longshanks was obviously heterosexual, and his son was just some acquiescent welp, not a full-fledged ‘villain.’ Secondly, it isn’t substantiated by the Passion itself. Satan is androgynous, not ‘gay,’ and Herod simply appears as a libertine (or an epicurean, as it were). No indication of homosexuality is given. I cannot fathom know where you got that idea.

You can claim that these criticisms are unfair, but they’re spawned from the unfairness and illogic of your own comments, not to mention the unfairness of your earlier criticism of Gibson (it was never for you to dictate to another person what they should say about their own father). I usually like your commentary, Lawrence, but you’ve been way off-base on the Passion and Gibson from Day One.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on March 1, 2004 3:56 AM

While it’s no surprise that a traditional Catholic such as Mr. Courrèges would be unhappy with my criticisms of The Passion, it is surprising and disappointing that an intelligent person such as Mr. Courrèges would so misunderstand and misrepresent what I have said. The inordinately strong identification that many people have with this film seems to be depriving them of their ability to think clearly.

The challenges I’ve been receiving from Mr. Courrèges and others require a lengthy response which I hope will set some of these issues to rest. I apologize for going so far over the limits for the length of comments that I myself have set.

First, I did not simply criticize the scourging for an excess of brutality. In fact, I said the opposite. I wrote: “Nor did the extreme violence per se bother me. It was the utter _stupidity_ and _unbelievability_ of the way that extreme violence was portrayed that turned me off.”

The stupidity and unbelievability of the scourging related not only to the portrayal of the Roman soldiers as “Deliverance”-style sadists, one of the biggest and most tired clichés of post-1970 cinema, but to its physical impossibility. If the soldiers had used the kind of metal tipped weapons shown in this film, and had used them with the staggering force and fury shown in this film, and for as many lashes as shown in this film, then Jesus would not merely have had strips of skin taken off his body, his flesh would have literally been taken off his bones. He would have been dead or near death. The defenders of the film seem unable to distinguish between a brutal scourging (as we can presume happened to the real Jesus) and a scourging so extreme that it would leave the victim dead with the flesh hanging from his exposed skeleton, and thus, at the very least, in no shape to walk to the place of crucifixion. That is the index of how over the top and vulgar this movie really is. In “The Passion,” the Catholic cult of suffering and the contemporary pop entertainment cult of extreme sensationalism and violence have been joined into one, reaching a point of such hyper violence that it no longer even makes sense in terms of the Gospel story. Defenders of the film who dismiss this problem become complicit in the film’s appalling vulgarization of the Gospels.

Regarding Mr. Courrèges’s assertion that “scourgings were brutal, intended to bring criminals near to the point of death,” wasn’t the whole idea of cruficixion to make victim suffer as long and as demeaningly as possible? Since, in Jesus’ case, scourging was combined with crucifixion, the scourging could not have been so brutal that it would have left him dead or on the point of death, as the scourging in “The Passion” would certainly have done.

Next, it is not true that I “criticized Gibson for portraying Pilate as thoughtful.” I myself emphasized Pilate’s intelligence, describing Pilate in the Gospels is “a tough and cynical urbane figure who is impressed by Jesus despite himself and undesirous of having him killed.” What I criticized Gibson for was his false portrayal of Pilate as “a _sensitive guy_, deeply troubled by what is being done to Jesus. That’s not in the Gospels at all.”

Mr. Courrèges asks about Pilate: “[W]hy would a cold-hearted cynic have persisted against the crowd in asserting Christ’s innocence?” The answer is that Pilate, who had had many Jews crucified in the course of his career, had no desire to crucify Jesus for perfectly understandable reasons: (1) he did not see him as a rebel against Roman rule; (2) he was clearly impressed by Jesus and felt there was something unusual about him; and (3) it was the JEWISH AUTHORITIES who wanted Jesus dead for their own purposes. Why should Pilate want to kill a man who is not an enemy of Rome just because his own troublesome Jewish subjects want the man dead? Also, he may have been suspicious of the way the thing was being handled. Why had Jesus been taken in the middle of the night, during Passover? Why the urgency that he be instantly killed? If anything, Pilate the cynical and cautious ruler would be inclined not to give in to the Jews’ importunings, but, in the manner of the cynic that he was, he finally did yield to them because he preferred to avoid unnecessary trouble, and because he didn’t believe in truth. He thus rejected his brief intuition of Jesus’ true nature and returned to his cynicism. And in doing so he earned his immortality in the Nicene Creed: ” … and was crucified under Pontius Pilate.”

On the question of the presence of the “homosexual villain” figure in the movie, which I referred to in passing, my own intention was simply to point out that Gibson was inserting into the movie a favorite trope of his own—and a very contemporary trope at that—that was not in the Gospels and that did not fit with the Gospel story. I was making no substantive arguments about the goodness or badness of homosexuality or anti-homosexuality, subjects that have been discussed extensively at this website from a traditionalist perspective. Therefore, apart from the question of whether my observation is factually correct, I am puzzled as to why Mr. Courrèges, a conservative Catholic, would be so offended by my mere notion that Gibson has placed homosexual villains in a movie.

On the factual point, Mr. Courrèges is being painfully literal. Apparently he won’t accept the statement that a character in a fictional work is intended as a homosexual figure unless the character is shown announcing “I am homosexual” or engaging in overtly homosexual behavior. Now there is room for different reactions and interpretations to different aspects of a film. Surely, to say that Gibson’s Satan (who Mr. Courrèges acknowledges is androgynous) and Gibson’s Herod (who Mr. Courrège concedes is Epicurean, though I think a better word would be epicene) are intended by the filmmaker as homosexual figures is not so far out of the ballpark as to warrant Mr. Courrèges’s scornful reaction to that idea.

His further arguments on this subject are way off the mark. Thus he points out that the main villain in “Braveheart,” King Edward I, is not a homosexual figure, as though that proves his point! But did I say that ALL Gibson villains are homosexual, from which it would follow that if not ALL Gibson villains are homosexual, that discredits what I said about “The Passion”? In fact, “Braveheart” featured a homosexual relationship between Edward the Prince of Wales and his conspicuously gay boyfriend that is seen as so disgusting by King Edward that in a spectacular scene, certainly the biggest “anti-gay” scene in the history of movies, in a fit of rage he throws the boyfriend from a high tower to his death, an act the movie presents approvingly. Further, a central plot thread of “Braveheart” is that Braveheart has a clandestine affair with the wife of the Prince of Wales and future Edward II, becoming the real father of the future Edward III. Thus the heterosexual man, representing virtue, literally supplants the homosexual man, representing the illegitimate rule of England. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

So, when I was speaking of Gibson’s past interest in the homosexual villain, that’s what I had in mind.

As for the phrase homosexual villain, that was first used in an essay by Norman Mailer in the early 1960s which I discussed in a VFR thread where I whimsically suggested that the homosexual villain be brought back. In that discussion (see link below), it was clear that what I and others meant by homosexual villain was not necessarily someone who is literally homosexual but someone who suggests the idea of homosexuality. Thus, for example, Scar in “The Lion King,” though not literally homosexual, is the type of the homosexual villain. Similarly, the cold and dandyish Waldo Lydecker in Otto Preminger’s “Laura,” played by Clifton Webb, while not literally homosexual, can be seen as representing the type of the homosexual villain. Participants in that discussion provided many other examples from movies.


Finally, Mr. Courrège refers to the “unfairness of your earlier criticism of Gibson (it was never for you to dictate to another person what they should say about their own father).”

Here Mr. Courrèges has lost himself in a fit of anti-anti-anti-Semitism. Gibson’s father is a raving anti-Semite and a raving Holocaust denier. Given that fact, and given the highly sensitive nature of “The Passion,” the question of Gibson’s own views on the Holocaust and Jews had become a LEGITIMATE matter of public concern. I myself said that Gibson should have dissociated himself from his father’s views. I argued that he didn’t need to attack or disown his father, but simply to say, “I disagree with my father on these things.” But far from doing that, Gibson in his interview with Diane Sawyer made a point of saying that his father had always told him the truth. So, leaving aside the charge of anti-Semitism in the _movie_ (and I believe that anti-Semitism is a non-issue in the movie), Gibson the _man_ has created the clear impression that he is on the side of anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers, or, at best, that he refuses to dissociate himself from them. And there _is_ something wrong with that.

Yet Mr. Courrèges’s insists that Gibson’s position relative to his father’s views on the Holocaust and Jews belongs in some sacred private realm that can never be the subject of public discussion. Mr. Courrège shows a degree of solicitude toward Gibson’s father that tells us more about Mr. Courrèges than it does about Mel Gibson or me.

So, in conclusion, with all due respect for Mr. Courrèges, I must repeat back to him what he said to me, that it is very hard to take his criticisms seriously.

And that, I hope, will be my last word on “The Passion,” at least for the time being.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 1, 2004 1:22 PM


First of all, I am not a Catholic traditionist, at least not in the sense that it is a breakaway sect. I’ve never been to a Trentine Mass, nor do I reject the papacy as it stands, nor do I reject all of Vatican II (although I think some elements of it are questionable, as many loyal Catholics do).

Furthermore, I think you are are using some of the same faulty assertions as some of your detractors; you claim that it was my “inordinately strong identification” I have with the film is making me irrational, which is little more than a suggestion that I have ulterior motives irrespective of stating the truth and being fair. I could just as easily contend that your own disdain of Hollywood and your earlier dislike of Gibson made it impossible for you to appreciate a great film. It would be no less valid that your claim.

On the matter of your specific criticisms, however, you do little to allay the tone of my initial reactions. You claim that you “did not simply criticize the scourging for an excess of brutality,” and then argue that Gibson did indeed portray the scourging as stupidly and unrealistically brutal, thus ignoring that scourgings were designed to be this way. They were always done using the flagrum — an instrument with small metal balls, chicken bones, glass, etc, attached to flay the skin down to the bone on the condemned man’s back. It was always done prior to crucifixion, and many didn’t live through it. Those that administered these brutal beatings WERE sadists, no doubt.

And I suppose we’ll just have to disagree on the matter of Pilate being portrayed sympathetically. In my mind, the gospels did portray Pilate sympathetically, and The Passion portrayed him more as a political man than a saint. And he didn’t just try to avoid ordering the crucifixion, he did so long after the will of the crowd was clearly against him, and in the end, as in the gospels, he only called for the execution out of fears that a riot was forming. As Gibson stated, and the gospels seem to indicate, his crime was moral weakness.

But where I truly stand by my earlier comment is in my shock that you would read homosexuality into The Passion. That is indeed “out of the ballpark,” Lawrence. Nobody else I know of picked up on this. “Androgynous” does not equal “gay.” Satan was not effeminate; he did not manifest any typically homosexual speech patterns or mannerisms. He was clearly made adrongynous, however, so as not to implicate evil as being either strictly masculine or feminine. I believe he explained this in the Sawyer interview, which I gather you missed.

Likewise, Herod is depicted as being a stereotypically decadent aristocrat, not necessarily as gay. I don’t know why you reach to find gay characters in Gibson’s movie, but you aren’t backed up by any reasonable interpretation.

Finally, I would also like to say that you are mischaracterizing my position regarding Gibson’s father. It’s painfully obvious that Hutton Gibson is a vicious anti-Semite, but where we part company on this is in your belief that Gibson ought to not only repudiate anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, which he has done, but also affirm publicly that he rejects his fathers views.

I find the latter demand to be superfluous and wrong, not because I’m showing “solicitude toward Gibson’s father,” as you inflammatorily state, but rather because I’m showing solicitude towards the relationship between a man and his own father. If Gibson feels that it would be insulting or demeaning to his dad to release a public statement affirming that he does not share his opprobrious views, he shouldn’t be expected to do so. The situation clearly involves a deep familial relationship, and so long as Gibson repudiates anti-Semitism, he’s done the most that ought to be expected. You’re wrong in expecting more, and I don’t know why you do.

That’s all.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on March 1, 2004 3:52 PM

I guess we’re not done yet.

The immediate problem that comes up is the same as before: Mr. Courrèges’s tendency to misreport my own statements, which then requires me to go back over what I said. Thus he characterizes my attack on his and others’ identification with the movie as a suggestion that he has “ulterior motives irrespective of stating the truth and being fair.” But I didn’t say anything about ulterior motives. Nor did I say that Mr. Courrèges was “irrational.” I said that their inordinately strong identification with the movie was making people not think clearly. Not thinking clearly is not the same as being irrational. The first can happen to anyone and is fairly readily corrected; the second is much harder to correct. If Mr. Courrèges had not misstated several of my statements, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to suggest that he was not thinking clearly, or to give reasons why I thought he was not thinking clearly (which I agree as a general rule it’s best not to do). However, now that he persists in his habit of misquoting me, I realize that it’s not because of “The Passion”; it’s just the way he is.

I appreciate learning more of the gruesome details about the flagrum. But the question remains, if that instrument brought the condemned man so close to death, and if it was always used prior to crucifixion, that would seem to undercut the very purpose of crucifixion, which is to impose a long, slow, and demeaning death. But here Mr. Courrèges misstates my point. I was not—for the nth time now—denying the horrible brutality of the flogging, but the way that it was dramatically portrayed. I would have very much liked (if that’s the right word) to see a realistic portrayal of the Passion of Christ, including all the brutality. But that’s not what we got here.

On Pilate, Mr. Courrèges persists in his misrepresentations of what I said. I did not criticize the movie for having a “sympathetic” portrayal of Pilate. How can Mr. Courrèges not see that my own description of Pilate shows a sympathetic interest in him? No, I criticized the movie’s portrayal of Pilate (as I’ve said three times now) for showing him as a sensitive soul deeply troubled by Jesus’ punishment. This is far from the Gospels and from every previous dramatization of the Gospels.

On the homosexuality theme, I’ve said everything I have to say.

On Hutton Gibson, Mr. Courrèges writes that Mel Gibson has repudiated his father’s anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. This is simply untrue, as has been pointed out over and over.

Frankly, in the context of the Gibsons and the problem of Holocaust denial, I find Mr. Courrèges’s affirmation of his own “solicitude towards the relationship between a man and his own father” sounding like the kind of gooey thing one might expect to hear on the Oprah show. The idea that Gibson, a middle-aged man, an international movie star and millionaire who is pushing an extremely controversial movie on the world, would somehow damage his poor little relationship with his poor little Jew-hating father by saying “I don’t agree with my father about this issue” is too ridiculous for words. No one was seeking to intrude on that relationship. All I said was that Gibson should say that he doesn’t agree with his father on these issues. And furthermore, since Mr. Courrèges himself says (incorrectly) that Gibson has repudiated his father’s views, how am I calling for any _deeper_ interference in the sacred father-son relationship than Mr. Courrèges himself says (incorrectly) has already happened? I guess that point didn’t occur to him.

The key to the disagreement is that Mr. Courrège thinks that Gibson has already repudiated Holocaust denial. Therefore any further demands on Gibson are wrong and driven by inexplicable motives on my part. Mr. Courrèges remains blind to the fact that Gibson has not repudiated Holocaust denial, but has continued to make statements that are perfectly in line with Holocaust denial. See this summary at NRO of Gibson’s comments in his Reader’s Digest interview with Peggy Noonan:


Once again, to avoid misunderstanding, my criticisms of Gibson over his Holocaust statements is a separate issue from my views of the film. I’ve said repeatedly that I saw no anti-Semitism in the film.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 1, 2004 6:08 PM


If you don’t want your statements to be misinterpreted, I would suggest that you avoid making snide suggestions. I was not being unreasonable in assuming that you were intimating that my arguments were irrational when you accused me of “unclear thinking” and repeated misrepresentations. Nor was I wrong to interpret your accusation that my affinity for the film has clouded my mind as a claim that I had an ulterior motive for defending these specific points. You can’t just ignore the plain ramifications of your own accusations.

What’s more, you’re misrepresenting my own statements. Never did I say that “Mel Gibson has repudiated his father’s anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.” What I said instead was that Mel Gibson has repudiated anti-Semitism generally and affirmed publicly that the Holocaust occurred, without referencing his father’s views. That’s a fact.

All Gibson won’t do is speak about his father’s views, which he is not obligated to comment on anyway. In response to this, you say that “[t]he idea that Gibson … would somehow damage his poor little relationship with his poor little Jew-hating father by saying ‘I don’t agree with my father about this issue’ is too ridiculous for words.” My point is that this isn’t for you to say. You don’t know the nature of Gibson’s relationship with his father, and you have no grounds for compelling Gibson to talk about anything other than his own views. He isn’t obligated to speak about his father’s, although it is painfully obvious that he disagrees with him.

Look, Gibson loves his dad, although he’s an anti-Semitic conspiracist nutball. I’m guessing he believes that speaking about his own views in reference to his father’s might damage their relationship. It’s one thing to say “anti-Semitism is bad,” when asked about anti-Semitism (which Gibson has done — watch the Sawyer interview if you disagree), but it’s another thing entirely to say “I disagree with my dad” when asked about his anti-Semitic views.

That being the case, you and others have been trying to butt in on Gibson’s relationship with his dad, and I’ll say it again: It’s wrong.

Quotes from the Sawyer interview:


“Gibson insisted on Primetime he is no anti-Semite, and that anti-Semitism is “un-Christian” and a sin that “goes against the tenets of my faith.”


Gibson raised hackles recently with published statements in which he noted Holocaust victims were among many victims of World War II. He told Sawyer he doesn’t mean to deny either that the Holocaust occurred or that there were millions killed.

“Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenseless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do; absolutely,” he said. “It was an atrocity of monumental proportion.”

Asked if the Holocaust represented a “particular kind of evil,” he told Sawyer it did, but added, “Why do you need me to tell you? It’s like, it’s obvious. They’re killed because of who and what they are. Is that not evil enough?”

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on March 1, 2004 7:41 PM

Pardon my incessant analogical thinking, but I am reminded of my first Christmas break in college, when I ceased drinking my daily 1-3 cans of Dr. Pepper for three weeks. On my first day back at college in January, I bought a can, and the first few sips tasted like battery acid must taste.

Similarly, I related in a past thread how I avoided major network primte time TV shows for more than a decade, and was shocked to visit highly educated and intelligent people who had not done so. As we watched some silly sitcom, I could see the unfunny jokes coming for five minutes in advance, yet my intelligent hosts laughed loudly along with the canned laugh track. They had stayed in touch with TV each year, so the decline in its standards was gradual for them and a shock for me.

I wonder what an intelligent and educated conservative man of the 1950s would think of The Passion? As a thought experiment, picture that he got disgusted with Hollywood in the early 1960s and had not seen any movies since the Biblical epics of that era and earlier. Now, he is told that Hollywood has finally made another good Biblical movie, and is convinced to go see The Passion. What would his reaction be?

Posted by: Clark Coleman on March 1, 2004 8:06 PM

Movies. Every film artist has his own interpretation, and everybody has his own opinion. In time, the movie will stand or fall on its own merits. As I do with most movies, I’ll see it when it gets to rental, so I can fast forward through the bad parts (car chases, huge explosions, unrealistic or excessive violence, etc.) if any.

I agree that much of the violence we see in the movies makes it hard to suspend one’s disbelief. I can identify with Mr. Auster’s perception that violence is often so extreme that for a time, one starts believing it is just bad film-making. The Rocky movies are good examples. Rocky I’s fight scene did get stupid at points, but it was an enjoyable movie. I fast-forwarded through most of the second movie and could not watch the others, which were cartoons.

Posted by: P Murgos on March 1, 2004 8:12 PM

There seems to be some contention over whether or not Gibson should have been required to repudiate his father’s views in order toclear himself of the charge of Holocaust denial.
On this point, I think that Mr. Courrèges misses the broader point.
Gibson does NOT need to explicitly refute his father’s views per se (e.g. “I disagree with my father on this”) to counter the charges of antisemitism. He just needs to make it clear that he believes that 6 million Jews were deliberately killed by Hitler for being Jews and that Hitler wanted to exterminate the Jews and that they were special targets of Hitler’s regime. He can do all this without mentioning his father, or relating his views to his father’s, yet he has yet to do so. And his comment “my father never lied to me” is not entirely helpful here either.
If he is unwilling to publicly say anything untoward about his father, he can just explain HIS OWN views in more unambiguous language, and then if asked about his father, just repeat his own views and refuse to talk about his father one way or the other: “I don’t want to talk about my father. What I believe is…”
I don’t generally like Mr. Frum, but on this issue I find myself agreeing with him in spite of myself.

Posted by: Michael Jose on March 1, 2004 8:24 PM

I got it wrong when I said: “Mr. Courrèges writes that Mel Gibson has repudiated his father’s anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.” I should have left out “his father’s” and said: “Mr. Courrèges writes that Mel Gibson has repudiated anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.” But I still say that Mr. Courrèges is wrong. I’m no fan of David Frum’s, but Frum has it right in the NRO article I linked. I recommend that Mr. Courrèges read it, at least in order to understand why many people believe that Gibson has not repudiated Holocaust denial, even if he doesn’t agree. For the rest, I find Mr. Courrèges’s sentimental protectivenss over the supposedly threatened relationship of Gibson father and son, “He loves his dad … you and others have been trying to butt in on Gibson’s relationship with his dad,” too silly to reply to, though Mr. Jose has a good suggestion on how to get around that concern if anyone thinks it really matters.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 1, 2004 9:05 PM

My view: Herod was definitely running a “gay” court. “Effeminate weakling” is a homosexual villain type Gibson has used before, as in his Edward II. I remember noting the type in some of his other films, but don’t recall them well enough to give citations.

The androgynous Satan is less clear to me. I think androgeny == creepiness here, but not expliciting homosexual.

Posted by: Bill McClain on March 2, 2004 9:24 AM

Michael Jose,

>>[Gibson] just needs to make it clear that he believes that 6 million Jews were deliberately killed by Hitler for being Jews and that Hitler wanted to exterminate the Jews and that they were special targets of Hitler’s regime.<<

Ok, some people apparently fail to understand this, so I’ll say it again — GIBSON DID THIS DURING THE SAWYER INTERVIEW.

Frum is committing the sin of omission. I question whether he watched the entire interview. Sawyer asked Gibson point blank whether or not six million died in the Holocaust, and he responded affirmatively. Did Frum mention this? No.

Given that neither of you trust David Frum or saw the interview yourselves, I really do wonder why you’d depend on one of his essays to make your points.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on March 2, 2004 12:02 PM

Even the quote Mr. Courrèges offers speaks again Gibson. Holocaust “minimizers” agree that there were “concentration camps” (which they liken to the U.S. internment of Japanese, or POW camps)where people “died cruelly” (note the passive). The systematic, purposeful killings of Jews by gas in death camps is the crime of the Holocaust.

Posted by: Agricola on March 2, 2004 12:07 PM

Frum presented an extensive quote from the interview, then he analyzed the quote in a way that I completely agreed with. What is the quote that according to Mr. Courrèges shows that Gibson is not a Holocaust denier?

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 2, 2004 12:31 PM


What I said was true. Frum presented a quote, ignored the context where Gibson was asked about the figure of six million Jews dying during the Holocaust, and proceeded to draw a conclusion based solely upon that lack of context.

Frankly, Lawrence, it doesn’t say much for your arguments that you didn’t even watch Gibson’s biggest interview. You’re coming from a position of ignorance.

Anyway, here’s the relevant portion of the interview:

Sawyer: Gibson’s father, Hutton Gibson, age 85…has…seemed to be questioning the scope of the Holocaust, skeptical that six million Jews had died. So, what does Gibson think?

Gibson: Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenseless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do,absolutely. It was an atrocity of monumental proportion.

Sawyer: And you believe there were millions, six million?

Gibson: Sure.

Sawyer: I think people wondered if your father’s views were your views on this.

Gibson: Their whole agenda here, my detractors, is to drive a wedge between me and my father. And it’s not going to happen. I love him. He’s my father.

Sawyer: And you will not speak publicly about him again.

Gibson: I’m tight with him. He’s my father. Gotta leave it alone, Diane. Gotta leave it alone.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on March 2, 2004 1:26 PM

Well, his answer to the “millions, six million?” question from Sawyer is the first I’ve seen this. I wonder why Gibson’s defenders didn’t bring this forward sooner.

However, Frum was not behaving dishonestly here. He himself was relying on a quotation of the interview that he links from another website, just as I in turn was relying on the quote I got from him. This is the way most of us have learned about these interviews, through quotations, because, as I’ve found out myself, it’s difficult to find a complete transcript of these interviews on the Web.

However, while the “Sure” reply to the “Six million” question relieves Gibson of the charge of being a Holocaust denier, all the rest of his answers were of the classic, evasive, “atrocities happened” variety. It was incumbent on him to make a clear positive statement, not merely to wait for Sawyer to ask “millions, six million?” and then laconically reply “Sure.” This is not the way an upright man would handle this issue. I do not call Gibson a denier. But I do not call him an upright man either.

In any case, Mr. Courreges is once again very silly to accuse me of not wanting to know the truth, AFTER I had asked him for the exculpating quote which would invalidate my own previous statements. I’ve been relying on the information available, and Gibson’s defenders did not bother to provide the exculpating quote prior to this, in the midst of several exchanges in which I and others criticized Gibson for his evasive answers.

I’ve done a further google search for the following parameters: gibson sawyer interview millions. I’ve only found one site that presented the “Six million?” exchange. It was a blog that finds Gibson being evasive:


Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 2, 2004 1:58 PM


Now you’re officially reaching. I find nothing evasive about calling the Holocaust a “atrocity of monumental proportion” where “defenseless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime.” If you insist that Gibson had an obligation to outline specifically how the Holocaust worked, as the blog you cite demands, you’re really stepping over the edge of trying to justify your own preconceived notions. It’s massively unfair.

Furthermore, Gibson did not “laconically reply ‘Sure.’” He said it loud, without any hestitation (he practically interrupted her), and with an earnest expression. There was no hint of doubt or sarcasm; it was handled very ‘uprightly.’ What you’re claiming, then, strikes me as furious backpeddling. You’re being no less unfair than the fanatics at the ADL, who after accusing Gibson of “classic anti-Semitism,” then retreated from their comments made in ignorance.

And that’s what you’ve done. You relied on Frum, a source you yourself don’t even trust, and it turns out that he either lied or never even saw the interview, as I said to begin to with. Now you’re trying to claim that, despite Gibson’s clear statements, there’s still some ‘doubt.’ This is the same kind of nonsense I get from liberals who won’t abadon a position no matter how untenuous it becomes. “Bush’s National Guard records show he served out his commitment and received and honorable discharge? That doesn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t AWOL!” It’s the same desparate tactic, and as such, you’ve grossly mishandled this issue.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on March 2, 2004 2:59 PM

While it may be going too far to say that Frum was behaving dishonestly here, he was certainly not behaving professionally. To make such a serious charge, that of Holocaust denier, without taking the time to watch the entire interview or at least read the complete transcript of the interview, betrays a modus operandi on Frum’s part that is at the very least lazy and unprofessional. In light of Frum’s writings on the whole, intellectual dishonesty wouldn’t be entirely out of the question.

Mr. Auster’s reliance upon Frum isn’t in the same class, as he is simply engaging in discussion on a blog site instead of formally publishing an article. He was repeating what he considered to be a reliable review, which has turned out to be inaccurate. Frum’s behavior wasn’t exactly that of an upright man, either.

I tend to agree with Mr. Jose here insofar as the absolute best thing for Gibson to do would be to make an unabiguous, complete statement that the Holocaust was a historical event in which the German National Socialist regime and its sympathizers systematically murdered six million Jews and 250 thousand Roma simply for being who they were - an act of horrendous, genocidal evil.

Posted by: Carl on March 2, 2004 3:01 PM

Just as an aside, I’m defining the term Holocaust in a narrow sense here - that of deliberate genocide. Jews and Roma were the only people targeted for complete extermination, though the Slavs were similarly targeted in a different way (1/2 to be murdered, 1/2 to be enslaved). I do not mean to minimize the systematic murder of 15 million other individuals of various nationalities, who often died in the same camps or were machine-gunned by the same Einsatzgruppen.

Posted by: Carl on March 2, 2004 3:14 PM

Mr. Courrèges is becoming so absurd that he’s almost fallen off the planet. First, not understanding the Holocaust issue at all, he has no grasp of the evasiveness involved in Gibson’s saying “defenseless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime.” That, as everyone with any knowledge of the issue understands, is no different than what Holocauast deniers themselves would acknowledge. Mr. Courrèges goes not just off the planet but outside the solar system when he says that I’m “being no less unfair than the fanatics at the ADL.”

As for my relying on Frum, he was hardly the first person to present that quote, it had been referred to in numerous places prior to Frum’s article and had been the basis of much discussion here and elsewhere. Since none of Gibson’s defenders had come forward to supply the “Sure” quote, I had no reason to believe the quote was incomplete in any important respect.

Mr. C. says that Frum “lied,” when, as I showed, Frum himself (like everyone else in this debate) was himself relying on a quote which he quoted verbatim. This does not mean Frum is off the hook. As the author of a published article at NRO, he should have gotten the full transcript rather than relying on a quote. I have sent him this exchange.

Mr. C. then continues:

“Now you’re trying to claim that, despite Gibson’s clear statements, there’s still some ‘doubt.’”

Utter nonsense, again showing Mr. C’s evident inability to understand the simple sense of what is being said to him. I said repeatedly that the quote was exculpatory and that I did not regard Gibson as a denier. But Mr. Courrèges wants me also to take back the charge that Gibson has repeatedly used the classic language of evasion used by Holocaust deniers. That I will not do.

Far from “grossly mishandling the issue,” I’ve handled it properly, using the information commonly available to everyone. The “millions? … Sure” exchange, as I’ve discovered in a google search, cannot be found on the Web unless one knows the exact words one is looking for, and even then I could find only one reference. No transcript seems to be available on the web. The purpose of informal discussions like this is to discuss the issues of the day. We rely on the information that is out there, and correct ourselves if that information is wrong. Our overwrought Owen has nothing to complain about.

P.S. “Laconic” means brief, curt, terse. It doesn’t mean evasive.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 2, 2004 3:46 PM


I’m going “outside the solar system?” No, Lawrence… I’m not the one who has been reckless here. I didn’t take a single quote out of context and draw conclusions. I didn’t cite a commentator I myself don’t trust to make a point that, based on available evidence, I should never have asserted to begin with. Intellectual irresponsibility doesn’t begin to describe it. You made a mistake, and now your statements show all the telltale signs of a misguided effort to save face.

Morever, ‘Laconic’ means “using or involving the use of a minimum of words : concise to the point of seeming rude or mysterious.” It’s pejorative. If you wanted to say ‘brief,’ you should have so said so. Laconic has negative connotations, which you were trying to impute to Gibson. Gibson was neither rude nor mysterious. His meaning was perfectly clear.

You know, I’ve undoubtedly, at many points, described the Holocaust simply as an ‘atrocity’ where innocent Jews were killed. The very idea that these statements could be considered evasive, or draw me into suspicion as a Holocaust denier, strikes me as so monumentally bizarre and so unfair that I’m absolutely amazed that anyone has the unmittigated gall to depend on such weak evidence. That a broad condemnation of German atrocities against the Jews *by itself* could be construed as being suggestive of Holocaust denial is absolutely preposterous.

Given your weak and unsubstantiated accusations, I have a great deal to complain about.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on March 2, 2004 4:32 PM

Mel Gibson doesn’t have to PROVE that he loves Jews. Mel Gibson doesn’t have to prove that he doesn’t hold his father’s views. Mel Gisbon’s father doesn’t have to love Jews. Mel Gibson’s father is free to hate Jews. Jews are free to hate Mel Gisbon or his movie. If fatass Abe Foxman doesn’t like Mel Gibson’s movie well, who cares?

Posted by: Matt W. on March 2, 2004 6:06 PM

Once again Mr. C shows his inability to understand basic statements and concepts. What happened here was not that Gibson’s statement was “taken out of context.” What happened was that a single, laconic, reply, “Sure,” did not get disseminated in the media as it should have been. And as for the Holocaust, Mr. C remains lost in trans-Plutonian space.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 2, 2004 8:27 PM

I am in agreement generally with most everything that Mr. Auster has said about this movie. It is _terrible_. I had high hopes for it, and really wanted to see a presentation worthy of the hype. It is a real disappointment.

I would take issue on the flogging — it probably was close to what the movie showed. It was indeed probably a miracle that Jesus remained alive for as long as He did, but that’s point: It was a miracle. He Himself had power to lay down His life when the time was ready, when the Atonement was accomplished. Compared to every other movie I’ve seen, the flogging and crucifixion were the most realistic.

But although this is a worthy contribution, it’s the ONLY contribution. On almost all other points, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more inaccurate or ridiculous rendering of this phase of the life of Christ. I had thought — I don’t know why anymore — that this movie would be faithful to the Gospel accounts. It most assuredly is not.

So much useless and gratituous fiction was poured over and interspersed with fact that the former overshadowed the latter. Absurdities, innanities, overembellishments, and farcical silliness marred and detracted from what could have been a nearly definitive screen portrayal. Some of this perhaps ought to have been expected I suppose, but Mr. Gibson outdid himself. And where subsequent legends effectively contradicted the original accounts, he apparently gave preference to the legends.

God can certainly use very imperfect things to touch hearts for His Son; he’s been using imperfect humans for millenia. Perhaps this movie will be used, for a time, to turn some hearts to Himself. If so, I’ll say with the Apostle Paul, that “notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.”

But where this movie has had any positive spiritual effect in bringing glory to the Lord, that says an awful lot about the Lord — and very little about this movie.

Posted by: Joel LeFevre on March 3, 2004 1:11 AM

Who IS this fellow Owen Courreges? And is he simply trying to be “combative” with Mr. Auster for the sake of being combative? He seems to carry a lot of venom with him, perhaps because he is an avid Bushie who finds this site to be anything BUT friendly to the President. He clearly hates the JDL or I would imagine any Jew who wants to defend their religion and life which are currently under serious attack all around the world, both politically and terrorist-wise. Mr. Courreges actually comes off more like a Socialist, one who hates everything conservative and nationalistic, a one-worlder posing as a conservative.

Mr. Correges’ undying devotion to defending the Great Mel Gibson, a wealthy and hugely successful actor-turned-director, is fine with me. However, he (Correges) seems to be like a live wire when anything critical is said or written about the Great Gibson—as though Gibson is above criticism. Doesn’t he know that when you’re in the public eye, you are scrutinized? Or does he simply accuse us of “political hate” towards Gibson because we DEFEND Israel and the truth which is that the Holocaust occurred just as we know it did?

Mr. Courreges is showing himself to be the biggest buffoon to come along the pike in quite some time. I personally believe that he’s simply picking a fight with Mr. Auster because he knows that Mr. Auster is just starting a 40-day respite and knows that Mr. Auster must defend himself with every scathing piece Mr. Courreges writes. Perhaps Mr. Courreges would find friendlier confines at the immensely popular RINO site, freerepublic.com. He would fit right in with the other Bushies there!

Posted by: David Levin on March 3, 2004 3:29 AM

I’ll certainly second your remark about FreeRepublic, Mr. Levin! There’s hardly anyone left there but Bushbots and various RINO flying monkeys, it seems.

Posted by: Carl on March 3, 2004 3:44 AM

It seems implausible to me that flogging would be performed to the point that many or most of the victims died. There are aspects of crucifixion that were designed to create a long, slow, agonizing death. Nailing the ankles to the cross prolonged the suffocation process, for example. The Romans seem to have struck a middle ground by breaking the legs of the victims sometime during the second day, which counteracted the effect of the nailing of the ankles and started to hasten the suffocation. But this was only after 24 hours or more of public suffering and humiliation.

Having a prisoner die in an hour or less due to severe flogging, where the public does not get to witness a crucifixion at all, etc., seems contrary to the cruel spirit of crucifixion. Could those who continually assert that such was the case provide some primary source material to educate the rest of us?

Posted by: Clark Coleman on March 3, 2004 8:46 AM

In answer to Mr. Coleman, I certainly can’t say for certain exactly what the extent of the Lord’s flogging entailed. However, we should recall that Pilate didn’t want to have Jesus executed in the first place. When he gave orders to scourge Him, it seemed calculated as attempt to mollify the crowd. Perhaps when they saw a severely beated figure of a man, they would be appeased. Of course they were not.

Mr. Coleman points out that a severe flogging would offset the point of crucifixion — extended suffering and public humiliation. I think we can presume that people under Rome were flogged but not crucified, and crucified but not flogged, depending on the legal offense. Whether they typically might have done both I don’t know — though it’s doubtful for the reason Mr. Coleman states, but this was not by any means a typical case.

Posted by: Joel LeFevre on March 3, 2004 2:03 PM

My doubts about Gibson’s anti-Semitism ended when Thrasymachus made the following post at this site on February 20:

“Here is Gibson at the Sawyer interview:

Asked his view on the Holocaust, Gibson, who had been criticized for comparing it to other wartime atrocities in a previous interview, said, “You know, do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenseless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do. Absolutely. It was an atrocity of monumental proportion.”

Sawyer then asked, “Are you looking into the face of a particular kind of evil with the Holocaust?”

To which Gibson replied: “You’re looking — yes. What’s the particular evil? I mean, why do you need me to tell you? It’s like, it’s obvious. They’re killed because of who and what they are. Is that not evil enough?”


The most recent quotations supplied by Mr. Courrèges confirm my view.

Probably the best way for Mr. Gibson to handle further questions about Jewish people or the Holocaust is to refer to his interview with Diane Sawyer and to give people a Website address with the whole interview. Alternatively, he could carry a 3 x 5 card with the important transcript questions and answers, and each time he is asked a question, read them verbatim and then say, “That is all I am going to say about Jewish people and the Holocaust.” The more words he uses about Jewish people or the Holocaust, the worse it is going to get for him.

Posted by: P Murgos on March 3, 2004 2:48 PM

I ran across a very strange conference held last year which Hutton Gibson attended.

This was odd for several reasons. First, the speaker at the top is Willis Carto, one of the founders of IHR and a leading Holocaust-denier.

Next comes Hutton Gibson to speak on “Declining Influence of Roman Catholicism,” with some interesting highlights.

Then, after some photos of Carto and Gibson, comes one Fr. John O’Connor, apparently a noted advocate of the Tridentine mass. He speaks on the “Legitimacy of the State of Israel,” which sounds promising, except that he’s evidently _denying_ the legitimacy of Israel. “Father O’Connor stated that the claim the Israelis have a right to Palestine will bring further tragedy to the region.” (Not clear whether he believes the claim is ‘right’ or not, but I can posit an educated guess.)

Mr. Crowley’s presence surprised me not a little.

Most interesting. A very odd mix … or maybe not.

Posted by: Joel LeFevre on March 3, 2004 3:46 PM

Yargghhh!!! I hadn’t even gone to the home page of the website linked to above.

Posted by: Joel LeFevre on March 4, 2004 1:22 AM

On the issue of flogging, it should also be remembered that the Romans needed to complete these crucifixions quickly due to the sabbath coming up. As I recall, they were going to break Jesus’ legs only a few hours into his crucifixion (but he was already dead).
Based on that, flogging him to speed the death is not unreasonable.

Posted by: Michael Jose on March 4, 2004 2:01 PM

Except that in the movie, Pilate orders Jesus to be flogged, not as a preparation for crucifixion, but in order to appease the crowd and persuade them to let Jesus off. The soldiers, portrayed as demented sadists, then go berserk, disobeying the orders of the governor, flaying Jesus within an inch of his life.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 4, 2004 2:40 PM

Interesting column about Hollywood’s reaction to The Passion at http://www.townhall.com/columnists/GuestColumns/Ingraham20040306.shtml

Posted by: Clark Coleman on March 6, 2004 9:53 AM

Here I go again, wading in where angels fear to tread, but I just realized where part of Gibson’s inspiration for this movie comes from: the 1967 Paul Newman movie, “Cool Hand Luke,” about a sassy prisoner in a brutal southern rural prison who is mistreated by his guards until he is finally killed.

In making this comparison, I’m not just thinking of the hyped-up sadism of Jesus’s punishers, with their twisted, demented looking faces that are familiar from “Cool Hand Luke” and the thousand other Hollywood movies that it spawned, but also of that scene in “The Passion” where, having been beaten with rods, Jesus slowly, painfully stands up again, enraging the soldiers to beat him further. That was one of the most anachronistic moments in the movie, with Jesus coming across like some cinematic hero showing he can take a beating, and his tormenters go, “All right, punk, you think you’re tough? Then take this!” There is a scene just like that in “Cool Hand Luke” (a movie that, by the way, ends with the image of a huge cross). I think there may also have been a similar beating in the climactic scene of “On the Waterfront,” where Marlon Brando dares the thugs to beat him more than they are already doing.

In any case, it was completely unfitting for the Gospel story. Jesus’ mission was voluntarily to undergo all the suffering that would come to him. It wasn’t to GO OUT OF HIS WAY, in some kind of macho display, to anger his punishers and thus increase his suffering. That’s a conceit emerging from the peculiar combination of the two distinct elements that went into the making of this movie: the Catholic Church’s cult of suffering, and Gibson’s lowbrow, action-hero sensibility.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 7, 2004 7:38 PM

The degradation of aesthetic taste among many conservatives, their embrace of crude pop culture values and hypersensationalism, is for me the underlying issue in the debate on The Passion as well as some other recent movies that have been enthusiastically received by conservatives.

An all-too-rare discussion of this problem was written by Spencer Warren at the Claremont Institute last year. It begins as follows:

“Conservatives rightly condemn the moral relativism that is eating away at the foundation of our society. Yet some of the most eloquent conservative publications unintentionally have been promoting a variant of the same disease: aesthetic relativism.

“This is found in some of their movie reviews, written by younger conservatives, which endorse violent, vulgar and even obscene movies that have no redeeming aesthetic values. We might describe these authors’ disregard for age-old standards of beauty, excellence and good taste as a conservative generation gap.”


Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 8, 2004 10:21 AM

Thanks to Mr. Auster for the link to the Spencer Warren article. A couple of quotes there caught my eye: “The Weekly Standard also twice in the past year criticized ’50s movies basically as hidebound and barren.” Is this not just part of the sellout to the surrounding liberal culture? Hollywood in recent decades has repeatedly trashed middle class values, suburbia, the decade of the 1950s, and anything else associated with traditional America out in “fly-over country”. Are conservatives now so susceptible to adolescent peer pressure pathologies that they must join in and bash those uncool 1950s?

From the final paragraph: “These younger conservatives’ aesthetic relativism is the artistic flip side of moral relativism …” Amen. This is particularly easy to do in the aesthetic realm, where we have been taught that all is subjective and there are no objective standards. Witness the many quotes at VFR from those who defend all the noise, violence, pyrotechnics in place of character development, etc., in various recent movies, using all the relativist cliches about how each person has his own preferences in these matters, etc.

Posted by: Clark Coleman on March 8, 2004 12:19 PM

Good article, thanks for the link. I remember reading that review for “8-Mile”, a rather silly movie, on Frontpage.com and it still makes me laugh. Ditto for the review of “Drumline”. This result is usually replicated when any political commentator reviews a movie.

I very much agree that vulgarity and sensationalism are problems in modern pop culture. It is also obvious to me that the quality of pop culture is declining. Witness the huge slate of remakes in recent years, most recently the remakes of “Walking Tall” and “Dawn of the Dead”. However, I generally enjoy both “lowbrow” and “midbrow” movies (I would suspect that there’s no such category as “highbrow” movies, as shown by the failed attempts at these). While I wouldn’t be so dumb as to list films like Star Wars, Die Hard, and Terminator as the best type of movie (although these movies are good for their type), I do enjoy them.

The more one enjoys these kinds of movies, and visually oriented pop culture in general, is one less conservative, at least to a certain extent?

Based on the few mainstream “conservative” movie reviews I’ve read, it seems that the main problem with many “conservatives” and movies is being artistically naive, not necessarily being aesthetic relativists. Wasn’t “Gods and Generals” generally well received by conservatives simply because of the time it supposedly portrayed?

Posted by: Damon on March 8, 2004 7:57 PM

I agree that Spencer Warren’s term aesthetic relativism is not quite apt. But isn’t it the kind of terminology you’d expect from a Straussian publication? For Straussians, even art has to be discussed in terms of the affirmation or denial of “self-evident truths,” whereas what we have here is more simply the accustomization of people to low impressions, a debasement of taste. A debasement of taste cannot be expressed in Straussian or neoconservative terms, any more than the demographic and cultural transformation of our society can be expressed Straussian or neoconservative terms, because those phenomena are concrete and spiritual rather than ideological. To the extent that a person is a Straussian or a neoconservative, he can only grasp the existence of various phenomena insofar as he perceives them as the expression of some ideology.

This is not to take away from Warren’s article, which is very welcome, but only to speculate on the reasons for the odd term aesthetic relativism.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 8, 2004 8:47 PM

Shortly after the publication of Warren’s article, J. Bottom, book editor for Weekly Standard, wrote a rebuttal of sorts for WS’s website. (Don’t think it was published in the magazine.) Can’t find it now at WS site. It didn’t persuade me, but his argument would add to the discussion.


Posted by: Wm. Wleklinski on March 9, 2004 12:53 PM

I have noticed different approaches to popular culture among my friends. Some (like me) have no interest in the popular music of the last two decades, and listen only to classical music and much older popular music. Others “keep in touch” with current music to some extent. I have always wondered if there is a feeling among some people that they do not want to be “stuck in the past” or “out of touch with what’s going on lately” when it comes to prime-time TV, music, movies, etc.

I think that it is hard to be a movie critic for a magazine, even a conservative one, and continually write nothing but “Movies today are all junk. Don’t waste your time on them.” I think the ideal would be to search out the few movies that are of at least somewhat high quality, give fair reviews of them, and say little or nothing about everything else. Perhaps that is a hard path to take.

Posted by: Clark Coleman on March 9, 2004 1:21 PM

Maybe that’s why Micheal Medved gave up movie reviewing. A few years ago, he gave the gay movie “In and Out” a glowing review, describing in ways that would make it seem positive from a conservative point of view, and as a result I went to see it. It turned out to be gay agit prop, something that he apparently had not noticed. I wrote him a blistering letter about it, saying how can you, a conservative, endorse this movie?

Shortly afterward, Medved retired from movie reviewing. I like to think I helped push him, perhaps by making him realize that there was an unresolvable contradiction between being a conservative and being a movie reviewer, a job that in today’s culture requires that the reviewer find something good to say about movies such as “In and Out.”

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 9, 2004 1:37 PM

Here’s the response by J. Bottum of the Weekly Standard that was mentioned above. I find it full of straw man fallacies (e.g. that Warren claimed that all 1950s movies were good), ad hominem (e.g. Warren apparently wrote a list of top horror movies for amazon.com), and the usual young neocon lack of seriousness.


Posted by: Clark Coleman on March 9, 2004 1:59 PM

Is there anything that can be done about the blog software treatment of URLs? I previewed the above comment before posting it to ensure that there was no break before the URL, just a single space, and now the recent comments section of the home page is severed at the URL again. This is really frustrating.

Posted by: Clark Coleman on March 9, 2004 2:03 PM

This seems to be a problem with the Internet Explorer browser. It doesn’t occur in the Opera browser. There’s no way to avoid the break, other than to put any hyperlinks or URLs toward the end of a comment instead of right at the beginning. VFR is set up so that the first 100 characters of a comment appear in the preview on the first page. So if the hyperlink is not in the first 100 characters, it should be ok.

I edited Mr. Coleman’s comment, putting the link at the end, and now the “break” which had sent all the subsequent comments to the bottom of the main page has been fixed.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 9, 2004 3:21 PM

If memory serves, Carol Iannone also had a comment on Warren’s piece and Bottom’s reply in “Academic Questions”, the journal of the National Association of Scholars.


Posted by: Wm. Wleklinski on March 9, 2004 4:12 PM

Carol Iannone’s comment is in the Winter 2002-2003 issue of Academic Questions, p. 99. She writes that Spencer Warren “questions the ‘aesthetic relativism’ that allows young reviewers in the Weekly Standard to ‘endorse violent, vulgar and even obscene movies that have no reeeming aesthetic values.’” She then notes that J. Bottum, of the Standard, “answered with a witty riposte that nevertheless does not really engage the issue.”

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 9, 2004 4:24 PM

Another possible glitch to report: when I read VFR on the eMac at the local coffeehouse, the entire right-hand column does not appear when using the Safari browser. The Mozilla browser on the same terminal shows it just fine, and I assume IE would, too, though I didn’t check. (It works at home.)

Safari is now the default browser for new Macs, so the “Jobs corps” may be subject to missing links, so to speak.

Posted by: Reg Cæsar on March 10, 2004 1:45 PM

I am in complete agreement with Clark Coleman’s comments on the movies, contemporary culture and the calloused sensibilities of the “mini-cons” as someone has aptly dubbed the younger generation of neocons. One observation about the trashing of 1950s’ Hollywood: If it was so terrible, why do today’s moviemakers feel such a compulsion to try to recycle the movies of the late forties and fifties? A truly fantastic number of remakes of films from that period have been produced over the last 20 years — and hardly any of them have been any good. (The only exception I can think of is the remake of “Sabrina” which, although not up to the original, was at least a good, enjoyable film.) Or is that just another way of trashing the old Hollywood?

Posted by: Alan Levine on March 10, 2004 2:35 PM

I tend to think that movie remakes are a way of eating the past and showing how the present is oh so much better. I don’t know why _Flubber_ (the Robin Williams remake of _The Absent Minded Professor_) comes to mind, but it sort of hit me over the head as a great example: the present remakes the past in a less racist sexist homophobic way.

Liberalism is the ultimate bigotry: I, here, now am superior to everything else that ever was, and the poor saps who had to live through it. The free and equal new man needs his free and equal remade movies, purged of all of the cultural remnants of the oppressor-untermensch.

Posted by: Matt on March 10, 2004 4:19 PM

One reason for the many remakes produced by Hollywood in the last couple decades may be relative shortage of original scripts. My guess is that many more movies are produced now than fifty years ago. This (probable) increase in production is caused or facilated by many factors, viz., technological advances in cinematograghy and special effects which enables movies to be made more cheaply, more quickly, and more realisticly than before; the ownership of movie studios by publicly traded companies, which gives the production companies access to large amounts of capital but also requires them to churn out movies to meet quarterly (or yearly) profit goals; the phenomenon of multiplex cinemas with stadium seating, which by making movie going more enjoyable and allowing for the showing of a many films has increased demand for new films.

How many ideas for movies are originated in Hollywood? Many movies are adaptations of books or plays. Hollywood must produce movies. As there are a limited number of new scripts, remakes are produced.

Posted by: Joshua on March 10, 2004 7:07 PM

I throughly enjoy your blog. However, I don’t believe in the case of the movie Braveheart, Edward II’s homosexual lover was “inserted” because of a “trope” of Mel Gibson’s. In the two or three histories I have read on Edward I, the relationship between the Prince of Wales and Piers Gaveston is certainly considered to be a homosexual relationship, which was maddening to the Prince’s father, King Edward I, and his advisors. King Edward exiled Piers Gaveston to France to separate him from the Prince of Wales.
The Prince apparently had such temper tantrams, the King finally relented and allowed Piers to return to England. I don’t know if this is entirely accurate, as I am typing from memory, but I think there are many, many authors (prior to the making of Braveheart)who have portrayed this as a homosexual relationship.

Posted by: Sandra on March 10, 2004 7:27 PM

When I said “trope,” that was in reference to The Passion, not Braveheart. Of course Edward II is considered by historians to have been homosexual.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 10, 2004 7:52 PM

I suppose that now that we are talking about conservatives with more modern, less “aesthetic” tastes, and about aesthetic relativism, etc., I should “come out” and admit that I recently bought a DVD chronicling the music videography of Devo.

Posted by: Michael Jose on March 10, 2004 11:43 PM

William Buckley has a view similar to my own: that the violence against Jesus as portrayed in The Passion is over the top, sadistic, and doesn’t fit either the events as related in the Gospels or the events as shown in the movie itself (e.g., an ambivalent Pilate tells the soldiers to “chastize” Jesus and they then proceed in an insane frenzy to scourge him almost to death).


Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 11, 2004 2:50 PM

Mr. Coleman’s March 9th 1:21 pm comment that “Some conservatives listen to classical and old pop music…(while) others keep up with the music of today for fear of losing touch with what is happening.” That brought me “out of hybernation” at VFR, and I thank Mr. Coleman for that shrewd comment—a comment on something that has been needling me for many years.

This is precisely what I listen to (classical and 40s commercial sing big band music) and have done (avoiding/boycotting movie theatres) for the past 39 years—that’s right, 39 years! In that time, I saw what is known as “the cancer movie”, “Beaches” (which began the lip-enhamcement craze), Anthony Hopkins in “Remains Of The Day”, that solid American patriot Robert Redford’s “A River Runs Through It” and Eastwood’s dark “The Unforgiven”—oh yes, and I rented “Reservoir Dogs” and the ‘84 film “Once Upon A Time In America” just to see how wretched and filthy films had become. In EVERY one of these films, the magic of Hollywood had been lost—synthesized music (a guy playing a keyboard, mimmicking a symphony) was used ad nauseum; gratuitous violence was the norm. One could only have band dreams after seeing most of these films. In the late 80s, I did go to see some Terrance McInally plays—EVERY one having the main theme of male homosexuality, with the main characters and plenty of frontal male (streaking) nudity the order of the day. I could see plainly that the arts had been hijacked by the wackos and their Hollywood elite friends who believe that “anything goes” and the more daring, lude and lucivious, the better.

I began yearing for John Wayne films, Gable ANY film with quality actors, direction and plot. I found out about “Stagecoach”, a film from the greatest year of moviemaking—1939—a film I watch to this day, and it never bores me. I found out about “Test Pilot” (‘36) and “It Happened One Night” (‘34) and “It’s A Wonderful Life” (‘46) and “Twelve O’Clock High” (‘48)and “Another Part Of The Forest” (‘48). I discovered that the character actors in many of these and many early 50s films were even better than many of the big stars. I searched for years then, using Halliwell’s guide for “so and so actor’s best film”. I also looked for director’s names. If Joseph Mankewiecz was the diretor/writer as he was for “A Letter To Three Wives”, I bought it. “Reservoir Dogs”?

Music-wise, if The Harry James or Stan Kenton Bands played it, I wanted the record/CD. Michael Jackson? Who’s he?

I believe, Mr. Coleman, that a conservative or liberal can do just fine with their lives by NOT going to see current plays, films/videos—and not just to boycott or to keep our dollars out of the Elite’s hands. There is no redeeming value in this crud. And you are right—it must be very hard for a conservative reveiwer to write about these movies and songs the left calls “art”. I’ll take the 30s, 40s and 50s anyday. However, I am sure that there are those who think that Mel Gibson is a genious.

By the way, the time I first stopped watching “current films” was in 1969. I think that after that, there wasn’t much “there there” (We had Vietnam to worry about). The “disaster films” of the early 70s helped begin that slide, but it probably started well before that. It IS true that the late 40s, early and mid-50s brought some pretty cheaply made films. Superb films as “The Bad And The Beautiful”, “All About Eve”, “Touch Of Evil” and “Butterfield 8” (1960) were made in the 50s.

I believe that the advent of television in the early 50s is probably the single biggest reason for the demise of quality films—not to mention the ageing great stars, the lack of truly fine actors. Television was the major culprit.

That some of us prefer to “live in the past” movie-wise or music-wise is of course not a criticism, I understand. We do so with complete freedom of mind, I would hope! Many of us simply want to save our hearing and do not like what has happened to films and music. That some of us miss the “simple” times of the 50s when “victimhood” was not the order of the day is understandable. That some of us miss that pre-Invasion time is nothing to be ashamed of. It gives us something to work hard for and fight to get back to.

Posted by: David Levin on March 12, 2004 5:33 AM

I will not begrudge anyone abandoning popular culture outright; or following John Derbyshire’s judgment and declaring that “popular culture is filth.” But neither would I make it a requirement that a man abandon it to retain his credentials as a Conservative.

For myself, I am not yet persuaded that it is ALL filth (or perhaps some would say that I have not yet summoned the will to reject it). I admit it: it would be for me a real deprivation if I decided that I could no longer enjoy the Allman Brothers Band, or the NCAA Tournament, or the NHL playoffs.

Posted by: Paul Cella on March 12, 2004 10:14 AM

I am quite happy to listen to an eclectic mixture of blues (including the Allman Brothers and many other forms), 1950s to early 1970s rock, classical, big band, Tony Bennett, solo instruments, jazz, 1970s progressive country, etc.

My point is that many people would find it intolerable to listen to even my wide range of music, because it does not range widely enough to cover very much that has happened in the last 20 years. I am not keeping up with the times. I am getting out of touch, etc. Projecting such an image would be anathema to the 20-something and 30-something writers who seem to predominate at conservative outlets like National Review. There is something incongruous about being a conservative, trying to conserve the best of our heritage and discerning that much of modernism and postmodernism threaten our precious heritage, and then being afraid to say that the latest movies, or music, or whatever, don’t meet one’s standards. I suspect that such “conservatives” will not be able to think of much to say when the moderns and postmoderns launch their attacks on our stuffy, archaic old Anglo-American heritage.

Posted by: Clark Coleman on March 12, 2004 3:57 PM

I am inclined to agree with Matt’s explanation of the addiction to incompetent remakes. Contrary to what Joshua supposes, however, far FEWER movies are made each year nowadays than was the case in the 40s and 50s. At that time, moreover, remakes were far more justifiable given the rapid advance in techniques. Most of the decent remakes that Hollywood has ever produced were 40s remakes of 30s films —e.g, “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Glass Key.”

Posted by: Alan Levine on March 12, 2004 5:13 PM

“Contrary to what Joshua supposes, however, far FEWER movies are made each year nowadays than was the case in the 40s and 50s.”

Really? Imdb.com has 1581 titles for the year 1945 and 10834 for year 2003. Besides, I don’t see how Matt’s and Joshua’s account of remakes are mutually exclusive.

I also suspect that television was the main culprit. It’s advent caused the major studios to go bust in the late 60s, leading to the “New Hollywood” (Coppola, Scorcese, and later Lucas and Spielberg) of the 70s that drew from the “Exploitation” genre of the previous decades. Exploitation as in the profitable satisfaction of the lower appetites for vicarious sex and violence. I believe this was also the time when the “Top Ten Movies” list began to appear, destroying the notion of popular cinema as imaginative art as opposed to escapist wish fulfillment.

Posted by: Damon on March 12, 2004 5:32 PM

There were other departures from the Biblical account of the Crucifixion as well: no mentioning of any woman named Veronica accompanying the condemned Christ and silence from Pilate who warned: His blood be upon you and your children. The latter omission was undoubtedly to discourage excuses for Jew-baiting or hatred.But the record stands. The ‘real’ punishment was more spiritual than physical. We are told that He became sin for us so that we might be made righteous through His sacrificial death and resurrection from the grave. The severity of the initial lashing, plaiting of a crown of thorns, and the suffocating dust and brutal taunting of an angry mob as He stepped out to fulfill His ordained mission is horendous in itself .Yet I am in agreement with both Buckley and Mr. Auster that the excessive manifestation of cruelty as rendered in the film is far from accurate and actually pointless. The fact that an innocent man , declared so from the mouth of the Judge, and confirmed by one of the malefactors who cried, “This man has done nothing amiss”, adds more substance to the whole episode.

Posted by: Edwin Vogt on March 12, 2004 5:35 PM

Mr Vogt’s statement that Pilate warned the crowd, “His blood be upon you and your children” is incomplete and slightly erroneous. Actually, Pilate, knowing Jesus to be innocent but unwilling to defy the crowd and the Sandhedrin, thus risking a riot and his denunciation to Caesar by the Jewish leaders as not a “friend of Caesar” (i.e., a traitor), declamed any culpability for the impeding crucifixion and charged that all responsibility for it was Jesus’ accusers. The crowd immediately and explicitely assumed responsibility.

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and upon our children!”
Matthew 27:24-25

Posted by: Joshua on March 12, 2004 6:43 PM

Joshua is right on target as far as I can see.

Also, we must remember this is just a movie. It is not the Gospel, which Mr. Gibson has admitted. He said it is his interpretation colored by his artistry. He did not lie as far as I can tell without seeing the movie. A wonderful recent discovery was his use of the actor that played Jesus. Jim is a gifted actor I have admired since his performance in The Thin Red Line.

Posted by: P Murgos on March 13, 2004 2:20 AM

I was unable to find the reference in Imdb.com to the number of movies released in 1945 or last year. I can only say that 1581 sounds a bit high even for 1945 and the figure for 2003 is unbelievable, unless it counts world wide feature film releases or every filmed half-hour TV show. My understanding is that the number of American theater film releases is about half what it was in the Golden Age of Hollywood.
I do not agree with Damon and David Levin’s suggestions that TV is to blame for Hollywood’s declineI believe Michael Medved, in one of his books, convincingly refuted this idea. He pointed out that the decline of the film audience began before TV was really popular, stabilized in the early 50s just when TV was really taking off, and resumed in the 60s in response to the lowering of Hollywood’s own standards. Although I agree with much else that David Levin had to say, it does seem to me to be an exaggeration to say that everything Hollywood - or should I say Hollyweird — produces is bad.

Posted by: Alan Levine on March 13, 2004 6:30 PM

Yes, sorry, I was too hasty in putting up those figures because I assumed a world-wide scope while you were referring just to American film.

Posted by: Damon on March 13, 2004 9:10 PM

Writing in the March 8 National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru joins the ranks of those who adore “The Passion.” He finds it not only deeply moving and convincing in a religious sense, but realistic and true. “People always want to know whether the movie is faithful to the book, or in this case the Book,” he writes. “The answer is yes.”

I am amazed that anyone could say this. Let me give an example from the movie that I’ve given before to show how incorrect it is to say this movie is true to the Gospels: the way the servants of the high priest gratuitously beat the living daylights out of Jesus after he’s peacefully surrendered and they’re taking him back to the high priest’s house, even throwing him over a wall with a chain hanging around his neck, beating him in the face so that his eye is swollen shut. This scene did not come from the Gospels. It came from CONTEMPORARY HOLLYWOOD and its world of “super bad guys” and violence ratcheted up to the nth degree. Gibson took the only emotional language he knew, the language of hyped-up action movies, movies in which the bad guys are never just bad guys but monstrously evil, super-Nazi types,—like the British officer who gratuitously murders William Wallace’s wife in “Braveheart,” like the British officer who Nazi-like burns a whole barn full of colonials in “The Patriot”—and translated the Gospels into that cinematic language. And lots of people have bought it hook, line and sinker.

Leaving aside the people who see anti-Semitism in the movie (Ponnuru and I are in agreement that the movie is not anti-Semitic), it seems to me that there are basically two ways of responding to this movie. Either you are impressed by the movie as having a quality of truth and so you imaginatively enter into the world of the movie and are affected by it, the way one does with any good movie, or you see it as a bad, crude, unbelievable, untrue product and you sit there enduring it. For people to “get into” this movie, that means they must uncritically accept its absurd, Hollywood ridden clichés as realistic, not to mention as in conformity with the Gospels.

So that’s the key question here. The question is not whether one is Christian or not, or devout or not (or anti-Semitic or not). The question is, does one uncritically swallow the fake, vulgar, degrading tropes of contemporary pop entertainment—or not? And the sad reality is that millions of conservatives and Christians do swallow them.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 14, 2004 4:39 PM

Isn’t it possible to enjoy or get some value out of something and yet still be critical of it? Perhaps not for some types.

Posted by: Damon on March 14, 2004 5:46 PM

“Isn’t it possible to enjoy or get some value out of something and yet still be critical of it? Perhaps not for some types.”

Of course it’s possible. For example, I’m a big movie fan, I see many movies, mostly older movies, on video and DVD (I hardly go to the theaters any more). Most movies are obviously less than perfect, yet one enjoys them for their good aspects. But there is a dividing line between flawed movies that one can enjoy, and movies that are so flawed one cannot enjoy them. And one of the things that marks that dividing line is when the movie so grossly stomps over any sense of dramatic truth (not factual truth, but dramatic truth) that the suspension of disbelief necessary for enjoyment of a movie is destroyed.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 14, 2004 6:07 PM

To Joshua: My point, inadvertently suggested, is that the omission begs for an answer. Did Gibson purposely disallow its inclusion for reasons that may be speculative by some? But your reference to my apparent error did good for my own soul: finished reading the entire Gospel and found it truly rewarding!

Posted by: Edwin Vogt on March 14, 2004 7:07 PM

It is as it was.

Posted by: Jesus Christ on March 14, 2004 7:18 PM

To Mr. Vogt:
My assumption is that Mr. Gibson did not include the exchange in question in the movie out of a desire not to give those people accusing him and the movie of anti-Semitism any “ammunition.”

To the poster who takes the name of the Son of God as his cyber alias and who adopts as his pseudo e-mail address “ouch@Golgotha.com”: O, aren’t you clever! You have discovered that you can get thrills anonomously posting sophomoric, transgressive, brainless messages.

Posted by: Joshua on March 14, 2004 7:43 PM

Joshua: If one word can be attributed to the problems of the world at large, it is: Hatred. Millions have perished through its employment. It is the heart of evil. We therefore must be vigilant and attack the source wherever it lies. The e-mailer posted as ouch (whatever) is more than brainless. He is dead to reason, life, and any ability to understand himself or others. A sad situation, indeed! Only prayer can help this poor chap! Thank you for nailing him to his own cross!

Posted by: Edwin Vogt on March 14, 2004 9:17 PM

Perhaps part of the problem was the difficulty in symbolically translating the torment of God’s wrath that Jesus had to endure into a form that could be expressed on film. So Gibson did (what he perceived to be) the next best thing and ratcheted up the physical violence.
I wonder if in a future passion, it would be a good idea, when Jesus is on the cross, to show a montage of sins, from the mundane (say a man telling a rumor abour his neighbor or ogling a Playboy magazine) to the terrible (adultery, child abuse) to the atrocious (murders, rapes, perhaps scenes of Communist and Nazi torturers), and from all periods of history, intermixed with Jesus cringing or otherwise expressing horror.
The idea, of course, would be to drive home the point about why Jesus died, namely, for our sins.

Posted by: Michael Jose on March 15, 2004 2:23 AM

Interesting idea from Mr. Jose. There’s something like the reverse of that at the end of Paradise Lost, when, after the Fall of Adam and Eve, the angel Gabriel (I think) shows them what the future now holds for mankind. They are shown a kind of moving projection of all human history stretching out into the future, with all the sins and disasters that will result from their own sinful act. They’re in anguish as they see all the human misery that their disobedience to God is going to cause to the future generations of their own descendants. But then the coming of Christ is also foretold, and they are comforted by that. Then they are taken out of Paradise to enter the world, chastened, sad, but hopeful.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 15, 2004 2:32 AM

It’s not yet Easter, but there are already signs of Whitsuntide in the air:

“If the correspondent who posted at 12:58PM were interested in having a conversation or desirous of sharing his views he would not begin by insulting Mr. Auster and the other posters on this thread, nor would he blasphemously call himself ‘God.’— Posted by: Joshua on March 13, 2004 01:59 PM “

“It is as it was.— Posted by: Jesus Christ on March 14, 2004 07:18 PM “

Now that we’ve heard from the Father and from the Son, will we soon see a post from the Holy Ghost?

Posted by: Reg Cæsar on March 15, 2004 5:13 AM

“Now that we’ve heard from the Father and from the Son, will we soon see a post from the Holy Ghost?”

Well, I sure hope not, because I’d be forced to delete and exclude him as well, and as Jesus says in Matthew 12:32:

“And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.”

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on March 15, 2004 8:15 AM


Posted by: Joan Vail on March 15, 2004 8:44 PM

Alan Levine (in his March 13 6:33 pm post) takes issue with my statement that “I’ll take the films of the 30s, 40s and 50s over anything they put out today.” Of course, I haven’t much of a leg to stand on as I have not seen entire contemporary films—only excerpts and in years past, occasionally flipping the channel to the trash HBO and Cinemax showed (and I assume, continues to show) that Damon (in his March 12 5:00 pm post) states are “Exploitation” films.

I stand by my statement that “television was the single biggest reason for the decline in the Studios putting out quality films”, but Mr. Levine’s debating me on this point gave me pause to consider some other probable reasons:

1) The decision during and after WWII by the Studios to cut spending and the popularity of film noir movies of the mid-late 40s and early 50s and the apparent feeling by these moguls that the populace (after the War) wanted something “dark and sinister”, instead of “light and fluffy” (even though musicals flourished in the late 40s and early 50). There are certainly contradictions everywhere!

2) As I mentioned before, the aging/lack of box office appeal of or death of the big stars, forcing the hiring of new, young faces who weren’t part of that elite acting group (Bette Davis, Olivia De Havilland, Tallulah Bankhead, Bogart, Gable, Wayne).

3) The making of anti-Communist films in the early 50s after the HUAC which would include the extremely low budget and often poorly written “monster films” of the early 50s, most of which had a latent or not-so-latent anti-Communist theme.

4) The flight of some great stars/directors to Europe (as Orson Welles).

5) The 50s “sword and sandal” films and other Euro-produced and directed films, from “spaghetti westerns” (which were mostly laughable) to Fellini’s and other’s risque films of the early 60s.

6) Vietnam, the Hippie movenment and the advent of the 60s and 70s Exploitation, Disaster and Victimization films.

I’ve probably left some out, but these are pretty good for starters, I think.

Posted by: David Levin on March 25, 2004 10:11 PM

In reply to Mr. Levin: WHOA! He has thoroughly misunderstood the minor point I made - which was that not all Hollyweird movies of today are bad.
That said, I myself greatly prefer the movies of the 1940s and 1950s and would certainly argue that, on the whole, the movies of the latter decade were on average, better than anything before or since. I would disagree with Mr. Levin’s tastes on some points, as I am a great admirer of film noirs, like at least some “monster” movies, such as “Them,” and I find it hard to believe that the few anti-Communist movies made alienated people (if that is what Mr. Levin meant to imply.) By the way, one or two of those movies, notably “Man on a Tightrope” and “Trial,” weren’t bad. And the Korean war produced some excellent movies —“Time Limit,” “The Steel Helmet,” and “Men in War.”

Posted by: Alan Levine on March 26, 2004 3:21 PM

Frank Schaeffer, son of the late evangelical author Francis Schaeffer, has a new review of The Passion of the Christ that centers on the point that I made with respect to the Tolkien trilogy. Namely, I did not want someone else’s mental images to be forced upon my mind when rereading the books. Schaeffer likewise does not see the need to forever picture the events of the Passion in a way that is colored by film images: http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/commentaries/passion-notthiseaster.html

Posted by: Clark Coleman on April 6, 2004 12:07 PM
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