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Mel, I Hardly Knew Ye

Oh dear. Does a certain movie mean we can’t make fun of Mel Gibson anymore?

If I were to play a free-association game using the image of Mel Gibson, the words and phrases that most readily come to mind are: “Crackpot,” “Braveheart,” “Cute bum.” And “Aaaaaaagh his poor wife has had, like, a million kids!”

After today, I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t add the word “brilliant.”

“The Passion of the Christ” is not for everyone. It’s not easily digestible, especially if you’re gore-intolerant. It’s certainly not perfect. It’s heavy-handed at times, and occasionally slips into melodrama.

But it’s still amazing.

By the time the skin began to come off Jesus’ bones as grinning Roman soldiers flogged him, a big burly man in the seat next to me was weeping like a little kid. When Mary, greeted with the sight of her bloodied son dragging his cross to Golgotha, had a flashback of him as a little boy, I joined my neighbour in our sob-fest.

The movie has the most badass, creepier-than-Michael-Jackson-times-a-thousand, androgynous, blank-faced, mysterious, pitiless representation of Satan that I have ever seen. For the first time, a cinematic portrayal of The Prince of Darkness had me chilled to the bone and wanting to call mummy.

The level of violence, I thought, was appropriate to the way in which Gibson chose to re-tell the story. Frankly, I’ve gotten sick of this pretty image of Jesus emitting a dignified little sigh and expiring gracefully on a polished cross. Ancient executions, crucifixion in particular, were humiliating, brutal, and gross. So for all of you hacks crying “Omigod! It unsettles me too much! It bursts my little bubble of safely distanced irony!” (Yes, Christopher Hitchens, that would be you), I say: While you’re entitled to your opinion, I’m entitled to say that your opinion is crap.

As for the supposed anti-Semitism, this is how I see it: The movie is strangely ambivalent on the subject. If you’re an anti-Semite to begin with (which, by the way, would make you a jerk), this movie will probably encourage you. Thankfully, I really didn’t catch any subliminal messages telling me “Death to the Jews!” Yes, Caiaphas is portrayed as a cruel bastard. The thing is, he most likely was a cruel bastard. In fact, a lot of historical figures were cruel bastards: Jews, Christians, Romans, Aztecs…Whatever. The movie itself is not anti-Semitic, though it seems that Gibson is. His dad certainly seems like a hater (hey, Mr. Gibson the Elder, why stop at denying the Holocaust? Why don’t you go deny that the sky is blue?). But Gibson’s cinematic vision has, for the most part, been spared the overt stuff. It does make a point of reminding the audience that Jesus himself was a Jew.

In the age of irony, it’s hard to take a movie like this seriously without coming off as full of the sort of “passionate intensity” W.B. Yeats condemns in his scary vision of the Second Coming. But I’m going to risk it. Because love it or hate it, this film is strangely beautiful.

Mel, you are more than a mere object to me now. Consider yourself anointed. I promise to stop all the harassment (well, almost all of it. Can I still hit pause on my remote when you flash your bum in “Lethal Weapon?” Pretty please?).


Natalia Antonova

Natalia is a writer and journalist. She's the associate editor of openDemocracy Russia and the co-founder of the Anti-Nihilist Institute.