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Mel Gibson

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OK, I’ve seen Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ and am therefore entitled to pronounce the definitive and final word on a subject over which more ink has already been spilled than cuttlefish can squirt.

I have to confess the film did nothing for me religiously and even less aesthetically. It’s a well-made movie, but the brutality inflicted on the person of Jesus I found repellent, tasteless, bordering on the blasphemous and implausible.

A human being who gets the kind of beating administered in the movie would be dead or dying, and he wouldn’t be lugging a 15-foot-tall cross for several miles an hour or so later.

I had much the same reaction to the graphic torture scene in Mr. Gibson’s earlier film Braveheart, though that was less brutal and mercifully shorter.

But the violence of the Passion is only a small part of the controversy. The bigger question has been, is The Passion of the Christ anti-Semitic?

The answer is “No.”

Yes, Jewish priests and their hired mob are depicted as engineering the execution of Jesus, carried out by Roman soldiers. This is from the New Testament account, the only historical source we have about the event, and it’s perfectly consistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church today . “The Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ,” Pope Paul VI stated in his 1965 Nostra Aetate declaration.

The writers (mainly but not entirely Jewish) who have denounced the movie for anti-Semitism have dwelled on the Jewish role in the crucifixion as the main basis for their claims, and they don’t hesitate to instruct Mr. Gibson, a lifelong traditional Catholic, in his own religion.

Probably at least a dozen Jewish writers invoked the 1965 statement and Mr. Gibson’s supposed deviation from it.

But neither the Church nor Mel Gibson can rewrite historical documents the way these writers demand. The more important point is that neither Paul VI nor Mr. Gibson’s film holds Jews today or all Jews responsible for the killing of Christ, which is what most of the critics try to lump in with the historical account. The pope added , “What happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.”The movie insists on the universal responsibility of mankind for Christ’s death and dwells most of all on Christ’s own forgiveness of those who tortured and killed him.

At no time during or after the movie did I get the idea that it blamed all Jews or that you were supposed to get that idea.

Yet the response to the film has been literally hysterical. Gibson’s Blood Libel, yells Charles Krauthammer. “Fascistic” concludes Richard Cohen . “Unambiguously contrived to vilify Jews” says Frank Rich. Gibson “has chosen to give millions of people the impression that Jews are culpable for the death of Jesus,” writes Leon Wieseltier in the New Republic.

That’s only a small sample.

But probably the most bizarre reaction comes from an Orthodox Rabbi, Ariel Bar Tzadok, who writes that he feels nothing for the sufferings of the mother of Jesus watching the crucifixion of her son, a story “considered by many non-Christians to be a fictional account recorded in the Gospels.”

What the rabbi does identify with are

“the Jewish mothers who cried for their sons, suffering from German Nazis, Russian Cossacks, Spanish Inquisitors, and all types of European Crusaders. All of these persecutors of the Jews held one thing in common, they were all Christians, and they had all at one time or another seen a ‘passion play,’ similar to Mr. Gibson’s movie that motivated them to, in their eyes, take revenge for Christ against those who killed him.”

Well, now, speaking of “fictional accounts.”

Aside from his insulting parody of Christianity, what’s important here is what the rabbi’s fiction tells us about the Jewish reaction to The Passion. His response is extreme—but not really very different from other reactions.

And what that reaction reveals is that many Jews—Orthodox and traditional as well as modern and secular—seem to harbor a deep, ineradicable and obsessive hatred of Christianity itself and the central events of the New Testament.

It’s more than the normal dislike one religion often feels for another but a hatred drawn from what they insist are centuries of vicious persecution of Jews, a persecution held to come from the heart of Christianity itself.

If that kind of hatred does lurk in the Jewish psyche, then there’s a much bigger problem here than Mel Gibson’s movie.

There’s a fundamental (and perhaps irresolvable) conflict with a country and a civilization that—as the immense popularity of The Passion of Christ shows—continue to insist on calling themselves Christian.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Christianity, Jews, Mel Gibson 
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By an amazing coincidence, Mel Gibson’s epic about the American Revolution, “The Patriot,” just happened to open in theaters on Independence Day weekend. And cynics complain that Americans don’t take national holidays seriously anymore! Most viewers may regard the film as one more wallow in fantasy and stale popcorn, but among the nation’s literati it’s actually incited something resembling thought. Yet, the resemblance is not too close. The immediate reaction to “The Patriot” was denunciation for a scene in which the hero’s preteen sons are given flintlock rifles by their dad (Gibson) and spontaneously conscripted to help massacre a contingent of British troops about to hang their brother.

Children aren’t supposed to have guns, you see. You are not supposed to have guns either. Even if you do have guns, you’re not supposed to give them to kids. And even if you give them to kids, you’re supposed to tell them not to shoot anything, especially people, even if they’re government troops about to hang your son. What you’re supposed to do in situations like this is dial 911 and wait for the cops. The film manages to violate every one of these rules in the space of about ten minutes.

This line of criticism came a cropper when Gibson and the film’s producers just refused to change anything in the script, but it should have told them what was in store for them and their movie. Is it too much to ask late 20th century critics to grasp that people who lived 200 years ago did not necessarily harbor quite the same superstitions that we do? Maybe back then they believed in witchcraft and were against premarital sex and all that sort of stuff, but even they didn’t believe in gun control. Nevertheless, gun control is exactly what the first line of attack against “The Patriot” demanded the movie preach.

But undoubtedly the dumbest thing said about the film (maybe the dumbest thing ever said about anything) comes from Jonathan Foreman, reviewing “The Patriot” for Foreman found it objectionable because “‘The Patriot’ presents a deeply sentimental cult of the family, casts unusually Aryan-looking heroes and avoids any democratic or political context in its portrayal of the Revolutionary War.”

Not only is the cast entirely too Aryan for Foreman but the scene with the preteen sharpshooters is “the equivalent of the Werewolf boy-soldiers that the Third Reich was thought to have recruited from the Hitler Youth to carry out guerrilla attacks against the invading Allies.” Well, now, it ought to be clear what Gibson and his “German director Roland Emmerich” are up to. “It’s hard not to wonder if the filmmakers have some kind of subconscious agenda,” Foreman mutters. “The Patriot” won’t win any Academy Awards, but Foreman and his own agenda ought to get a Pulitzer for paranoia.

By now, you are probably catching the drift of the objections leveled at the movie. Not only is it politically incorrect on gun control but also on race (by leaving out all the glorious ethnic diversity of 18th century South Carolina), and other matters as well. There’s no sex in the movie and no slavery. Gibson, a prosperous farmer, employs free black laborers.

Actually, even though it’s an obvious evasion of the slavery issue, this is not inaccurate. According to Eugene Genovese, the leading historian of American slavery, there were no small number of free black farm laborers in colonial America. Their number dwindled after the Revolution.

But if there aren’t any slaves, there isn’t any feminism either. The female characters depict strong women, but not as men. They don’t shoot people or fight in battles or save the male characters, but they do protect homes and children and face mortal dangers bravely. Religion — meaning Christianity — is also positively portrayed, with characters gathering in churches and a clergyman who actually bears arms against the foe.

A reviewer in National Review complains that Gibson’s character “does not fight for principle or country — at least not at first — but for vengeance. The relevant political institution is not South Carolina, but the family. This seems like a pretty serious cop-out for a film called ‘The Patriot.’”

But maybe that’s the point that few people today (especially at National Review) can catch — that patriotism begins with the family and works its way up, that nobody really fights for abstractions like “democracy” or “human rights” or “equality” but to protect hearth and home, and that when hearth and home are trampled and torched, you take revenge.

A people steeped in those principles probably doesn’t need much else, and it won’t have many enemies who can conquer it. If Americans have forgotten them, they can now go see “The Patriot” and remember what their forebears really fought for.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Mel Gibson 
Sam Francis
About Sam Francis

Dr. Samuel T. Francis (1947-2005) was a leading paleoconservative columnist and intellectual theorist, serving as an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Patrick Buchanan and as an editorial writer, columnist, and editor at The Washington Times. He received the Distinguished Writing Award for Editorial Writing of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in both 1989 and 1990, while being a finalist for the National Journalism Award (Walker Stone Prize) for Editorial Writing of the Scripps Howard Foundation those same years. His undergraduate education was at Johns Hopkins and he later earned his Ph.D. in modern history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

His books include The Soviet Strategy of Terror(1981, rev.1985), Power and History: The Political Thought of James Burnham (1984); Beautiful Losers: Essays on the Failure of American Conservatism (1993); Revolution from the Middle: Essays and Articles from Chronicles, 1989–1996 (1997); and Thinkers of Our Time: James Burnham (1999). His published articles or reviews appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, National Review, The Spectator (London), The New American, The Occidental Quarterly, and Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, of which he was political editor and for which he wrote a monthly column, “Principalities and Powers.”