For Critics of The Passion: Questions That Need Answers

In the New York Times on Ash Wednesday, A.O. Scott’s review of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ titled “Good and Evil Locked in Violent Showdown” was printed. When I read it, I was upset and wanted to respond immediately, but I decided to wait until I had seen the movie — unlike many of Gibson’s critics and supporters.

I must admit that I went into The Passion wanting to love it. And I left the movie more overwhelmed than I had even anticipated or hoped. Unfortunately, Mr. Scott does not — perhaps cannot — admit in his review that he went into The Passion apparently wanting not to like it, and came out of the movie (surprise, surprise) unimpressed and critical.

As I read his hit piece on the movie I found myself at times wondering if he had even seen the movie I had seen, or if he created his review by combining all the criticisms he had read in the weeks and months leading up to film’s opening.

Mr. Scott’s review generated for me a number of questions for the author (and other critics sharing Scott’s take on The Passion), so I pose them here.

  • Mr. Scott, you note in your review that the film’s focus on the “savagery of Jesus’ final hours . . . seems to arise less from love than from wrath.” How is it you missed the entire point that the reason the savagery was allowed to happen in the first place was because of love?
  • You write that the movie is “an unnerving and painful spectacle that is also, in the end, a depressing one.” What do you mean by “in the end”? Did you miss the whole “resurrection scene”? Did the person running the projector stop the movie before Christ left the tomb? If so, did you demand you money back, since that’s a pretty important part of the story that allows audiences to leave undepressed?
  • You also indicate that you were “disheartened” by the movie because it was “made with evident and abundant religious conviction that is at the same time so utterly lacking in grace.” Did you mean to say “utterly lacking in grace — except for the whole ‘Father forgive them’ thing”?
  • Were you “terrified or inflamed” by this film as you indicated audiences would be as a result of the “tone and spirit”? If so, what did you do about it? Did you hit a Jew or swear off Italian food? If you are too sophisticated and enlightened to take such actions, do you actually believe the average Christian is such a dolt that he would?
  • You do realize that Gibson’s “version of the Gospels is harrowingly violent” because Christ’s beatings and death were harrowingly violent, don’t you?
  • Mr. Scott, you remark that this film makes “literal an event that the Gospels often treat with circumspection and that tends to be thought about somewhat abstractly” by “rubbing our faces in the grisly reality of Jesus’ death.” Do you know why the Gospels dealt with the crucifixion “abstractly”? Did you know that the contemporaries of the Gospel writers would not have needed any descriptions of the beatings and execution — that the ideas of “crucifixion” and of Roman-inflicted punishment were well-understood?
  • You state that “it will be amusing to see some of the same scolds who condemned Mr. Tarantino’s Kill Bill: Vol. 1 sing the praises of The Passion of the Christ,” but will it not be equally amusing to see the same irreligious people who praised Kill Bill ridicule The Passion for its gore?
  • Mr. Scott, you reasonably point out that the fact that “Mr. Gibson did not attempt to transcend” the “divisions” between Christianity and Judaism “may be regrettable, but to condemn The Passion of the Christ for its supposed bigotry is to miss its point. . . .” But where in your review is “the point” noted?
  • Your review includes the following about the “religious agenda” behind The Passion: “an extreme, traditionalist Roman Catholicism that has not prevented The Passion from resonating, oddly enough, with many evangelical Protestants.” Why did you choose the word “extreme”? Isn’t that the word reserved for things like Islamic terrorists? Are all “traditionalist” religious views also “extreme” by default, or just Christianity when it suits your rhetorical purposes? Also, why is it “odd” that “evangelical Protestants” would flock to a movie like this? Doesn’t it seem logical that all “extremist” Christians — Catholic and Protestant — would view this movie positively?
  • You criticize Gibson for an “inability to think beyond the conventional logic of movie narrative.” But have you forgotten that this is not a typical Hollywood movie and, therefore, “conventional logic” would not apply? Also, you immediately follow this criticism of Gibson with the statement that “in most movies . . . violence against the innocent demands righteous vengeance in the third act, an expectation that Mr. Gibson in this case whips up and leaves unsatisfied.” Doesn’t the fact that Gibson does not do what “most movies” do contradict your criticism that he is unable to “think beyond conventional logic”?
  • Mr. Scott, to say that The Passion “never provides a clear sense of what all this bloodshed was for” and that that is the “most serious artistic failure” is rather ludicrous, isn’t it? Come on, be honest, you didn’t really mean that, right? You didn’t really miss the purpose of Christ’s death, did you?
  • Lamenting the “depressing” ending, you write that “the Gospels, at least in some interpretations, suggest that the story ends in forgiveness.” Which Gospel interpretations do not “suggest” that the story ends in forgiveness? More importantly, which of the Gospels merely “suggest” such an ending? Are you unaware that the forgiveness of sins — not the forgiveness of Christ’s actual execution — is what the “ending” is all about?
  • After noting the “forgiveness ending” that the Gospels “suggest,” you state that “such an ending seems beyond Mr. Gibson’s imaginative capacities.” What, exactly, should Gibson have “imagined” for an ending?
  • Finally, Mr. Scott, did you miss the purpose of The Passion entirely? Or are you simply choosing to ignore it?