BETTY BOWERS REVIEWS

    Mel Gibson's

    The Passion of the Christ

    The greatest story ever sold

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I don't normally bother to see a film when I've read the Book. Unlike Justin Timberlake, I prefer to eschew implausible deniability when it comes to the fragility of surprise. But since The Passion of the Christ (not, mind you, just any Christ you might happen to cross crosses with, but the Christ), grew from the prodigiously fertilized soil of Roman Catholicism, a church that has never been fettered by its source materials when it comes to wildly dramatic theological flourishes, I went anyway.

Mel Gibson shrewdly marketed this film in a manner made popular by many wealthy, privileged neocon Christians in America -- by claiming to be the victim of a persecution so insidious that it leaves no visible traces. Aside from Mr. Gibson's attempts at becoming the Tawana Brawley of the Director's Guild, all of the pre-release press has arisen from Jews taking prickly umbrage in being saddled with the responsibility for Jesus' death. Well, no one enjoys having his face rubbed in homicidal peccadilloes. Just ask Patsy Ramsey. Or Laura Bush, for that matter. But complaining that the New Testament is anti-Semitic is tantamount to complaining that The Sound of Music is disconcertingly Austrian. Rather than bemoan the unflattering demeanor of extras, rabbis should celebrate that the film doesn't open with the Apostle Paul inciting an angry crowd with a spirited musical rendition of lyrics based on his colorful epistle to the Thessalonians:

"The Jews who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men."

1 Thessalonians 2:14-15

From the very first reel, there is no question about which character has the starring role. Taking a cue from the local Los Angeles television news programs, if it bleeds it leads. And I haven't seen so much bleeding since my nefarious maid washed my St. John's summer silks in a rigorous hot water cycle in a pique after my casual, yet keen observation to another St. John (Ashcroft) about her only son's inscrutable deportment led to his deportation to Guantanamo Bay. In the end, Passion is really just another action movie awash in gratuitous blood. Like Braveheart -- only the men's skirts are longer.

Never has a recovering drunk claiming to have been guided by the lethal hand of the Lord so fabulously manipulated the media and public opinion into embracing gruesome carnage. Well, other than George W. Bush and that thing in Iraq

Anyone who saw the Diane Sawyer interview knows that Mel Gibson is a few beads short of a rosary. Mr. Gibson, a serial adulterer who finds piety in not speaking English at Mass, invested $25 million of his own money in this film. Just like Rosie O'Donnell with Taboo, Mr. Gibson broke the Golden Rule of showbiz to put on a show about a man who wore a dress. One might wonder why a director would choose to make a film about Someone whose life has provided inspiration to millions in a manner that borrows less from Jesus' words than it does from a bootleg copy of an Argentinean snuff film. But any Baptist who has slipped into a cathedral to reach out to Catholics by helpfully scrawling "Damned Pagan Mary Worshipers" on statuary can attest to Roman Catholics' lugubrious preoccupation with the logistical nuances of slowly torturing another human to death. Their apses sport crosses that attempt to outdo each other in the gothic, bloodthirsty enterprise of artistically doting on the macabre specifics of skin lacerations and their effluence. Verily, the Marquis de Sade has nothing on these people when it comes to harnessing pain into ecstasy, religious or otherwise.

por·nog·ra·phy

noun

Lurid or sensational material:

A psychotic need to revel in two hours of seeing someone else tortured solely in hopes of making oneself cry -- see "emotional masturbation"

Of course, in the appallingly competitive race for supernal hierarchy, Catholics never miss an opportunity to promote their Goddess Mary. Just as Pentecostals are constantly jockeying for position on behalf of the Bird that incites them to babble indecipherable tongues while draped over plywood pews like damp, inexpensive laundry. Hence there are apocryphal touches that will make non-Catholics blanche. For example, at the end of the film Mary, having just won back a natty cerise bathrobe from a disappointed Roman soldier with a pair of kings, gazes up at Jesus and says, "Don't start with me, Mister! I was against this whole "getting killed for sins" career from the beginning. Talk to your Father." Jesus (looking like Nicole Kidman should have looked at the end of the Civil War if she had hoped to win an Oscar for Cold Mountain) rolls His sapphire eyes heavenward in conspiratorial chagrin and tells Mary, "You know, I always loved you more than Dad."

For those of you not within driving distance to a thriving abattoir, this film may be your only chance to delight in this many quarts of gushing blood, while still skirting criminal arraignment. As a Baptist, I don't often find myself promoting R-rated films, but I'm proud that I live in a country where witnessing two hours of bloody, barbarous torture in gloating detail is considered indicia of religious piety, whereas a mere second gazing upon a woman's breast is cause for outraged apoplexy.

The Messiah of the Bible is no leading man.

"For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him." Isaiah 53:2

What Would Jesus Do? According to Mel, treat himself to a fabulous extreme makeover to become handsome blue-eyed Jim Caviezel!

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