JESUSLAND—Having crossed from Etats-Bleu to Red Planet America some 1,500 miles earlier, I felt it was time to start sampling the local culture. A swap show in Muskogee? No, Mel Gibson in Amarillo.
Thanks to the miracle of Southern radio syndication, this particular road warrior had the privilege of hearing Gibson several times last weekend talking up the transfigured The Passion Recut on Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family show. (Distributor Newmarket says Gibson has done even more interviews for the re-release than for the original.) Dobson expressed disappointment that Gibson had tampered with a masterpiece that had left him and his wife “stunned” (they seldom go to the movies, he said; too much sex and violence). Gibson described Recut as simply “less in-your-face.” Is it?
Yes, although to the Texans beside me it hardly mattered. There was no aversion to soda and popcorn (although Hawaiian Punch and Necco wafers would have been more thematic). Many in the half-filled audience watched in hushed reverence. I thought I heard a small child in the back of the house. But the problem with The Passion now is the same as it was before: If there’s no motivation, the characters’ actions become attributed to who they are. All we know about the Jews of the Sanhedrin—or the Roman soldiers, for that matter—is that they’re bloodthirsty villains. No politics. No self-preservation. No sense of Christ as revolutionary. Just the gospel according to Mel. Which raises this question: If those complicit in the execution of Jesus were merely fulfilling the divine master plan, how can you portray them as villains?
No such conundrum. Not here.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 8, 2005