Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Mel Gibson vs. Franco Zeffirelli

Thanks to David Mackinder for this excellent piece from Easterblogg:

Mel Gibson versus Franco Zeffirelli

A couple of excerpts:
In Jesus of Nazareth the Sanhedrin conducts a lengthy, reasoned debate about the meaning of prophecy, religious liberty, and the dangers of an uprising against Rome. Zeffirelli's debate is a little stilted, but depicts the Sanhedrin as containing men of conscience who were deeply divided about how they should treat Christ. At one point one of Zeffirelli's elders exclaims, "We are a people who love ideas and argument, then reject our prophets." Zeffirelli's Caiaphas is a doddering old man who dreads rebellion and is obsessed with fear that if Jesus really is the Messiah, then he will replace Caiaphas as leader. In sum, Zeffirelli presents the elders as real human beings, not cartoon villains.

The most telling point of difference between the films is the utter lack of joy in Gibson's telling. The Passion of the Christ is all torture, screaming, bleeding, and weeping. There's no sense that anything about Christ or his ministry is hopeful. Even in flashback scenes that precede the torture close-ups Gibson is so keen about, all is sad and depressing. We see a one-minute flashback to the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus preaches expressionless as if reading from the Federal Register, while the crowd looks about as happy as if they'd been forced there at gunpoint. There's a one-minute flashback to the Last Supper: Jesus drones in monotone while the expressions of disciples suggest they're all facing execution. This is either a total misreading of the Christian story, or reflects Gibson's desire to make that story one about misery rather than love. The Sermon on the Mount proclaimed a new hope for the human prospect; the Last Supper was a night of warm intimacy among friends. You'd never know from Gibson . . . .

. . . . . Mel Gibson appears not to like the joyful, hopeful, universalist message of Christianity. Fundamentalism of all faiths and denominations tends to be angry at the world, and Gibson's is at bottom an angry telling of the Jesus story--an argument that Christ's followers should be full of fury about their enemies and their mistreatment. Perhaps Gibson, a wealthy celebrity, sits around telling himself that he is being mistreated by enemies. Or perhaps Gibson simply longed to earn millions by being the first filmmaker to manage the race-to-the-bottom feat of presenting a gratuitous, exploitive version of the crucifixion. Take your pick of these unattractive alternatives, then stick to Franco Zeffirelli. . . . . .
Two minor quibbles. Zeffirelli is called "the previous big-name-director attempt at the Jesus story". I'd say Martin Scorsese qualifies for that. And I am not sure about the comment that "The Gospels also never say Jesus was beaten by the Temple guards who arrest him". Mark 14.65?

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