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Published by David French -- Harvard Law grad, former lecturer at Cornell Law School, author of books no one reads, master of the three point shot, constant critic of Duke Basketball, Playstation2 addict, owner of a cool new Sony DCRTRV25 MiniDV Digital Handycam, father of two and husband of one extremely hot wife


The Culture Curve
Friday, February 27, 2004  
THE PASSION OF CHRIST -- A REVIEW. I am writing this not because I have anything profound to say about the movie or because I can add anything substantial to a debate that is raging with white-hot intensity around this country but because it is helping me to understand what I just witnessed. I can't even use words like "moving" or "powerful" to describe what the movie. "Dead Poets Society" was "moving." "Saving Private Ryan" was "powerful." This was something else entirely.

I have been a Christian my entire life. I cannot think of a time when I didn't believe in Christ, and I have sat through countless sermons, testimonials and dramatic presentations. I attended a Christian college where I had a Bible class and Chapel service every day of my four years. In short, when it comes to the Christian message -- even to emotional presentations of the Gospel -- I thought I had heard (or seen) it all. I knew that the movie would affect me, but I felt prepared. I felt ready.

How foolish. When the movie ended, I just sat there. I couldn't move. I couldn't speak. Not only was I completely emotionally shattered by the experience, the moments immediately after the movie felt almost holy -- like the most logical and rational response was not to go out to dinner and discuss what we saw (which is what we did) but instead to sit quietly and pray.

I think the thing that stands out to me was how intensely personal this movie is. There were moments when I felt like I wanted to be anywhere else but in a theater full of strangers as I watched it, but there were also moments when the collective experience and obvious collective awe had its own power. But the bottom line is that it will strike each one of us differently, and the nature of the experience does not necessarily depend on the differences between believer and non-believer (although that is certainly one major factor) but the difference from human heart to human heart.

For me, I could not attain any separation from the movie. For a typical movie, if things get too intense or difficult to handle, I'll often take a breath, look at the people around me and say to myself, "This is only a movie, and I'm sitting in a movie theater." I couldn't do that with this film. I tried, but I couldn't. The movie was a shattering personal event.

Some people have criticized the movie because it doesn't portray the aspect of Jesus that the critic most admires (to the extent that the critic admires Jesus at all). Where is the "social revolutionary?" Where is the "tolerance?" Where is the "uplifting message." The criticisms often betray the conditions we place on Christ. I love (or respect) him because of the various aspects of his ministry that either resonate the most with me or that I have projected upon him myself. Progressives tend to see Jesus the advocate of social justice. Conservatives see Jesus the holy and righteous. Our "up with people" suburban guitar-strumming seeker churches see Jesus the friend. The movie gives us Jesus, the Lamb that was slain.

The movie makes clear that Christ's ministry -- all of it, from the social justice to the compassion to the holiness to whatever else is your favorite thing about Christ -- was leading up to THIS moment, the moment when he no longer becomes "Jesus, the great moral teacher" or "Jesus, the social revolutionary" but instead Jesus, the Christ. The Messiah. The Savior. It is in those moments that Christianity was born and redemption came to the world. The most powerful scene in the film (for me) comes when Christ is bloodied and bent under the weight of the cross, and his mother desperately seeks to comfort him. Christ's only words to her: "Behold, I make all things new."

Is the movie anti-semitic? No. Empirically no. An anti-semitic movie would characterize a race as something apart from ourselves, something uniquely evil. Instead we see Jews and Romans (the only relevant races in the movie) as human beings -- some profoundly evil, some mindlessly brutal, some cowardly, and some capable of remarkable acts of kindness and compassion. Jews do good things and bad. There is dissent at every turn -- with the Sanhedrin divided, cries for compassion from the mob and ambivalence on the part of at least some of the Roman authorities. What becomes clear from watching the film is how fallen we all are . . . how much we need to be "made new."

I don't doubt that many people won't be affected like I was. I don't doubt that many people will be outraged by the violence, by the portrayal of the High Priest and his henchman or by a million other things in the movie. I can imagine that many Christians will see it and -- for a variety of reasons -- be less than impressed, or impressed less. And that is fine. This film is hardly a litmus test of faith or sincerity and should not be used to divide Americans into the camp of "us" or "them." But for me, the movie gave me a renewed sense of purpose and showed me -- in no uncertain terms -- that when Christ asked his followers to "take up your cross" and follow him, he was not asking that we simply be nice, or do the right thing sometimes, or pay lip service to piety but to live lives of selfless, sacrificial love.

10:40 AM

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