It opens today; the last film to generate this kind of controversy was probably Oliver Stone’s JFK (I was going to say The Last Temptation of Christ, until I remembered the angry debates on shows like Nightline that Stone’s film generated at the time of its release about its historical accuracy.)
Speaking of controversy, how’s this for mixed reviews? Roger Ebert gives the film four stars.
Simultaneously, my friend Jami Bernard, of the New York Daily News, not only gives it one star, but writes, “Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ is the most virulently anti-Semitic movie made since the German propaganda films of World War II.”
It’s difficult–very difficult–for me to imagine Mel Gibson deliberately making an anti-Semitic film, considering the industry that he works in, and one would imagine, plans to continue working in for several more decades.
Jeff Jacoby writes:
Is “The Passion” antisemitic? That depends on whether it is antisemitic to re-enact the story told by the Christian Bible. To be sure, there is a good deal in Gibson’s movie that is not in the New Testament. In one scene, for example, Judas is driven to commit suicide by a gang of demonic Jewish children. In another, Pontius Pilate, beholding a shackled Jesus who has already been beaten bloody by Jewish guards, chastises the High Priest: “Do you always punish your prisoners before they are judged?”
But there is no getting around the fact that the parts of “The Passion” that are the most unflattering to Jews — the bloody-minded and hateful Temple priests, the Judean mob howling for Jesus’s death — come straight out of the Gospels. I shudder at those depictions and reject them as historically false, but I cannot call a Christian antisemitic for believing in the truth of his Bible. I will not smear Gibson as a Jew-hater.
But neither will I pretend that he is unaware of the long and horrid history of Passion plays, or of the millions of Jews who have died at the hands of killers demonizing them as “Christ-killers.” It is not unreasonable to worry about the effect of a movie like “The Passion” at a time of surging antisemitism.
And for immediate, stark, black and white contrast, Joel C. Rosenberg writes about what a blatant 21st century anti-Semitic film looks like.
UPDATE: James Bowman is my go-to guy for hardcore conservative film commentary. And he’s none-too-impressed with The Passion:
The accusations of anti-Semitism which have done so much to keep this film in the news for nearly a year before its opening stem, I take it, from this tremendous thrashing that precedes the actual crucifixion. They are to some extent a bum rap. Gibson does not seem to me to go out of his way to stress the Jewishness of the Jewish priests and Pharisees such as Annas (Toni Bertorelli) and Caiaphas (Mattia Sbragia), nor of the Jerusalem mob chanting “Crucify him!” My admittedly unpractised eye caught no stereotypes. The Roman soldiers