Friday, April 15, 2005

Sin City, The Passion and obscenity

RickInVa's blog Brutally Honest is just that. If you're going there looking for the "easier, softer way," keep on going. But I like reading him just because he speaks his mind, and can defend his positions in ways that I never have been able to articulate. While I don't think we'll ever have to worry about going on a double-date or anything, I respect his stuff.

This posting of his showcases the interesting contradiction between the acclaim for the hideous violence of the movie Sin City and the equally hideous violence Mel Gibson's you'll-either-love-it-or-hate-it The Passion of the Christ. (If you're curious, you can read some of the snap reviews of Sin City over here.)

Anyway, Rick's post quoted this passage from another blogger, which cuts to the heart of the matter:
Most of the critics hammering The Passion of the Christ did so because of the violence. Some called it pornographic. But was it the violence or was it the persuasive effects of telling that part of Christ's story? Here's an interesting exercise:

Sin City is a film filled with dismemberments, disembowelments, torture, castration, and pedophilia. The Passion is an historically accurate depiction of scourging and Crucifixion.

Now compare the reviewers who raved about Sin City to those who panned The Passion and tell me it was the violence that offended them.
Rick closed his post with this challenge: I can't help but wonder what members of the religious left who were also critical of The Passion think of Sin City? Perhaps some of them will leave their comments here. Or not. So, thinking that I might qualify for his invitation to "the religious left," I posted this at his blog, and share this with my own readers here.
I probably would get stuck in the "religious left" by people who need to think that there are two sides to everything (and that everyone is on one side or the other), so I guess I'll take the invitation to comment.

I haven't seen Sin City. Thanks to the reviews you've highlighted, I won't. Unlike a significant chunk of Americans, I don't find violence onscreen entertaining - whether it's some sick slasher movie (which I avoid like the Marburg virus) or Sin City, or Saving Private Ryan, which was deeply moving but hideously uncomfortable for me to watch.

I went to see The Passion with three other seminary students. We met a dozen more at the theatres. The original plan was to go out afterwards and discuss the movie. That plan fell apart in the aftershock, I think. In fact, in the car going home, not a word was spoken - we were in that much shock. When we got to the seminary, I offered to make a pot of coffee, and sit down and process what we'd seen. The two ladies passed - my buddy Ben joined me. As the coffee brewed, we struggled with how to react.

My first thought, walking out of the theatre, was exactly what you've heard: "That was pornographic." The amount and the quantity of the violence in The Passion did exactly what viewing pornography has done to me in the past - dulled my senses, to the point where no more stimulation can be taken. After a while, all I could do was close my eyes and pray for it to be over. I didn't find the ecstatic reaction that so many have expressed to me; the Scripture about "by his wounds we are healed" didn't come to me. I was just sick and numb.

After a pot of coffee and a lot of stumbling around, trying to find words to express how we felt, Ben and I came to realize that while the movie was probably closely factual, and it brought a new level of reality to Christ's suffering, it still was horrifying to experience. In the time since, I've came to understand that what we saw in that movie was not pornographic, but it was obscene. Not in the Supreme-Court definition, but in the way of definition 4 of the American Heritage Dictionary: something that is offensive or repulsive to the senses.

It still is. In fact, that kind of violence done to any living creature (human or animal) is obscene. I hate to say it (especially in this particular pulpit)[that is, in Rick's very conservative blog], but I believe that what was done to Matthew Shepard (the gay college student murdered in Laramie, WY) was obscene in exactly the same way. It is the horrific, unspeakable result of evil destroying life - consciously, with malice and forethought and brutal intention. And I am one who finds no pleasure, and no inspiration, in watching the destruction of life.

I'm grateful for the lesson of the movie, even if it was more uncomfortable than having teeth drilled without Novocaine (at least I could punch the dentist, and make him stop!). No one will ever be able to say to me, "But you don't understand what Christ went through." Short of living it myself, I can't imagine how I could understand the suffering of Christ more than I do now.

But what I really object to is the assumption (voiced to me by a number of people in the last year) that if I didn't like The Passion, that I'm somehow less Christian or less faithful than those who oohed and ahhed over it. That's a load of raw sewage - period. And while no one you've referenced has made the direct claim, there's a gentle hint that folks over there "on the left" will find Sin City's obscenity more acceptable/less obscene than The Passion's.

That simply is not so. Not for me, and not for a lot of folks in my same theolgical and social neighborhood.

I agree that there's a whole lot of people who would find any reason to dig at The Passion - from the violence, to the subtitled Aramaic, to whatever. But I also find it problematic to rant about it - after all (as a wise pastor once said), it's kind of silly to get mad at lost people for acting lost.


Poor Mad Peter said...

The Passion NOT historically accurate. Rather, the violence depicted is greatly exagerrated to achieve whatever effect Gibson wanted.

The brutality Gibson depicted would have killed a human being in a fraction of the time the film took to show it. Even allowing for time distortion in a film, this is way off the mark for this reason: the Romans did not want their torture victims dead prior to crucifixion. It would have defeated the "shock and awe" deterrent value they aimed for in crucifixion in the first place.

Gibson's film exagerrated both the torture and Jesus' suffering in a lurid, technicolour slo-mo S/M ballet, and that is not only historically inaccurate but theologically the pits.

If the God of Israel, in other words, Jesus' God, ordained that kind of death for such a special person, it begs the question, What kind of God are we worshipping?

David U said...

What kind of God? A God that loved you and me enough to endure that suffering. Amazing, huh?