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Second, he must attempt to present good doctrine. Contrary to what some may suggest, these first two goals are not identical -- merely by translating from the page to the screen what the gospels describe happening would not explain the theological significance of the events, as Jesus is rather too busy being executed to have much time to explain his purpose of salvation in those chapters -- this purpose is clarified at other points before and after his death, and must somehow be worked into this narrative without making it overly ahistorical. Finally, in order to function as a film, the film must function on an artistic level and be coherent both to the viewer and within the tradition of Christological art. It would not reflect well on Christ to be presented within the context of a shoddily film -- many people would refrain from belief for no other reason than that they could not comprehend of God who would allow himself to be presented as an over- (or under-) acted goof on a plastic cross with obviously fake corn syrup blood. Most of the Gospels, on the other hand, do not need to concern themselves either with being artistically perfect or theologically accurate (in as much as the theology was going to be based on the accounts, rather than vice versa) Therefore, these three goals should be considered in analysing the degree to which the film compares to the book of Matthew. A great deal of time has been spent setting the stage, but now at the heart of the argument it is time to walk step-by-step through the film and compare it with the Gospel, keeping always in mind those three goals.
The first scene takes place in the Garden. It seems relatively close to the Biblical narrative, though the filmography has a rather Lord of the Rings feel to it that is somewhat different than one might expect in a Mid-Eastern garden. Jesus begs for the cup/chalice to pass him by, and agonizes about his coming death, while the disciples sleep. There are three major differences between Matthew and the text here, though, which may be major theological issues. First, Jesus here says not to bring the other disciples because "I don't want them to see me like this." This indicates a kind of facade or falseness which seems unlike Jesus. Secondly, in Matthew Jesus tells his disciples that "He is at hand that doth betray me." (Matt 26:46) Here he says nothing. His lack of prophetic awareness makes it seem that he is almost taken by surprise by the approaching guards. However, since the disciples tell the audience that he had spoken of betrayal, this flaw is largely overcome. Finally, Jesus tells the disciples not to fight only because those that live by the sword will die by it. In Matthew Jesus tells his disciples not to fight because it is foolish; he does not need them because he is going willingly and he could himself call angels to his aid if he desired. Leaving this out makes him seem to be less willing to accept his sacrifice than is the case. It was probably left out for brevity, and because it is not in the text of Luke or John.
The next group of scenes revolve around the Temple. On the way to the temple, the Jewish guards beat Jesus and throw him off a bridge. This is not in the Bible. It appears to be used as an opportunity to develop the character of Judas, who is thus brought face-to-face with him. One must recall that the development of archetypes (including Judas) is very important to this film, because each archetype represents a subset of humanity. The individual who self-destructs through guilt (as symbolized by his hallucinations about demons) is an important character, and understanding how coming face-to-face with Christ and turning away can lead to self-destruction is important. Another a-Biblical aspect is the fact that Mary is present at the Temple. She may have been, historically, but the Bible does not mention her at that point. Why is she present? Obviously Gibson uses Mary through-out to represent the way in which the faithful suffer with Christ. This is one of the mysteries of the Rosary, in which the devotee identifies with Mary's suffering in order to understand how a righteous human would perceive Jesus' death. So Mary is present at every moment so that the audience may see through her eyes emotionally. This is important both to Catholics who wish to see the stations of the cross through Mary's eyes, and to non-Catholics who learn how to respond emotional to the Cross.
This is a good point to interrupt the linear analysis with a slight digression into the issue of women's roles in this film and in the Gospels. According to one radically anti-Christian pseudo-feminist source, this film is misogynistic. According to a number of uber-conservative Protestant sources, it is overly feminist. This diametrically opposed pair of critiques appears to indicate that the film is rather well balanced in its portrayal of women.
Robert Smart argues that "The most salient aspect of Gibson's depiction [of female characters] is how peripheral the women are to the main action.... [Gibson seems] deliberately to marginalize them. They are forever running around streets... kept distant from direct participation in the action and very emphatically not empowered to intervene in any meaningful way." Ironically, Smart continues from this point to argue that in the film, "women, as exemplified by Mary, are reduced to watching and empathizing from the sidelines and performing acts of tenderness after the fact... Without meaning to, Mel's movie has perhaps created the strongest argument yet seen for a return to matriarchy and a society where feminine values predominate." (Smart) He appears to have missed the fact that this pro-woman "argument" is not unintentional. It is actually inherent in the original text. Of course women are kept peripheral -- because every single woman in this film is defending Christ, and the story has to end with his death... If they were able to "intervene in any meaningful way" then the story would have a different ending! It is not just women who are kept peripheral, it is everyone who tries to help Christ, including John the beloved disciple and the Jewish pharisee who protests Jesus trial as illegal and is beaten out of the room. Actually, one of the most striking features of the film is that despite the fact that a male mob calls for Jesus' death, the streets are filled[continue]
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