Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Movie Madness

I am very picky about the type of movies I choose to watch. I don't like anything too scary, violent, gruesome, profane, or explicitly sexual and that doesn't leave much! Society seems to need a higher and higher level of shock value to really enjoy or be entertained by any type of media and my tastes have been left far behind. Part of the reason for this is my personality - I tend to be very sensitive and thin-skinned about anything and everything in my life - but a greater part is some traumatic experiences I had as a child.

When I was in fourth and fifth grade I attended a Lutheran boarding school in rural Liberia (my parents were medical missionaries), and in most respects it was a good experience in spite of how young I was. But I dreaded Saturday night. Saturday night was movie night and regardless of what was being shown we all went to the nearby college campus to watch - it was probably a nice break for the house parents (Uncle Ron and Aunt Elaine - I have very fond memories of them) and most of the kids had a great time. I don't remember many movie titles but I have clear pictures in my mind of certain scenes from various movies and what I remember is intense and frightening. The one that stands out in my mind was a "cowboys and indians" movie and all I remember is the various ways the indians tortured people to death - I can't give examples because it is still too horrifying for me to put into words. I have hardly ever watched a western movie since then and I can't see a wagon wheel without getting a sick feeling - I told you I was thin-skinned! I tried to get out of going to the movies but the one time I refused to go Aunt Elaine had to stay behind with me, and we were alone in the big dormitory, and I knew it was a huge inconvenience for her. I couldn't bear to ask again.

I have passed this sensitivity to intense images on to my children (sorry guys). One of them had to be taken out of Beauty and the Beast during the wolves scene at age seven, another had to be taken out of Parent Trap during the ear piercing scene (she screamed, he screamed, and we left), and the third had nightmares after seeing Pay it Forward.

All of this is probably the reason that I have such strong feelings about the move The Passion of the Christ. I never actually watched it because I knew that I was not strong enough and would never get the violent images out of my head - I have a hard enough time on Good Friday when that part of the Gospel is read and discussed! But I have read reviews, watched certain scenes, and looked through a book of images from the movie, and I feel like I have seen enough to justify my strong disapproval of the film. The phrase "gratuitous violence" comes to mind and I feel like the violence depicted in the movie far exceeded what was necessary to make the point or even be historically accurate. I have heard medical professionals comment that the blood lost during certain scenes would have caused death before Jesus even got to the cross - are we supposed to believe that he was super-human so he was able to stay alive longer? What about him being "fully human and fully divine," therefore subject to the frailties of any other human? Or do we think that God kept him alive so he could suffer more and longer - what kind of a God do we really believe in? And was it necessary to add the part where Jesus is on the cross and the cross falls forward slamming him into the ground - that is purely a fabrication, and to what end?

I know that "shock value" is often necessary to get us to really think about things we have long taken for granted, but I still think this movie goes overboard. It's almost as if we are supposed to revel in the agony of Christ, and to me that is sacrilege. How many people watch the movie and get pleasure from watching the gruesome scenes, just like those who enjoyed watching lions attacking Christians in ancient Rome, public executions in medieval Europe, and horror movies in modern times?Just knowing that Christ was crucified is enough to convey the horrific nature of the sacrifice he made for our salvation - the Bible tells us what we need to know, we don't have to live through it vicariously by watching Mel Gibson's version.

That brings me to another point of contention - who is telling this story and why? Mel Gibson has long been known for his inclination for violence; we see this in The Patriot and Braveheart, but he really took it to new heights in The Passion and apparently went even farther into the "dark side" in Apocalypto, his movie that followed The Passion. This is a man who when he was stopped for drunk driving made anti-semetic remarks to the police, a man who left his wife of twenty-some years and mother of his 7 children for his pregnant girlfriend. Nobody is perfect but this is not the kind of person I want to represent such an important aspect of my faith.

The Christian community has enthusiastically embraced this film so I am definitely in the minority with this opinion. Many family members and friends have watched The Passion and were moved by it. When I express my vehement disapproval of the film they don't agree, but they listen politely and sometimes smile indulgently (Susan's on another of her tirades). That's annoying but I do know that I am over-sensitive about movie violence, and I do tend to get riled up about certain issues and subject those around me to my strong opinions. But I still think my opinion about The Passion has some merit. I don't think we should dwell on the agony of the crucifixion but on the awesomeness of the resurrection and I don't need to see Christ suffer to know that he sacrificed more than I can imagine for me.