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Saturday, January 24, 2004

Lacking "The Passion": the crisis of Christian cinematography

Aint It Cool News posted a review of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" this morning. This one is written by Douglas Tennapel, the writer/artist who among other things has Earthworm Jim notched on his belt. It's quite a good read: he goes into a lot of spoiler-ish details about the film so be warned, but it was necessary because he describes how both he and his wife were overwhelmed with horror at many of the scenes.

But there's something that Tennapel says in his review that I couldn't resist not thinking about in this space. He writes that "This is a movie that secular Hollywood could not make, but it’s also a movie that the Christian community could not make either." As a believer in Christ and a fan of great filmmaking, let me say that Tennapel nails it (no pun intended) with that observation.

Someone said a few years ago that the problem isn't that there's enough Christian films, "there aren't enough Christian filmmakers." So-called "Christian movies" have largely been a product of the professional evangelical community, with the intent of being a witnessing tool... and THEY HAVEN'T WORKED!! I know of no one who's been genuinely moved by any of the schlock that's come out in the past several years. "The Omega Code" looked to have bucked the trend. Some friends and I saw that in the theater and felt like we'd been force-fed dogfood. And then the people who make them complain that their films don't get a big enough audience, so they resort to "sympathy campaigns" to drum up interest from fellow Christians to come out and show that their films actually have legs at the box office: I've seen it happen at least 3 or 4 times in the past few years. And you know why they fail? Because from inception they're intended to persuade others to a particular mindset. Leni Reifenstahl did a much better job with propoganda films than what the recent crap has been.

So now comes "The Passion of the Christ" and the reason that it's going to succeed - both as art and at the box office - is that Gibson is NOT pursuing an agenda. He's not letting his film be "mission driven". He's made a very personal movie that reflects who Christ is to him, not what Christ is to a collective. The Christ in this movie - without actually having seen it yet - is the Christ that each of us can seek and find on our own... and NOT the impersonal totem of power that some Christians love to lord over others. That kind of Christ, the sort that appeals to the corporate masses, is totally and utterly meaningless, and people are growing sick of it. They thirst for something different, something genuine and real. This isn't a neat and tidy way to power and glory that Gibson is presenting: it comes with pain and sacrifice, and most of our Christian brethren have forgotten about that.

It's true: secular Hollywood would have never considered making this film. But many Christian filmmakers wouldn't have had the guts to look into their own hearts to try making it either.