In the immediate aftermath of last night's 77th Academy Awards where films and lifestyles extolling vice and sin were honored, I would like to see truly visible, viable fruits of their efforts. Other than dollar signs, there are none. Yes, it is all so obvious and clear. One year after The Passion of The Christ made its memorable impact on American audiences, we can step back and still see the hypocrisy that surrounded the lies about Mel Gibson's masterpiece. The truth is that only from his film can we see real sustaining fruits; a harvest of a hundredfold and more in a garden of glory rising like Abel's sacrifice to God and pleasing to Him. Conversely we see the barren fruits of those who dissed this noble film on the last hours of Our Lord's life. Their superficial oblations and trivializations curl downward similar to Cain's offering which cuts the air so hypocritically and covers the facades like crusted soot on a chimney, blackening souls all the more.
Considering the fare nominated this year, it's really all about fairness. It just wouldn't have been fair to compare a masterpiece with the mediocre fare placed in nomination for this past year. I mean there is no contest. Mel's film in every way outdistances anything nominated last night. In order to to not look so mundane and bad, they had to eliminate Mel's film. I mean do you really think Sideways ,Vera Drake, Million Dollar Baby, Ray, or even the Aviator can hold a candle to the technical, artistic and box-office excellence of The Passion of The Christ? Not on your life! But that doesn't stop them from pushing trash and mediocrity on us as 'excellence'. We know it's not, but they haven't caught on yet to what the rest of America thinks. Pride does that.
A Fitting Triangle of Comparison
Critic Matt Brunson called The Passion of The Christ "Kill Bill for the churchgoing crowd" because of its graphic violence. Titanic is the only film in movie history to truly rank with The Passion of The Christ in terms of gross profit and steep rise in income.
It is in this sea of graphic violence and graphic income that we find a fitting triangle in which to look back at Mel Gibson's epic one year later.
Kill Bill is largely a film which glorifies violence in a stylish garb in the service of revenge. Its director Quentin Tarantino has been praised as a genius and decried as a mad little egomaniac boy with strange toys. Titanic is basically a love story set amid an epic tragedy. Its director James Cameron has likewise been hailed as a sea captain bringing large forces to port and decried as a self-absorbed fanatic who lets his focus distort reality. The Passion of The Christ is considered by many to either be the film on Christ's ultimate sacrifice or a weapon against Jews. Its director Mel Gibson is likewise viewed as either a genius or a madman.
Despite their different natures, these three films are lumped together by the winds of film criticism and popular comparison. However, despite the hypocrisy and hype, the grouping of these films does more to highlight the value and singular depth of Mel's film than to tie it in any way with the other two movies. As is often the case with God's work, any effort to stain it with the nature of other films only results in enhancing its ultimate shine.
The Purpose of Story
At its core Kill Bill is simply a story that glorifies revenge and minimizes such things as rape, violence, and the sanctity of life. One needs only to compare the number of deaths to their ultimate purpose to see that life means very little in this movie and that sacrifice is made only in the service of exacting an eye for an eye. Critic Stephanie Zachareck asks why is this "ultra-violent, style-crazed revenge fantasy so empty?"
Despite these drawbacks, critic Jami Bernard states that "there is a lot to admire in Kill Bill" and A.O Scott calls it "an exercise in style". Not surprisingly, these two critics bash The Passion as "savagery", an "assault to the spirit" and "a compendium of tortures".
Apparently one brutal death in the service of salvation is much more gruesome to Scott and Bernard than a myriad of brutal deaths in the service of revenge. How noble and inspiring.
Titanic, on the other hand, seems to focus on the purpose of presenting a fictional love story at the expense of shrinking a real tragedy. Zachareck calls it a "travesty" where everyone is a "stereotype". She argues that there is nothing wrong with using a real life tragedy as a backdrop to a fictional story, but there is something very wrong with making the real tragedy serve the fictional story rather than the other way around. Zacahreck argues that Cameron is more concerned with presenting his clumsy notions of society than with depicting true history. Rather than tell us the truth that many wealthy people chose to go down with the ship rather than use their influence to save themselves, Cameron focuses on the ideas that most rich people worry about which spoon to use or how to drink soup appropriately. She laments that Titanic cares little about the loss of life except as a backdrop or prop as compared to A Night to Remember, which made the loss of life meaningful in a way that Titanic never did. Despite these problems most critics praised Cameron's film as a historic epic and lavished it with Oscars.
In The Passion we see the purpose of Christ's death as love. Those who only see meaningless brutality do so either because they come to the film ignorant or reluctant to look beneath the blood and pain or because they arrive determined to see only evil and bias. Barnard bashes this film relentlessly as being nothing but a graphic, sado-masochistic exercise while praising the style of Kill Bill and commenting on dismembered body parts as bothersome obstacles rather than evidence of empty gore.
Unlike Bill, which glorifies revenge, degrades men and women, ridicules rape, and stereotypes cultural concepts, The Passion glorifies God, pounds the conscience, and shocks the senses for the purpose of depicting sacrifice rather than promoting revenge or hate. One needs only to look at the tender scenes in Mel's movie to see love, at the eyes of Christ and His Mother Mary. Where does one find love in Bill? Unlike Titanic, which glorifies fiction over reality, stereotypes the wealthy and the poor, mocks sexual restraint, and devalues human tragedy and life in the service of story, The Passion depicts historical reality with inspired touches, stereotypes good and evil, mocks the devil, and devalues sin while raising redemption as the key to salvation.
The Value of Life and Love
In the end, The Passion of The Christ serves us graphic violence and suffering in a sea of blood for the purpose of shocking us into the realization of the magnitude and depth of Christ's sacrifice. Despite that serious, grim, but inspiring purpose, Gibson manages to inject love and tenderness and above all hope and ultimate triumph. His movie shows violence as evidence of the value of life and love. It is there clearly on the screen for those willing to see it beyond the blur of their own preconceived notions and agendas.
Conversely, Bill and Titanic devalue life and love to mere absurd shells, collateral damage in the pursuit of revenge, lust, and sensationalism. It is all there clearly on the screen for those willing to see it beyond the blur of their own preconceived notions and agendas as well. In each of these three films there is a backdrop, a story, injustice, stereotyped depiction, suffering, tragedy, and death. However, only in The Passion do these serve a purpose greater and more uplifting and inspiring than any special effects or dramatic scene can serve. One movie serves salvation and redemption while the other two serve revenge and triviality over substance.
History and critics have directly or indirectly lumped these The Passion of The Christ, Titanic and Kill Bill together when the only thing they have in common is death, tragedy, suffering, and blood. At that juncture, however, Gibson parts company with Cameron and Tarantino. While Mel spills blood for redemption and salvation, the other two do so for either revenge or as scene filler. While Mel shows us the very real face of Satan even as it morphs, the other two depict him not as a person but as an air - an aura - which at times is perfumed in style or glamour. While we see many drown or shot down, buried in a sea of death or a sea of blood in mortal revenge in the other two films, it is our sin which is drowned in Mel's film by the blood of the Lamb. While Cameron's famous "I am the king of the world" rang through the halls of Oscar, Christ's "I am The Light of the world" will ring eternally through the halls of creation. Yes, one year later, but merely a drop in the bucket of history...a history that will one day show that The Passion of The Christ was the day Christ re-entered the walled city of Hollywood amid palm pilots, only to hear what those who are not with Him, but against Him are really saying. The hypocrisy since the release of The Passion and especially prevalent last night at the despicable golden calf awards was so obvious that you could almost hear the silent consent of those familiar words ringing out clearly: "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"