Richard Roeper, of the Chicago Sun-Times, shares his views on the Mel Gibson/Passion controversy.
I’ve seen the version of “The Passion of the Christ” that will play in theaters starting on Ash Wednesday – and I’ll soon share my views on the film. In the meantime, I’ve been pondering some other religious-themed movies I’ve seen in my four years on “Ebert & Roeper.”
Catholicism has been represented far more frequently than any other faith. I’ve probably seen more films about the Catholic Church – and movies with nuns or priests as supporting characters – than all other religions put together. From the last four years alone, I could easily put together a Catholic Film Festival – but I don’t think too many Catholics would be pleased with the entries.
Roeper’s main point is there are very few movies made with Jewish villains. There are a lot of movies made with Catholic villains. “No other religious group gets bashed with such frequency. Can you imagine a similar number of films with Jewish leaders playing villains and moral weaklings?”
I can only think of two off-hand. Bugsy – about real-life Jewish gangsters Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky, and X-Men. (Yes, I know that Magneto isn’t completely evil. But Magneto is a comic book villain, is Jewish – a Holocaust survivor – and has no moral qualms about using violence to achieve his ends.) I don’t believe there was any outcry about either movie. I know I wasn’t upset about either of them.
So what makes The Passion different?
Well, one could be cynical, and say it’s because Gibson isn’t Jewish. (Chris Claremont, the creator of Magneto’s origin story, and Barry Levinson, the director of Bugsy, both are.) But I feel there is more to it than that. I wasn’t offended by either movie’s content. I see nothing wrong with Jewish villains in general. But I can’t think of a single movie where Catholics in general, or even one individual Catholic, is/are held responsible for the death of a god. (Actually, the only movie I can think of, where one religion’s God is killed, and it is blamed on another religion, and both religions are real, is The Passion.)
That’s a crime on a whole different level of any crime depicted in any movie Roeper mentions. The Passion is not a new story. Plays were produced in the middle ages with it as the theme. And these Passion plays helped spread the anti-semitism at the root of much persecution.
We live in a different era. Humanity has progressed. We’re more sophisticated. Audiences are not likely to react the same way now as they did 1000 years ago. But still, since The Pope “dropped the murder charges” against the Jewish people 40 years ago in Vatican 2, we had reason to believe, reason to hope the “Passion Play” wouldn’t be re-introduced.