sábado, fevereiro 28, 2004

"The Passion"

Começam a aparecer as primeiras críticas ao filme "The Passion", realizado por Mel Gibson, que certa polícia do pensamento politicamente correcto não queria que víssemos. Nesta matéria, merece a nossa especial atenção tudo o que venha da comunicação social independente, daquela que não beneficia do estatuto de "referência". Aqui fica a opinião - longa, mas interessante - de Michael Cain, editor do notável "Daily Catholic" , cuja visita ao respectivo sítio se recomenda vivamente:
"All went dark. Absolute silence slippered across the theater in anxious, yes, nervous anticipation.
The lightning flashed across the screen, a visual manifestation each and every person was going to feel the bolt of love and emotions proper for each's disposition and heart. I may hold the record for being the fastest to shed a tear in this movie for indeed my eyes moistened as the bolt melded into one of the countless parchment cracks in the magnificent close-up of the eye of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and pulled out to reveal the very Catholic logo of Icon Films, quite possibly until now not deciphered for what it is - a beautiful imprinted manifestation of Mel Gibson's Traditional Catholic Faith. That very thought is what prompted the tear-ducts. Now, finally so many would be able to understand this.
The opening scenes in Gethsemane prompted more tears for it was very obvious Jesus Christ, played flawlessly to absolute perfection by Jim Caviezel, had begun His Passion. The First Sorrowful Mystery kicked in and I could feel Our Lord's pain as He struggled with the mission ahead, the humanness of the God-man came to the fore for He was like us in all ways except for sin.
Right from the start Mel's genius shone through with his depiction of the ever-present entity called evil. An androgynous being most likely in the same form that tempted Christ in the desert had returned to try to plant doubts in our Savior's heart. Whispered scruples and qualms echoed from this browless being whose effeminate nature became even more obvious with the almost transvestite voice of the evil one. The altering of Rosalinda Celentano's voice conveyed an even more dissolute character. No one has brought that up, but knowing how much Mel is against the sin of sodomy I almost wonder if this was not another stroke of brilliance in depicting the ugly side of homosexuality, subliminally planting in the viewer's psyche this image. Then again it could have been the Holy Ghost's inspiration that prompted Mel to choose such a representation.
From beneath the hooded cloak of this maggot-nosed asexual one slithered a snake which serpentined toward the agonized figure of the Christ, bleeding tears and still struggling with His inevitable mission. The hooded figure looked on, flirting with the possibility that He would forfeit the task ahead and be lured to retreat. On a lesser person the doubts cast might have been convincing, but when you're dealing with the Sacred Heart, well, satan, you've met your match as Gibson brought home so staccato-like when Christ rose to His feet and emphatically crushed the head of the serpent.
This scene had to please Protestants who have always maintained that Genesis 3: 15 indicated Christ would crush the head of the serpent whereas the Douay-Rheims Version says clearly, "I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel." Yet it was not worth it to quibble over for soon we would see Mel's reasoning for throughout the picture Blessed Mary, played so masterfully and convincingly by Romanian Jewish thespian Maia Morgenstern, would play an integral part in the Passion as a viable Co-Redemptrix. Indeed, the Sorrowful Mother would wince with every blow to her Divine Son's flesh. The viewer could so easily assimilate with Mary the sorrow and immense tearing of one's own heart for true to Simeon's prophecy in Luke 2: 32, 34-35:
"A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people, Israel...Behold, this child is set for the ruin, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted. And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed."
So much was revealed in this film that had remained static in this writer's mind for with each scene a new dimension was introduced into my heart and soul, and yes, the tears were still there; not floods, or trickles, just a moistening that I would dab every once in a while. And I was worried about Cyndi!? Truly kudos to Benedict Fitzgerald who co-wrote the screenplay with Mel.
The course each took once the Jews descended on the Garden of Olives was interesting and flowed so as did the entire film. It was as if Mel's masterpiece was a seamless garment just as Christ's cloak, bloodied and smudged, but never torn. Truly a production as Christ-like as possible in perfection.
Saint John and Saint James both fled, but Saint Peter remained to fight for his Master. Peter's chutzpah turned to cowardice when Christ put the kibosh on the brash Apostle's attempts to go down fighting, by healing the Jewish soldier's ear; the first outward sign of love that would flow often. How could anyone claim 'anti-Semitism' is still beyond me. But then, it isn't anti-Semitic, it is anti-Secular. That is obvious and that is another reason the attacks against Mel have been so vitriolic. I found it interesting about the players who accompanied Judas Iscariot because I think many had always assumed there were Roman soldiers escorting the Jewish agents to Mount Olivet. Not so this night, so eerily painted by Production Director Francesco Frigeri and cinematographer extraordinaire Caleb Deschanel in the cerulean clouds and sapphire shadows blending with the haunting musical score of John Denby that carried throughout the picture with yet another dimension that enveloped the viewer and pinched the heart.
By the time the beloved disciple burst into the kibbutz of the Marys, I was already enraptured in this film. Gibson conveyed in just one look by Morgenstern a modesty and majesty that transcended all other women. In appearance Mary Magdalene, played effortlessly by well-known Hollywood up-and-comer Monica Belluci, was the younger and more beautiful in features, yet her beauty always took a subservient role in any scene with the Blessed Mother. Mary's motherly virtue and love towered above the rest and the bond was established between Mother and son so masterfully through brief flashbacks which Mel no doubt gleaned from the Venerable Anne Katherine Emmerich and The Dolorous Passion of Christ.
The intercutting scenes of the two tormented betrayers were brilliant and conveyed so well the paths two men both hand-chosen by Christ took. Relatively unknown Italian actor Luca Lionello nailed the crazed Judas Iscariot for he exhibited an almost dazed state from scooping up the scattered silver from the temple floor to approaching Jesus in the Garden. While Peter, so well carried out by Francesco De Vito and effulgently photographed by Gibson's touch in casting shadows over his countenance and dark beard extracted the soul of the one Christ had selected to lead His Church (cf. Matthew 16: 18-19). Peter's scenes went quickly and played out not separately but fittingly intertwined with all the major principals within earshot of the Sanhedrin kangaroo court and all within that span, before the cock crowed thrice. The salvific factor depicted in the film was that both men fled, but Peter ran smack into the two Mary's and John, cowering in unworthiness. Whereas Judas recoiled at the base of a wall where symbolically the Jewish soldiers had their own 'fun' on the way to the temple by bungee-cording Christ over the wall on chains upside down where his gaze met Judas' eye to eye in the dark climes of this hollow. Our Lord's eyes were piercing the Iscariot's heart, waiting and hoping for the fallen Apostle to drop on his knees in repentance as Peter did, but despair had already taken hold. No sooner had they jerked our Savior back up then a demon emerged from the opposite wall that took the entire theatre by surprise. While it scared not just a few, it sent Judas on his journey of fate.
Here Gibson again used the image of an innocent child turned mean and taunting. We have heard so often "children can be so mean" when hearing tales of a child being hounded by other classmates and made fun of over something that often was a molehill but made into a mountain by the accused one's self-consciousness and decreasing self-worth in the face of pressure from peers. The insecurities of the attackers causes them to turn as one into unfettered frenzy. This vein coursed throughout the film from the children to the accusations by the Pharisees to the mob in the Roman courtyard to the Roman soldiers intoxicated with a lust to punish the more the blood flowed.
First the children was the vehicle Mel chose to drive Judas up the rocky crevice to the point of no return. At the summit, he chose the stench-soaked hemp which he had to lift from a dead sheep at his feet to end his life both in despair and to rid himself of the demons who had driven him to the edge. Gibson's selection of the maggot-ridden lamb scripturally portrayed the bad sheep who, steeped in sin are inside no different than the Pharisees - rotting sepulchres teeming with worms as Christ asserted to the Sanhedrin in Matthew 23 that within there was "all uncleanness...full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (verses 27, 28).
In all my studies of Sacred Scripture, the Chief Priest Caiphas, depicted dead on by Mattia Sbragia, was the main instigator of revenge for being exposed by Christ's lambasts in Matthew 23. One needs to understand that entire chapter to realize why Caiphas was clearly signaled out as the chief villain of this film and rightly so. It in no way signaled anti-Semitism, but an exposition of how corruption comes from the top and works down, rather than the other way around. It was Caiphas who orchestrated the emotions of his fellow Rabbis within the Sanhedrin in impugning and executing one of their own. I couldn't help but think of the same scenario carried out by the Vatican II Curia who had ganged up against Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, falsely condemning an innocent man because he was who he said he was - an uncompromising disciple of the Truths and Traditions handed down by Christ and His Church. Unfortunately some of those men still are in power today. Yes, folks, the Sanhedrin of 2000 years ago is still alive and thriving in modern Rome.
Rather than the anti-Semitic charge, I can see a clearer message of anti-Vatican II throughout. There's no harm in that and more power to Mel. It's about time. I find it so difficult and sad to believe that the Pope would hesitate from giving a hearty endorsement to this film for it is Catholic in every way, maybe too Catholic for his likes and agenda. Those casting aspersions on the film, such as Abe Foxman and Rabbi Marvin Hier and a host of other liberal media elite have cast their fate with the misguided direction of humanism, ecumenism and Modernism spawned at Vatican II in compromising the truth of the Gospels. One thing Gibson did not veer from was the authenticity of the historical events and costumes of that time so meticulously recreated down to the last thread by costume designer Maurizio Millenotti. The production design of Francesco Frigeri and the sets fashioned by Carlo Gervasi were so authentic that I did not feel I was watching this but very much in the center of it all - in that extra dimension that transcends time and reason. Mel's choice of Shaila Rubin, a Jew, as casting director was sheer brilliance for she was the one who found Morgenstern and the vast majority of other characters who blended in as the actual biblical figures, not actors. Yes, there was a definite spirit at work here - the Holy Spirit.
The Scourging at the pillar was probably the cruelest and most grueling scenes in the entire movie for they were the first act of brutality so graphically portrayed. Indeed, the tears increased with each lash and no meditation on the Second Sorrowful Mystery ever brought to fruition the emotions that I experienced in feeling those whips and sharp barbs that instantly swelled up a lifetime of repentance for any uncharitable barb I had every uttered throughout my life. Yes, I felt no better than the Romans who, at the sight of blood, only intensified their passion for more blood. The frenzy is contagious for evil, but the frenzy within my heart was to ever remember the frenzy of Faith that spurs us on to never turn back. The realization struck me right there as the blood spurted onto the cobble that for Christ there was no point of return. He was committed and so were we. Just as we forever walked out of the Novus Ordo on Ash Wednesday exactly three years ago, there would be no turning back. We are forever committed to upholding the Traditions and dedicated to preserving the Traditional Latin Mass and all that was professed before the revolution. Anything less is disloyalty and betrayal. I must admit the Scourging was the hardest part of this movie. True to his word, Mel took me to the edge and then, just when I might have gone numb, he revived my senses with flashbacks from associations cropping up in Christ's Own psyche from His viewpoint while He writhed in pain, such as the feet of the Roman soldier that brought back the scene of Christ washing the feet of His Apostles. No foot was too dirty for Christ, just as no soul is too lost for Him to save. The person has only be willing to put his or her foot forward, extended toward God. These brief scenes gave me a respite so that I would be able to endure the next scene when the reality of the Passion returned in all its ugly necessity.
As the Scourging mercifully came to an end I couldn't help but think how anti-Vatican II this film is for it attacks the very comfort zone of those who have embraced the 'Jesus is love and tolerant of all' fallacy that has been so insidiously imbued in the dumbed-down masses who have had the Holy Mass ripped from their parishes. Sacrifice is something few neo-Catholics are familiar with, even fewer with the essence of the lengths and torture Jesus underwent and why He suffered more than any human on the face of this earth for all time. That was the cost of making reparation for our sins. It magnified all the more in my mind how devastating sin is and that, too, is something so lost on today's society and church. Though the fruits of His Redemption merited for all the reward of Heaven, that could only be carried out in full for those willing to reciprocate that sacrifice by being in the state of sanctifying grace and through a sincere heart manifested in good works. Ergo the infrangible words within the Consecration of the wine into blood - 'pro multis' - for many, rather than 'for all.' Free will prevents the 'all.' For countless Catholics, what they will see on the screen is not the Christ and story they have been taught over the past 40 years, but it is the vision and truth we, who were brought up in the pre-Vatican II days, recall so vividly.
By the time we reach the Third Sorrowful Mystery in the film the scene is mercifully short, for Christ has already been reduced to a pulp, slunk against the wall almost helpless to resist the cruel crown of thorns the Roman soldiers gleefully and intoxicatingly force into His sacred skull.
Meanwhile, all the furor and controversy over the 'inciting phrase' of Matthew 27: 25 was muted by removing the subtitle "His blood be on us and on our children." Many might think Mel caved. Indeed, I at first thought that as well until I experienced this film. Gibson clearly conveyed the sentiments of the crowd in the scene, not a guilty sentence on them alone but upon all of us. As I have pointed out before this was not a condemnation on the Jews but upon all. Few bring up the fact of last Sunday's Gospel wherein Luke 18: 32-33, Jesus foretells his Own destiny:
"He shall be delivered to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and scourged and spit upon: and after they have scourged Him, they will put Him to death, and the third day He shall rise again."
You'll note Christ did not say 'delivered to the Jews' but to the "Gentiles." Any accusations of anti-Semitism are trumped up and false and proven here as such. The scene of Pontius Pilate's wife Claudia Procles, portrayed by Claudia Gerini, is a powerful reminder of conscience. She takes fresh linens to Mary in an alcove near the courtyard where the Blessed Mother, accompanied by the Magdalen, lovingly but painfully accepts the gift. It is as if both Claudia and Mary are one in knowing what needed to be done next. Here Mel subliminally, yet graphically illustrates the merciful Mother who does not hesitate in soaking up the spattered blood on the floor of the pillar courtyard in the aftermath of the Scourging. In this act she is accepting the responsibility of carrying the concerns of His children, gathering as much blood on the linens as possible so that more will be saved. Truly a sign of Mediatrix, Advocate and CoRedemptrix. After a while, Mary Magdalene joins in helping Our Lady blot up the blood, an exemplification of the Communion of Saints.
The scenes of Pilate washing his hands tied in naturally with Christ washing His hands at the Last Supper just as every priest purifies his hands at the Lavabo in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The paradox was obvious: while Pilate's 'cleansing' was to avoid responsibility, the pure sacerdotal ritual of the celebrant is to accept the august responsibility of cleansing himself and the hearers at Holy Mass of their venial sins through the merits won for us by Christ's Passion and Death and renewed in the unbloody sacrifice each day.
Once the heavy wood was slammed down on Christ's shoulder, those stations at Assumption parish came alive. They had forever left their static state and that other dimension rose to the surface. The cinematography of these scenes were stunning and the make-up of Caviezel was impeccable in all its ungodly ugliness so magnificently created by make-up artists Keith Vanderlaan, Christien Tinsley, Vincenzo Mastrantonio, Greg Cannom, Mary Kim, Mario Michisanti, Kelley Mitchell, Brandon Reininger, Brian Sipe, and a host of others in the make-up department that should be considered for many cinematic awards in the coming year.
With every step I was thrust into the middle of the Via Crucis that, until now, I never could quite experience in full as my mind wafted back to that time long ago inside Assumption church when I was trying not to inhale the incense wafting up from the thurible as we prayed at each station and moved on, then genuflecting to the words "We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee," as we responded on our knee "Because by Thy holy cross Thou hast redeemed the world."
By the time the procession began winding up the Via Dolorosa, Caviezel had already become Christ in my mind and, I would suspect, everyone else's in the theater. There was no delineation, so convincing a role had he achieved. I cringed and wept each time Our Lord toppled and thought how could anyone go on? And I felt with Mary as she tried to get closer to her Divine Son. Here Mel brought the uniqueness of the Mother of God to a new height where the audience could see and feel what Mary experienced. Only Our Lord and Our Lady could actually see the evil one gliding effortlessly behind the Sanhedrin and other onlookers standing to the side as Christ passed. When Mary made it evident she could see the androgynous evil hooded one, it disappeared in flight behind another figure. Satan will never look the Blessed Mother or her Divine Son in the eye. He cannot. Thus we should realize the devil cannot harm us if we are anchored to Christ and His Mother. Tempted yes, but not harmed if we resist. Grace enables this.
It was a masterful touch Gibson employed that motivated Mary to rush toward her Son as any mother would at the sight of her Divine Son falling under the heaviness of the cross just yards away from where she was standing in the narrow alleyway. Mel used a flashback memory of Jesus as a child twisting his ankle. Mary dropped everything and rushed to his aid. Truly a touching respite from the agony that was yet to come.
The brilliant tie-in of the marital bond of Veronica and Simon of Cyrene, powerfully portrayed by Jarreth Merz was a magnificent segue of the fifth and sixth stations and here Mel carried Simon's part further, not just helping for a short ways, but all the way to the summit of Golgotha. I watched with a keen eye as Christ passed by Veronica. Sure enough the veil she held in her delicate hands bore the imprint of our Savior's countenance in blood. Here I could sense the very essence that J.R.R. Tolkien was depicting in his 'Lord of the Rings - Return of the King' so wonderfully recreated by Peter Jackson. Simon turned into a Samwise Ganges aiding Frodo. The difference here is that Sam was the determined one, just as Christ was; Frodo was the hesitant, fearful one, just as was Simon. But in the end love and courage triumphed. Simon, very noticeably singled out in an earlier scene as being despised by the Roman soldier as a Jew, turned out a heroic character for, though reluctantly, he took up the cross and set an example for each one of us to do likewise. Hardly anti-Semitic.
The scene of Simon descending the hill and the two Mary's and John ascending the summit simultaneously was symbolic for that was their role to stand with Him to the bitter end. And it was bitter from the hammering of the spikes into his tender flesh to the jerking of His shoulder to reach the pre-drilled mark on the right beam of the cross. Here Mel took the audience to the edge again with the Romans slamming the cross over, suspending Our Lord helplessly hanging horizontally just a foot off the ground as they positioned the wood to slip it into the pre-dug hole in the gravel. The thud sent shudders through my heart and a few more tears escaped and rolled down my cheeks. Unashamedly I brushed them away, but ashamed that if maybe I had striven to be more holy perhaps it wouldn't have been as painful for Christ. Yet, we all know it was our collective sin that forced Him to undergo this ultimate sacrifice. Yet the personal scruples continuously pecked away at my psyche just as the crow settled on the crossbeam above the bad thief. You could see the next scene coming and reminded me of Christ's warning that it would be better that one pluck out his eye, rather than sin. Yet the sinner who hung on Christ's right (I had always pictured the bad thief on the left and Dismas, the good thief on the right - guess it depends on which perspective one looks at it - from ours or God's.) was unrepentant to the end, and his derision of Christ received a swift and painful punishment. I could not help but think about those who had so maliciously put this film down and questioned Mel Gibson's own integrity how they would be eating crow for quite some time.
I could have smirked at this, but I was to engulfed in the crucifixion at this point as though I was there in person. The Seven Last words were true to the Gospel and the camera work magnificent. I swear I could feel the sweat and was even tempted to check my hands and face for splattered blood. It was only the moisture of tears.
To me the stroke of true cinematic brilliance, surpassing even that of Orson Welles' classic Citizen Kane, was Mel's utilization of a long distance shot from above. At first the scene was surrealistic and hovered there for an interminable time and then a drop reflecting the same scene plummeted downward away from the camera's angle and I recognized immediately what it was as it crashed to the foot of the cross, splashing outward. It was the single Tear of the Father above - from the "eye of God" as tomorrow's Introit says "Oculus Dei" - just before the Heavens opened and unleashed the storm of nature, rain and a temblor that rent the temple floor in half and shook all of Jerusalem. The ensuing scene provided ineffable proof that satan had lost as once again from the Almighty Father's perspective the same ground was now a carmine carpet of parched earth with the androgynous one writhing and screeching in painful acknowledgment of defeat. Hell had been emptied by the redemption of His Son.
The piercing of His Sacred Heart was a moving scene as blood and water gushed forth as a fountain of Divine Mercy for all, splashing on not only the centurion who had thrust the lance, but on the Mary's, John and many nearby. There was even a brief glimpse on Caiphas' countenance just a few scenes earlier that hinted recognition in his own hardened heart that he had realized the gravity of his actions and regretted them. One can always hope he did repent.
The Pieta scene brought to a close my journey of the Stations of the Cross there at Assumption church 50 years ago. Never again will I look upon these images in a distanced way as if I am looking on something, but now it will come alive and immerse me fully in the experience and help me grow in grace and understanding.
The brief Resurrection scene was a nice touch, the lighting magnificent and I was a bit surprised that the scene actually showed Caviezel healed and ready to emerge from the tomb because I was expecting, from the camera angle and shadowing that we would see the shadow of Christ going forth into the light and fade out in that manner. But then that was my creative imagination grasping at the way I might film it. But who am I kidding, I would be an apprentice beginner bumbling before the true master so inspired by the Holy Ghost - of that there is no doubt. I can only get down on my knees and thank God for sending Mel Gibson into the world at this time to produce the most magnificent masterpiece since the Original nearly 2000 years ago. There really is no proper adjective to absolutely do 'The Passion of The Christ' full justice except that "By their fruits you shall know them" (Matthew 7: 20).
The New York Times, not surprisingly, has panned the picture as "an assault on the spirit." I would term it totally the opposite. For as Christ has assured in Matthew 15: 13, Mark 9: 50 and Luke 14: 34, the salt must not lose its savor or it will be worthless. Not so with Mel's project of a lifetime. Souls will be won for Christ. It is truly a Triumph, quite possibly the greatest since Saint Francis of Assisi followed Christ's charge to "Rebuild My Church." Mel has begun now it is up to all of us to continue the track to bringing others back to Truth and Tradition. Ted Koppel of ABC's Nightline has publicly gone on record as saying there won't be any conversions as a result of this film. I beg to differ. Not only is Mel Gibson truly the Michelangelo of the 21st Century, but his film will never lose its savor for it is filled with the Spirit of Christ. Truly 'The Passion of The Christ' is the Salt of The Spirit!"

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