Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Mel versus the Mormons: depicting Christ


I have watched Mel Gibson's movie Passion of the Christ, and also quite a few segments of Mormon movies about the life of Jesus that are available on the website.

Both are good, both are sincere, both are worth watching.

However, there is an interesting difference between these depictions, which goes in the opposite direction from the theological traditions of these denominations.


Gibson's movie is a high production value, high impact affair of ultra-realism and aimed at an elite audience; in which the humanity of Christ is extremely prominent and the scenes of torture were almost unbearable for me to watch.

The Mormon movies are much more modest affairs aimed at educating and edifying a middle- to low-brow audience, with what my daughter would describe as 'dodgy' special effects; and a tone which would strike the arts cinema aficionado as kitsch, if not downright cheesy...

Yet, of course, regular readers will not be surprised to hear that although I admired Gibson's achievement; I prefer the Mormon movies!


The reason is that I personally have no problem at all in imagining and visualizing the horrors of torture and the sufferings of Christ as man, and no particular desire to watch this kind of thing - thank you very much...

But I do have some difficulty in imagining the divinity of Christ as God - and this came through very strongly in the Mormon movie clips; by deployment of a more formalized and symbolic (less naturalistic) style of acting and mise en scene; and by tricks such as lighting Jesus with a sort of glow and having a soothing kind of background music.

Yet of course Catholic theology (which underlies Gibson's movie) is far more mystical and Abstract than Mormon theology which is very concrete and literal.


So it seems that the Catholic starts from high abstraction and brings Christ 'down to earth' in depictions of literal realism; while the concrete Mormon starts from a very solid, flesh and blood Christ who is elevated by the movie techniques and style making into a divinely illumined figure.

On the whole, in the kind of prosaic world in which we live, I think there is more need for the Mormon approach to depicting Christ as if lit from within, and with a dignity and nobility of which modern lives are all-but empty.