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.



ajb said...

I watched about 15 minutes of Gibson's movie before turning it off.

JP said...

Passion was refreshing in that the bad guys weren't English as in so many other Gibson movies. =)

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - I watched it in segments on YouTube, which made things easier to bear.

@JP - I had the misfortune to watch Braveheart at the movies while I lived in Scotland. Scary... If ever there was an example of highly effective, lying, race hate propaganda - that was Braveheart.

Bruce B. said...

Yeah, come to think of it ,in Star Wars, the Englishmen are generally bad guys and the Scots and Irishmen are generally good guys.
I would say that Englishmen are definitely an Officially Designated Oppressor Group.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB The irony is that the Scots were second only to the English as highly successful international Imperial aggressors - yet somehow have passed themselves off as a victim group...

Ryan said...

Interesting. I haven't watched any Mormon films about Jesus, but I love The Passion of the Christ and always find it very spiritually moving. I wonder if that's got anything to do with my being a born-n'-raised Christian vs. your being an adult convert. I've believed Jesus to be God for as long as I can remember, so perhaps I appreciate reminders of His humanity more due to so long an association of Jesus with His divinity. Or maybe it's because I'm a cerebral sort of Catholic with the tendency toward abstraction thereof.

Also, I've never been fazed (other than in a good way) by the violence of Mel's movie. However, that's surely in part related to my being of a younger generation and thus having been more exposed to bloody cinema since a far more impressionable age. Still, I view its explicitly-detailed depictions of scourging and crucifixion as a sort of helpful purging for the sinner, who would doubtless prefer not to witness the horrible ways in which his own sins have manifested with historical specificity upon our Lord. Maybe our noses need to be rubbed into what we've done somehow, which we obviously won't enjoy. I can imagine Jesus reaffirming to me: "I really endured this, and you wince at how hard it is just to watch."

josh said...

Who is English in Star Wars aside from (good guy) Alec Guinness?

Bruce said...

I’m thinking of the various Death Star commanders with English accents in the early films. I haven’t seen all the new films.

Alec Guiness was Anglo-Irish. I’ll let Dr. Charleton decide is he qualifies real Englishmen since we Americans can’t decide these sorts of things.