Review of THE PASSIONby Mark S. Komrad M.D.
A Psychiatrist's Response
March 10, 2004
I have just returned from seeing Gibson's, movie "The Passion of the Christ." I wanted to share my opinions with you, if you chose to read them. I viewed this film as a Jew and a psychiatrist, along with about 30 other Jews. I wished to see it in order to evaluate it for myself in the midst of the enormous controversy surrounding it, and various claims that it was either benign or malignant in its depictions of the Jews. In viewing the media and the buzz all over the Internet about this movie, I think t his is the single most controversial and publicized film of my lifetime. Therefore, I feel compelled to weigh in with my opinion to some of my own correspondants.
It was the unanimous opinion of all 30 Jews in attendance, including myself, that any journalist, critic, or clergyperson who pronounced this film "benign" for the Jews must have seen a different version than is currently being screened in theaters. Despite being very open going into it, and hopeful, I am sad to report that I find this movie the most potentially disastrous development for Jewish public relations that I have personally encountered in my lifetime, outside of recent events in Israel.
In its flagrant violation of almost every guideline the Vatican has issued regarding how the Passion story should be depicted, the Jewish people and its leadership are shown clearly and without ambiguity to be the instigators of the betrayal and horrible torture of Jesus - depicted with extreme gruesomeness. In fact, the Jewish leadership, backed by huge masses of the Jewish people, are shown in the most explicit way to put pressure on Pontius Pilate to not just kill Jesus but to subject him to the torture s that would become an essential and detailed part of his martyrdom in history. The portrayal of the guilt of the Jewish people and their leadership is not subtle, and its difficult "spin doctor" it away. As an audience member, I found myself having very negative feelings towards the Jews who are shown to recruit the pre-existing sadism of the Romans to make an example of a prophet who was subverting the Jewish status quo by claiming to be the Messiah.
Many of you know that I have been lecturing for several years about how Hollywood depicts psychiatrists. I became interested in this because, the primary instrument of public education today is the movies, and most of what people know about who psychiatrists are and what they do is from the cinema. In this case, though the Bible may be the most read book in the world, the public now gets its education far more from the movies than even the Bible. Movies now are to public education, what stained-glass wind ows and architrave carvings were for the masses attending Cathedrals in the Middle Ages - the public educator of the masses.
More importantly, movies are so powerful, so psychologically arousing, so present, that the facts they teach may actually be less important than the emotional impressions they leave behind. Long after the factual aspects of a movie plot fade from memory, the emotional residue persists, leaving an "aftertaste" in the unconscious which is far more instrumental in forming opinions, in my professional experience, than rational arguments or facts.
This is why "The Passion" is a disaster for the Jews. The FEELING one gets for the Jews in the film is horribly negative, indeed evil. There are actually many images of Satan in the movie, moving amongst the masses of jeering Jewish people, leaving a powerful impressionistic image associating Jews with evil. Their role in precipitating, facilitating and even applauding the suffering of Jesus is blasted into the viewer through every aspect of the movie's craft: the plot, the music, the photography, expres sions on the faces of the Cohanim (the high priests). At the end, there is an earthquake rupturing the Jewish Temple, and the high priest is in terror. It doesn't take sophisticated powers of abstraction to see this scene as divine punishment for an awful deed committed by the Jews. God is shown to be very angry with them.
Remember, this is not "just a movie." This is the story of the Christian God. It is no metaphor to say this is "Gospel". It may not accurately represent the Gospel of John, from which it is drawn. But its a movie, and now movies outrank even the Bible--not in the conscious, but in the collective unconscious.
Even a rational, educated, historically savvy moviegoer is very likely to leave this film with an extremely negative impression of the Jews. I did! Without getting into discussions about Mel Gibson, his father, his conscious intentions, his unconscious intentions, just looking at the film for itself rather than at its maker, I am deeply troubled.
The beast of anti-Semitism is an ancient one. At best it slumbers; it has not died. Recent world events show that this beast is now awakening, especially overseas. It has still been largely slumbering here in America. I truly worry that the sleeping beast can be aroused by this film, and the awakened beast overseas can be incited into agitation. The Passion story has been one of the primary recurrent triggers of the human shadow and its horrors for almost 1500 years, a perennial stimulus to anti-Semitis m - even in some of the most enlightened epochs of history (e.g., "the Golden Age" of Spain).
This movie has the power to percolate amongst the coffee grounds of the unconscious, to create a deep impression, a taste, a feeling which can trickle through the filter of people's religious "passion," and brew a dark elixir indeed.
One might say: "People are too enlightened nowadays to fall prey to these kinds of feelings, too educated, trained to be sensitive, thoughtful and rational." My answer to this is that such optimism is delightful, and comforting, but represents a rather sophomoric view of human psychology. It fails to take in the lessons of such things as the Holocaust (which Gibson Sr. rejects as real and therefore has no lesson), Rwanda, 9/11, gay-bashing, Ireland, the Middle-East, and a sad, long litany of other contemporary demonstrations of the human shadow unleashed, often by educated, enlightened, God-worshiping people.
It is actually my opinion that all Jewish people should see this film -not to give money to Mel Gibson, but to see what has the potential to be an alarm clock which can awaken the beast. We have to know what we face, and it isn't pretty. Then, we all need to educate ourselves about the known historical facts of the story, the contradictions of the Gospels, the distortions of those very Gospels by this film and the more enlightened views of the contemporary Catholic Church. We need to proactively try to re cruit the consciousness of Christians who see this film to fortify conscious understanding, which is the only way to neutralize the unconscious, hateful impressions about the Jews. which the film instills.
If I, a devoted Jew, can walk out of this film hating the Jews depicted therein, how much more affected will be a devoted Christian? Through discourse about this film between Jews and Christians (informed by actually seeing the film, not just be reading emails like this and reviews -like Newsweek's - designed to keep peace and calm) we may have some hope of helping to keep that awful beast slumbering - along until, one day, it dies.
Mark S. Komrad M.D.
Article also found at http://ecumene.org/SHOAH/Mel_Gibson%27s_Passion_Komrad.html
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