Much of the advance criticism of Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ has assumed that it will stir up anti-Semitism just like medieval passion plays did. The advance reviews by critics who actually saw it are now beginning to come in. And it looks like whether they like it or not depends on whether they think of it as a medieval passion play. Rueters hates it:
This, then, is a medieval Passion Play with much better effects. Flesh is flayed in grotesque detail. Body fluids spurt in exquisite patterns. Slow motion captures any action or glance Gibson deems significant.
But Ebert and Roeper give it two thumbs up:
'This is the most powerful, important and by far the most graphic interpretation of Christ's final hours ever put on film,' said Roeper, a Sun-Times columnist. 'Mel Gibson is a masterful storyteller, and this is the work of his lifetime. You have to admire not just Gibson for his vision and his directing abilities, but Jim Caviezel [as Christ] and the rest of the cast.'
As for the controversy over whether the movie promotes anti-Semitism, Ebert said, 'I hope people will see this movie for themselves and then judge. I don't think the movie is anti-Semitic. Christ was born as a Jew, his disciples were Jewish. Yes, [in the movie] some Jewish priests call for his death. [But] they're threatened by his assault on their establishment. Institutions protect their power structures. [Besides] most of the Jews in this movie are horrified by what they see.'
'This movie does not blame all Jews past and present for the death of Jesus,' Roeper said. 'And no matter what your faith, it should not be shaken or threatened by a movie, even one as intense and personal as this one.'
Both Ebert and Roeper emphasized the movie's message of redemption.
'It focuses relentlessly on the price that Christ paid for redemption,' Ebert said. 'And it emphasizes that Jesus wanted this to happen. His death was the instrument of his purpose, and we should be grateful to him instead of critical of those who were the instruments of his will.'
Added Roeper, 'And this film does all of that in such a powerful and effective way.'
In Australia, an Anglican bishop likes it:
"What is particularly striking is the visualisation of the effect of Jesus upon others. Have you ever thought how Malchus reacted to Jesus' healing of his ear, after Peter's overzealous removal of it? The look on Malchus' face, while not described by Luke, must have been priceless. Consider the reaction of Barabbas upon hearing of his release, or the response of Simon of Cyrene in being conscripted to carry Jesus' cross"