So what does he think of "The Passion"? Ansen can't find the "truly religious" angle in it: "Others may well find a strong spirituality in "The Passion" -- I can't pretend to know what this movie looks like to a believer -- but it was Gibson's fury, not his faith, that left a deep, abiding aftertaste."
Time critic Richard Corliss' review carried the offensive (and trite) headline "The Goriest Story Ever Told." (Compared to what? The remake of "Texas Chainsaw Massacre"?) Corliss, who received exclusive looks at the film before its debut, mildly honored Gibson's passion and artistry, but advised Time readers to avoid the theatre, suggesting it's only for "true believers with cast-iron stomachs; people who can stand to be grossed out as they are edified."
But in 1988, Corliss lauded Scorsese's "masterpiece" on Lucifer Christ. Scorsese's screen violence "is emetic, not exploitative. The crowning with thorns, the scourging at the pillar, the agonized trudge up Calvary show what Jesus suffered and why. (Willem) Dafoe's spiky, ferocious, nearly heroic performance is a perfect servant to the role. He finds sense in Jesus' agonies; he finds passion in the parables."
In 1988, the New York Daily News found in Scorsese's film "integrity, reverence and a good deal of cinematic beauty." But this time around, critic Jami Bernard could only smear Gibson's film as "the most virulently anti-Semitic movie made since the German propaganda films of World War II." If Ms. Bernard is concerned with real anti-Semitism, she needs to read Joel Rosenberg's recent article for National Review Online discussing the Syrian miniseries "Al-Shatat," which features Jews slaughtering a Christian boy and spilling his blood into Passover matzoh bread.
Films like Gibson's "Passion" remind us that film critics see themselves as far more than advice columnists. They view themselves as the (don't laugh) moral arbiters of the popular culture. But in the case of "The Passion," the harshest critics are dead wrong, and every day's tidal wave of tickets washes away their disbelieving, deconstructing attempts to ruin its powerful effect on American hearts and minds.
Never in history has the chasm between the critics and their public been deeper.
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