Rene Girard on “The Passion of the Christ”

Department of French and Italian
Stanford University
Stanford CA 94305

This review-article was first published in Le Figaro Magazine in March 2004, under the title, “A propos du film de Mel Gibson, La Passion du Christ.” The publication of the article coincided with the release of The Passion of the Christ in France.

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Well before the commercial release of his film, Mel Gibson had organized private showings for important journalists and religious leaders. If he was counting on assuring the goodwill of those he invited, he badly miscalculated; or perhaps he instead manifested a superior Machiavellianism.

The commentaries quickly followed, and far from praising the film or reassuring the public, there were only terrified vituperations and anguished cries of alarm concerning the anti-Semitic violence that might erupt at the cinema exits. Even the New Yorker, so proud of the serene humor from which it normally never departs, completely lost its composure, and in all seriousness accused the film of being more like Nazi propaganda than any other cinematic production since World War II.

Nothing justifies these accusations. For Mel Gibson, the death of Christ is a burden born by all humanity, starting with Mel Gibson himself. When his film strays a bit from the Gospel text, which happens only rarely, it is not to demonize the Jews but to emphasize the pity that Jesus inspires in some of them: in Simon of Cyrene for example, whose role is amplified, or in Veronica, the woman who, according to an ancient tradition, offered a cloth to Jesus during the ascent to Golgotha on which the features of his face became imprinted. Continue reading