Friday, February 27, 2004

Black Saturday

Michael Novak at the National Review writes an astonishing review of The Passion of the Christ, surprising not so much for its content as its tone. There is the customary literacy and the tightly coupled train of logic, yet there is something else as well, the exhibition of a kind of ecstasy which we have long been taught to keep out of the public view.

I have never sat in the presence of a religious film with anything like the power of The Passion. At the end of it, I wanted to weep, and to be silent, and to commune with my God, on whom my sins had heaped such afflictions. From the opening scene, it is clear that God's Will governs the last twelve hours of Christ's suffering and death, and that He is called, not by his own will, but his Father's, to die for my sins. I am not certain how the filmmaker achieved this effect, but from the opening instant I felt personally drawn into recognition of my own responsibility for what was to come.

The effect of course, had less to do with the skill of the filmmaker than the innate power of a story which has cast itself over two millennia into our time. Before there was Gibson and even before there was Hollywood there was the Christ. Yet that fact -- the proverbial elephant in the living room -- has been kept out of view so long that people were certain to be surprised, even scandalized, at men weeping in a theater or Michael Novak writing, nearly heedless of his head, with his heart. And if the easy, facile fellowship has been somewhat dinted by the realization that both Christians and Jews hold beliefs that they will not compromise, then at least the way lies open to dispensing with the fiction that life can be encompassed by work, the shopping mall and the nearest theme park.

Because of course the moment will not last. Two weeks will see us talking about game fixing, plastic surgery, celebrity sexual scandal and bad odors. Then we will look back in wonder, not to a time of anti-Semitism or Christian persecution as some fear, but to the fleeting hour when we remembered who we were and what we were created for.