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Letters from alums about Prof. Jeffrey Stout *76 on "The Passion of the Christ"

April 16, 2004

In his analysis of "The Passion of the Christ," Prof. Stout *76 frets about the possibility of vengeful moviegoers seeking sadomasochistic piety who descend into anti-Semitic rage. Stout thus joins the chorus of academic elitists who insult the intelligence of the people whose paid attendance made "The Passion of the Christ" one of the top-10 grossing movies of all time.

Stout attempts to contrast "The Passion of the Christ" with Steven Spielberg's brilliant film "Saving Private Ryan." Stout accurately states that Spielberg made this movie to address the attitude of honoring soldiers "by paying lip service to their sacrifice without coming to terms with what the nature of their sacrifice was. It was an attempt to portray horror and violence in a way that refuses to let the audience look away in order to teach the magnitude of the soldiers' sacrifice."

It is truly ironic that if Stout had replaced the two words "the soldiers'" with "Jesus Christ's," he would have perfectly summarized Mel Gibson's motivation for producing and directing "The Passion of the Christ."

John Quintanilla *97
Denton, Tex.

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April 11, 2004

Some of Professor Stout's comments about Mel Gibson's "Passion" really miss the mark (A Moment With, April 7).

He says that Gibson did not do enough to "mitigate the dangers of an anti-Semitic reaction" and that he worked "harder" to complicate the audience reaction to Pilate and his wife. This, I'm afraid, gives Mr. Gibson far more credit than he deserves, and soft peddles the overt anti-Semitism of the movie.

As any filmmaker does, Mr. Gibson made conscious choices. He had a distinct "story book" in mind and a clearly defined personal agenda. There is hardly any effort made to distinguish between the Jewish high priests and the top of the temple hierarchy and the general Jewish population. The crowds agitating for Christ's death are clearly meant to be all Jewish, and not just a handful of the "most important Jewish characters" as Prof. Stout seems to suggest.

What very little Jewish dissent is voiced is quickly and abruptly and violently suppressed in the movie and Jewish "mobs" seem to rule the day. Nor is there anything "complicated" about Gibson's portrayal of Pilate and his wife.

Incredibly, one of the most vicious and lethal rulers of all time is portrayed as conflicted and confused about what to do with Jesus and deeply troubled by a guilty conscience. His wife is flat out compassionate about the fate of Jesus and lobbies her husband to ignore the entreaties of the "Jews."

Then, when Jesus is carrying the cross, she meets Mary, offers her water, and turns away with tears in her eyes. Where is the complication? The "Jews" won Pilate over and forced him to do something he really did not want to do. That's Gibson's message here.

And, let's not forget the imagery that seems to be part of any passion film — when Christ dies on the cross, the skies darken, the earth rumbles, the winds howl. Mr. Gibson makes sure to add another element to that imagery with the walls and columns of the Jewish temple all crashing in. God, according to the Gibson "gospel," was punishing the Jews, not the thoughtful Pilate and his tearful wife.

I guess the shame of it is that Mr. Gibson could have made a truly memorable film had there been some balance in it. I did recognize the movie as a cinematic achievement — the relentless brutality, as raw and disgusting as it is, did have a mystical element to it and an artistic predicate — a man suffering for the sins of all men is going to "suffer" big time. So, I was able to understand to some extent the dramatic excuse for the violence.

The treatment, however, of the Jews as contrasted with Pilate and his wife has no such mystical element or artistic predicate [it's obvious and in your face], and, was, in my mind, inexcusable.

Peter C. Alkalay '68

Scarsdale, N.Y.

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