About the funniest thing I've read so far about The Passion of the Christ came in a report by Martin Grove of the Hollywood Reporter. The industry expert offered sunny predictions for further revenues:
"Moreover, the calendar should also work in favor of 'Passion' because with Palm Sunday on Apr. 4, Good Friday on Apr. 9 and Easter Sunday on Apr. 11 the picture will suddenly become more timely than ever to its core audience of Christians around the world.
"If 'Passion' were to generate $400 million domestically, that could translate into $100 million or more of profits to Gibson and Icon. The rough math that gets you to this number comes from calculating Newmarket's film rentals as being around 45 percent of that $400 million--or about $180 million."
I can't imagine anything more beautiful. Christ rises--and profits go up! Who says America isn't headed in the right direction?
The question one naturally asks in all of this, of course, is: If Gibson is such a devout Catholic, why doesn't he give his share of this movie's profits to the poor? After all, that's what Jesus would have done, right?
Wrong. Jesus would have bought a condo in Bel Air, a 54-foot Hinckley, a lifetime supply of Cialis, courtside seats at the Staples Center and a swimming pool with his initials inlaid in mosaic. He would have invested in a new Tori Spelling pilot, and the rap single would have followed shortly thereafter: "Yeah...I got 44 ways of gettin' flayed..."
That the chief problem with this movie wasn't so much the content, but the title. It was too drab, too serious, too liturgical. So I spent a long time trying to come up with alternatives. There was Bravechrist, Die Really Hard, The Golgotha Chainsaw Massacre, Starsky and Christ... The list goes on and on. After dick jokes, no laugh is easier than Jesus.
But in the end, I think I got it wrong. Considering that the star was Jim Caviezel, and considering the early box office receipts, the real title should have been The Christ of Money Counto.
Yes, it's easy to make jokes about Jesus. But why? This is a question worth exploring, and it really gets right to the heart of what's so evil about The Passion of the Christ.
Seriously, why is it so easy? By any objective standard, Jesus the historical personage was a figure of greatness. Even if one doubts the biblical accounts, as I do, the figure who appears in the Bible was a great man who stood for love and peace, decency and generosity. As far as Jesus is concerned, there does not appear to be much in the actual Bible worth laughing at. It would be like laughing at Gandhi, or Martin Luther King--people who are not normally high on the list of easy laughs. The instant Hillary Clinton tried laughing at Gandhi, it immediately struck most everyone as being in very bad taste. I mean, Gandhi paid his dues. He was about as beautiful a human being as we've produced. He wouldn't begrudge you a laugh at his expense (he was known to laugh at himself)--but to laugh at him? It would have to be a rare occasion for the joke to be genuinely funny.
But with Jesus, pretty much any occasion seems to be the right occasion. We laugh at his crown of thorns as quickly as we laugh at Hitler's moustache. And make no mistake about it, these jokes are almost always funny. We even laugh about laughing about Jesus. Remember that King Missile song, "Jesus Was Way Cool?" Jesus could have scored more goals than Wayne Gretzky. He could have been funnier than any comedian you could think of... I'm sure it'd be hard even for a devout Christian not to laugh at the idea of Jesus baking the most delicious cake you've ever tasted. But why?
Here's my take: We laugh at what oppresses us. When we're down, we try to laugh at our problems. If the boss is an asshole, we enjoy imagining him being beaten by his fat wife. Everybody who ever had a rough time in school appreciates the image of the soulless Greg Marmalard buttering up to Dean Wormer: "Sir, each of the fraternities is outstanding in its own way..." And so on and so on. Jokes relieve tension and frustration. Clearly, to me anyway, Jesus is a major source of frustration, far more than he is an image of peace and love and understanding.
That's because the swine running the churches who have appropriated his name have used him for precisely that purpose. They uphold Jesus as a model of perfection intended to serve as an indictment of our own shortcomings. His sufferings on the cross are employed to make us feel guilty about ourselves. From this optimistic starting point, we are shown The Way. These aspects of the Jesus story are emphasized, in America particularly, far more than the teachings about sharing and forgiveness and, of course, nonviolence.
Enter The Passion of the Christ, a gigantic gore-fest designed to make us feel like shit. In that sense, it descends from the worst traditions of the Catholic Church, which has now spent two millennia enthusiastically laying this ridiculous bummer on the world population--though never with the aid of such great special effects. I'm quite certain that's what Gibson was thinking: Maybe these effects will finally get us over the hump.
But that's only part of the problem with The Passion. The real issue is the way it so flawlessly coincides with the other evil descendant of the ethos of the Christian churches: commercialism. Because so much of the content coursing over commercial airwaves follows the same pattern as the teachings of the doctrinal churches. They make you feel like shit, and then they sell you something. It doesn't matter whether it's obedience or a face cream, really. It's the predicate situation, a culture first of accusation and then reprisal for inadequacy, which opens the doors for opportunists to build temples using bricks of our shame and self-loathing.
Quite ingeniously, The Passion is both things at once. It is a three-hour shame-fest that is going to gross a billion dollars worldwide. People exit this movie feeling disgustingly pampered and spiritually unworthy, then they go home, turn on the television and find out that they are impotent, fat and not driving a cool enough car. So they head out to frantically accessorize, to feed that monkey. Which in turn makes them feel pampered and empty and unworthy and... Hell, why not see the Passion again?
Anyone trapped in this nightmare paradigm is going to quickly find his humor bone-tingling. That's why South Park works so well: Jesus in a death match with Santa Claus. It's perfect: the real Jesus, who is one bummer, fighting the commercial Jesus, who is the other bummer. We're subjects of both, and we secretly hate it. That's why, as the bummer gets gorier, the jokes are only going to get worse.