Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Grimm Reality: Saving our children from The Passion

By Jane Stillwater

In my opinion, Mel Gibson was definitely onto something when he made his movie, The Passion. But it definitely wasn't religion.

At first the movie appears to be a story about Christ's adventures on the Via Dolorosa. But on closer inspection, I can see that our Mel is spinning a positively FREUDIAN tale; a fairy tale in the grand old Grimm tradition. This movie isn't about religion. It is a simple bedtime story designed to sooth, comfort and protect Mr. Gibson -- and all the children of the world as well -- against all those ogres and trolls still hanging out in the mental closets of our childhoods.

To my mind, The Passion is an intricately woven tapestry of explanation and denial -- a subconscious attempt by Gibson to explain the unexplainable, the 'Spare the rod and spoil the child" attitude that many children are raised with -- and most likely he was too.
When little kids just can't UNDERSTAND why they are being beaten with a belt, they tend to make up myths. "Why did my father hurt me?" this movie asks on behalf of the world's children. "And when Pops was dragging me off to the woodshed, why didn't he listen to my mother's pleas to intercede for me? Why? Why? Why?"

Remember that poignant scene in Maya Angelou's autobiography when she is being brutally raped as a child and prays to the Green Lantern to come and save her? It's like that.

"Where was Superman?" asks these young children. Where was Spider-Man, Static Shock or even the freaking police department? And how come the priests, who are always preaching love and forgiveness, go along for the ride -- even cheering the father on as he drags poor helpless young Mel off to the woodshed? What would a good Catholic boy like Mel ask himself under these circumstances? "Where is God while this is happening?" Where is Jesus?

Imagine the terror, fear and helplessness of this LITTLE KID as he is being dragged off to the woodshed by an angry man three times his size. To explain this horror to himself, this kid has got to invent major mythology -- and he's got to do it fast! BECAUSE NO ONE IS GOING TO COME AND SAVE HIM.

What mythology would you have come up with? I myself used to invent imaginary twin sisters and fairy princesses -- but then I was a girl. Boys like young Braveheart here tend to think more along the lines of archetypal heroes. "I'm Jesus," thinks Gibson. "I'm taking all this pain so that I CAN TRANSFORM IT." Every abused child can identify with that. "There must be SOME good reason why I am being beaten and beaten and beaten...." With no escape. How sad.

To quote an article by Mitch Battros, "One scene in the film has now been forever etched in my mind. A brutalized, wounded Jesus was soon to fall again under the weight of the cross. His mother had made her way along the Via Della Rosa [sic].... Jesus looked at her with intensely probing and passionately loving eyes (and at all of us through the screen) and said "Behold I make all things new." ...Suddenly, the purpose of the pain was so clear and the wounds, that earlier in the film had been so difficult to see in His face, His back, indeed all over His body, became intensely beautiful. They had been borne voluntarily for love."

My love and respect for Jesus is for a different reason. He is my idol not because Simon sez so but because He was willing to suffer the tortures of hell rather than repudiate his stance on non-violence. Hardly anybody in all the religious fundamentalist camps today is willing to do that. They'd rather go to war.

The Passion is now a top box-office hit. Why is it so very popular? One reason, I think, is that it, like other super-hero movies in the genre, gives hope to all the poor tortured former children who flock to see it -- be they Christian, Muslim or Jew. The Passion gives them a Grimm fairy tale all their own -- one that somehow justifies and transfixes the pathetically sad and unjust treatment that they received as children.

Rather than go to all this work to create all this rationale, wouldn't it just be easier to eliminate child abuse? Before yet another generation of children grow up to beat their own children -- and also become numb to torture, murder and war?

My daughter Ashley, however, has an entirely different take on The Passion. "My friend went to see it," said Ashley, "and she thought it was a great date flick." Date flick? Say what? "After about five minutes, she and her boyfriend got bored and spent the rest of the movie making out. They loved it."

For tips on how to raise a healthy, respectful-yet-independent-thinking child without the use of punishment, please read John Gray's wonderful book, "Children are from Heaven".