"THE PASSION": JESUS IN SUB-SPACE
I first encountered "traditionalist" Catholicism back in the 1970s.
As a teen, I went shopping for religions, or at least tried to sample
all the selections before retreating into generalized cynicism. One
evening I found myself listening to a lecture given by a man I'll call
Father Pierre, a fellow who seemed to believe in anything and
everything -- bleeding communion wafers, Our Lady of Fatima, splinters
of the True Cross, you name it. Everything, that is, except the legacy
of the Vatican II conference, which had tried to drag the Catholic
Church into the modern age. The modern age held no charms for Father
My attention drifted to the small aviary of young-ish ‘nuns' who
flitted about the handsome Father Pierre, tending to his every need.
"Oh, he's so spiritual this evening!" one cooed to the other.
"Yes, yes," replied her sister. "So spiritual. Filled with power and
These gals were gushing. In more ways than one. They practically left
snail trails on the carpet. (I was hardly surprised to discover, many
years later, that accusations of ‘impropriety' swirled around Father
Nothing ushers you into cynicism faster than a youthful encounter with
the subterranean sexual underpinnings of extreme religiosity.
Watching Mel Gibson's well-crafted but unmoving "The Passion of the
Christ" reminded me of that long-ago evening. My initial fears that
evangelicals would find this film a potent recruiting device have
proven groundless. By exposing the psychopathology underlying his
version of traditionalist Christianity, Gibson has made the worst
possible argument for his faith.
"The Passion" strips Jesus of his message, ignores (for the most part)
both his humanity and his spirituality, and reduces him to a suffering
cipher. In Gibson's hands, Jesus becomes the central figure in a work
of blood-soaked homosexual pornography. This film is a two-hour-long
BDSM session, with Jesus playing "bottom" for a Jerusalem teeming with
ruthless gay Doms.
I do not object to the level of violence. I object, in part, to the
fact that violence is all this film has to offer, just as sex is all
that a sex film has to offer. First and foremost, I object to a
filmmaker so lacking in self-awareness that he cannot admit, either to
his audience or to himself, the true motives underlying his
BDSM explores primeval areas of sexuality and self-worth, and many who
feel drawn to the imagery of erotic torture can never acknowledge this
attraction on a conscious level. Mel Gibson, obviously, doesn't have
the courage to look into this mirror. However, as Father Pierre's
‘nuns' taught me, religion can offer an outlet for the repressed and
unacknowledged side of one's sexuality.
Those who've read about BDSM, or spoken to anyone involved with the
lifestyle, will recognize the flagellation scene in "Passion" for what
it is: A hyperbolized version of the sort of activity that thousands
of men and women experience in makeshift "dungeons" across the world,
sometimes even paying for the privilege. The punishment we see on
screen has little to do with actual Roman justice; forget about the
traditional 39 lashes administered by bored soldiers just doing their
jobs. The soldiers onscreen here relish their duties with a flagrantly
In most BDSM scenes, the flogging slowly increases in intensity. The
session starts with the lighter instruments of torment, then proceeds
to the heavier, more sanguinary implements. When the "bottom" has
achieved an altered state of consciousness called "sub-space," the
"Top" turns him over to administer flagellation on the more sensitive
front side of his body. "The Passion" follows this time-honored
sequence, differing from offerings of fetish pornographers only in the
quantity of its bloodletting.
The Roman flagrum, I've read, had small bits of metal or animal bone
embedded into the tails. That's not good enough for Gibson, who
provides huge meat hooks which dig deep into the flesh. What we see on
screen is not just the record of a "normal" BDSM scene; this is a born
masochist's vision of the ultimate in submission.
Before the first time they administer the whip or the cane, Tops are
admonished to keep all strikes between the shoulder blades, never
hitting the sensitive sides of the abdomen. Many sadists, however,
long for the forbidden, and the more extreme Tops dream about finding
a bottom who consents to being flogged anywhere, even in the
proscribed zones. Similarly, the most extreme bottoms take an odd
pride in their lack of limitations. Once we understand this sexual
dynamic, we can better understand why the flagellation in "Passion"
builds to a climactic shot in which the flagrum cuts deep into the
side of Jesus' flesh. The camera records this blow in clear,
pornographic detail. Jesus reacts with an agony tinged with ecstasy.
A few subs dreamily consider extending their suffering to its logical
conclusion -- the final submission. The Gospel story has spawned many
a necro-erotic vision; a few underground BDSM clubs have featured live
crucifixions. These extreme sexual fantasies, founded on guilts and
self-hatreds many share but few confess, may well be the hidden source
for orthodox Christianity's barbaric theology of blood substitution
and human sacrifice to appease a primitive deity.
When Gibson's lifeless Jesus receives the spear in the side, resulting
in a (Biblically justifiable) gusher of blood and liquid, a Roman
soldier gets sprayed in the face. Anyone one who has ever watched an
adult video will recognize this moment as the film's cum shot.
Having spent himself on Golgotha, Gibson cannot bother with the
entombment, the anointing, the garden encounter, the angels in the
tomb or the other details of the Resurrection. The empty tomb doesn't
arouse him. The Ascension bores him. Mary Magdalene? Pheh. She's so
Now we know why Gibson gave his film a title with an obvious double
meaning. Now we know the reason for his well-known discomfort with
homosexuality. Now we know why images of torture permeate so many of
Even Bill O'Reilly's recent television interview with the fidgety,
manic Gibson inadvertently revealed this film-maker's pathological
masochism. My cathode ray tube has hosted few images more obscene than
that of Mel Gibson whining about the sufferings and persecutions he
has undergone. In a world teeming with unfortunates beset by genuine
poverty and oppression, this widely-loved, world-famous
mega-millionaire has the audacity to claim HE is the one undergoing
"persecution" -- simply because some people dared to criticize his
movie. What stupefying audacity!
Gibson carried this audacity to further heights when he spoke of
loving his persecutors. In doing so, he displayed an obnoxious
condescension -- but he also let us glimpse a carefully occulted
truth. On a certain plane, he does indeed love his persecutors. Or
rather: He loves the idea of being persecuted.
Gibson has bragged about the fact that, on screen, his is the hand
that drives the first nail. We are told that he made this gesture to
emphasize his own sense of sin. Yes, Mel, we know. You've been a bad
boy. You've been a VERY bad boy.
-- Martin Cannon
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