Autumn Phillips: Changing the subject
April 1, 2004
I said no.
But something about the way a mother says, “I wouldn’t want to make you do anything you don’t want to do,” ensures that you’re doing it.
That’s how I found myself at the Chief Plaza at 7 p.m., buying three tickets to “The Passion of the Christ.”
The movie has been in town for weeks and only the dregs of the holdouts were left to half-fill the tiny theater.
Unless you’ve been living in an informational vacuum, you know that “The Passion” is Mel Gibson’s attempt to re-create the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. In typical Gibson fashion, he goes for gore to make an impact.
It was the most violent movie I have ever seen, and it was my mother’s third time to see it.
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Relief from the blood, the beatings and the endless close-ups of Jesus’ brutalized face came with well-placed flashbacks of his life with his mother and his disciples.
Still, I spent most of the movie staring at the ground.
9 o’clock. We groped our way out of the theater onto Lincoln Avenue. My mother’s husband was in tears, and I was in shock. I couldn’t have talked about the movie then, even if I’d wanted to. Instead, I hugged my mom and walked by myself toward Yampa Street. As soon as I was alone, I started crying.
That night I dreamed of walking outside wearing my mother’s shoes. They were too big, they were on the wrong feet, and they were unbuckled. I was standing at the bottom of a crumbling construction site that looked strangely like Golgotha (the site of Jesus’ crucifixion). As I struggled up the hill, all around me workers were being injured and maimed. Their flesh was ripped. My mind was trying to sort and file everything I had just seen.
The next morning at breakfast, “The Passion” was the unavoidable topic.
Flashback: In my early 20s, I confronted my parents with all my questions, doubts and changes in my belief system. They needed to know: I was no longer the girl in the second pew who I had been at 15.
As I drew line after line in the sand, the gap between my parents and I opened up like a wound or a splitting fault line. The wound lay between us on the table as my mother asked, “What did you think of the movie?”
I began to analyze. There were things I disagreed with, I said, such as Gibson’s portrayal of Judas as a demon possessed. And don’t you think the scene where the raven plucks out that guy’s eye was a little over the top and not very biblical?
Oh. And what about that whipping scene? They hit him way more than 39 times (what I remember from the Bible) and did Gibson have to show every single lash?
“That scene was a fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah that he would be beaten beyond recognition,” my mother’s husband said.
I stopped. I realized.
I had stepped onto a land mine and everyone was waiting for me to lift my feet.
What I said next was very important.
I took a sip of coffee and looked out at Sunday’s snow.
“I guess this isn’t the kind of movie you tear apart and analyze,” I said. “Maybe it’s better to just see it for what it is — a way for Christians to remind themselves of what they believe.”
The waitress arrived with our breakfast.
“Looks like they cooked your eggs the way you like them,” my mom said.
We changed the subject.