Re: [XTalk] FW: Letter About "The Passion" from Mark Komrad, a Jewish Psychiatrist
This is proving to be a fascinating phenomenon, and of some relevance since
it highlights the role of pre-understanding in hermeneutics.
I can only say that this is exactly not what I took from the film, and I
think I too am an educated viewer with some long if amateur experience in
film/art criticism with undergraduate work in sociology and some doctoral
work on the role of ideology. It only confirms to me that, as in all films
but more so in this one, what people bring to the film impacts their
I did not see the whole Jewish people. I saw a corrupt leadership, iconic to
the extreme, at one particular time and one particular place. I saw a
relatively smallish mob (no more than a few hundred, certainly not
thousands no huge tableaux of the 1000s of extras). Although I find it
difficult to believe that the Romans would have bothered with Jesus, not
least the Crossan¹s cynic, without some considerable external instigation, I
certainly wouldn¹t saddle ³the Jews² with this any more than I would saddle
the present generation of Germans en toto with the Holocaust. The reviewer
sees this as an indictment on all Jews collectively. While understandable, I
can only say that in terms of what is actually there on the screen, this is
a considerable leap.
Such leaps happen because of the ideological world the viewer brings to the
film and again especially so in this film since it does expect so much of
its viewers (they have undergo the emotional assault and at the same time
try to move between reality and symbol, as well as keep all the iconic
elements in view, the framing, the sequencing, light/shade, color,
tableaux/composition, pacing etc.; it¹s like trying to bodysurf a 15 foot
breaker). Such worlds are fostered in the communities whose identities they
shape, and this whether Jew, Christian, or atheist. I suspect this is why,
as I try to make sense of the responses (perhaps a futile task), large
numbers of Christians see this film as being about their own responsibility
and hence your encounter in Chapters, non-Christians (agnostics, atheists
who are self-proclaimed) tend to see either gore (they wear their Braveheart
or von Harnackian spectacles) or an extraordinary battle between vindictive
evil and humanity, some Sikhs I know wept and have invited me to give a
public lecture to them on this Jesus who died for the sins of the world, and
many Jews as an attack on all Jews. (I realize that these are more or less
generalizations). Given that the film is so visceral and emotive it will of
course engender very strong reactions, not all of them in my opinion very
well thought out (certainly few reflecting much objectivity, but then the
film intentionally aims at the emotions though the more I think about the
subtle imagery, etc. it is also a very competent piece of film-making).
I do not question that the reviewer is sincere about his/their feelings. But
I also think he needs to recognize that those feelings are in large part
shaped by a history in which not only he was identified with that group and
suffered long and cruelly as a result, but ironically he himself continues
to make that identification, even though the film itself does not. That I
find truly tragic. In other words, if there is problem here it does not, in
my view, lie solely with the film. I hope you realize that at no point am I
attempting to blame people, simply to understand them.
On 4/3/04 7:53 AM, "Lisbeth S. Fried" <lizfried@...> wrote:
> This is a very upsetting letter.
> Liz Fried
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Steve Weinberg [mailto:Cubsfansjw@...]
> Sent: Tue, March 02, 2004 11:25 AM
> To: undisclosed-recipients:
> Subject: Letter About "The Passion" from Mark Komrad, a Jewish
> Dear Friends:
> I have just returned from seeing Gibson's, movie "The Passion of the
> Christ." I wanted to share my opinions with you, if you chose to read
> I viewed this film as a Jew and a psychiatrist, along with about 30 other
> Jews. I wished to see it in order to evaluate it for myself in the midst
> the enormous controversy surrounding it, and various claims that it was
> either benign or malignant in its depictions of the Jews. In viewing the
> media and the buzz all over the internet about this movie, I think this is
> the single most controversial and publicized film of my lifetime.
> Therefore, I feel compelled to weigh in with my opinion to some of my own
> It was the unanimous opinion of all 30 Jews in attendance, including
> that any journalist, critic, or clergyperson who pronounced this film
> "benign" for the Jews must have seen a different version than is currently
> being screened in theaters. Despite being very open going into it, and
> hopeful, I am sad to report that I find this movie the most potentially
> disastrous development for Jewish public relations that I have personally
> encountered in my lifetime, outside of recent events in Israel.
> In its flagrant violation of almost every guideline the Vatican has issued
> regarding how the Passion story should be depicted, the Jewish people and
> its leadership are shown clearly and without ambiguity to be the
> of the betrayal and horrible torture of Jesus--depicted with extreme
> gruesomness. In fact, the Jewish leadership, backed by huge masses of the
> Jewish people, are shown in the most explicit way to put pressure on
> Pontius Pilate to not just kill Jesus but to subject him to the tortures
> that would become an essential and detailed part of his martyrdom in
> history. The portrayal of the guilt of the Jewish people and their
> leadership is not subtle, and its difficult "spin doctor" it away. As
> audience member, I found myself having very negative feelings towards the
> Jews who are shown to recruit the pre-existing sadism of the Romans to
> an example of a prophet who was subverting the Jewish status quo by
> to be the Messiah.
> Many of you know that I have been lecturing for several years about how
> Hollywood depicts psychiatrists. I became interested in this because, the
> primary instrument of public education today is the movies, and most of
> people know about who psychiatrists are and what they do is from the
> In this case, though the Bible may be the most read book in the world, the
> public now gets its education far more from the movies than even the
> Movies now are to public education, what stained-glass windows and
> architrave carvings were for the masses attending Cathedrals in the Middle
> Ages--the public educator of the masses.
> More importantly, movies are so powerful, so psychologically arousing, so
> present, that the facts they teach may actually be less important than the
> emotional impressions they leave behind. Long after the factual aspects
> a movie plot fade from memory, the emotional residue persists, leaving an
> "aftertaste" in the unconscious which is far more instrumental in forming
> opinions, in my professional experience, than rational arguments or facts.
> This is why "The Passion" is a disaster for the Jews. The FEELING one
> for the Jews in the film is horribly negative, indeed evil. There are
> actually many images of Satan in the movie, moving amongst the masses of
> jeering Jewish people, leaving a powerful impressionistic image
> Jews with evil. Their role in precipitating, facilitating and even
> applauding the suffering of Jesus is blasted into the viewer through every
> aspect of the movie's craft: the plot, the music, the photography,
> expressions on the faces of the Cohanim (the high priests). At the end,
> there is an earthquake rupturing the Jewish Temple, and the high priest is
> in terror. It doesn't take sophisticated powers of abstraction to see
> scene as divine punishment for an awful deed committed by the Jews. God
> shown to be very angry with them.
> Remember, this is not "just a movie." This is the story of the Christian
> God. It is no metaphor to say this is "Gospel". It may not accurately
> represent the Gospel of John, from which it is drawn. But its a movie,
> now movies outrank even the Bible--not in the conscious, but in the
> collective unconscious.
> Even a rational, educated, historically savvy moviegoer is very likely to
> leave this film with an extremely negative impression of the Jews. I did!
> Without getting into discussions about Mel Gibson, his father, his
> intentions, his unconscious intentions, just looking at the film for
> rather than at its maker, I am deeply troubled.
> The beast of anti-Semitism is an ancient one. At best it slumbers; it has
> not died. Recent world events show that this beast is now awakening,
> especially overseas. It has still been largely slumbering here in
> I truly worry that the sleeping beast can be aroused by this film, and the
> awakened beast overseas can be incited into agita. The Passion story has
> been one of the primary recurrent triggers of the human shadow and its
> horrors for almost 1500 years, a perennial stimulus to anti-Semitism--even
> in some of the most enlightened epochs of history (e.g., "the Golden Age"
> This movie has the power to percolate amongst the coffee grounds of the
> unconscious, to create a deep impression, a taste, a feeling which can
> trickle through the filter of people's religious "passion," and brew a
> elixir indeed.
> One might say: "People are too enlightened nowadays to fall prey to these
> kinds of feelings, too educated, trained to be sensitive, thoughtful and
> rational." My answer to this is that such optimism is delightful, and
> comforting, but represents a rather sophomoric view of human psychology.
> fails to take in the lessons of such things as the Holocaust (which Gibson
> Sr. rejects as real and therefore has no lesson), Rwanda, 9/11,
> Ireland, the Middle-East, and a sad , long litany of other contemporary
> demonstrations of the human shadow unleashed, often by educated,
> enlightened, God-worshiping people.
> It is actually my opinion that all Jewish people should see this film--not
> to give money to El Gibson, but to see what has the potential to be an
> clock which can awaken the beast. We have to know what we face, and it
> pretty. Then, we all need to educate ourselves about the known historical
> facts of the story, the contradictions of the Gospels, the distortions of
> those very Gospels by this film and the more enlightened views of the
> contemporary Catholic Church. We need to proactively try to recruit the
> consciousness of Christians who see this film to fortify conscious
> understanding, which is the only way to neutralize the unconscious,
> impressions about the Jews. which the film instills.
> If I, a devoted Jew, can walk out of this film hating the Jews depicted
> therein, how much more affected will be a devoted Christian? Through
> discourse about this film between Jews and Christians (informed by
> actually seeing the film, not just be reading emails like this and
> reviews--like Newsweek's--designed to keep peace and calm) we may have
> hope of helping to keep that awful beast slumbering-along until, one day,
> Mark S. Komrad M.D.
> 6501 North Charles St.
> Baltimore, MD 21285
> fax: 208-475-7312
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