Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts says out loud what a lot of other fans of The Passion of the Christ won't -- that, despite what some of the movie's advocates say about "outreach," it's meant to be exclusionary:
... there's something critics of "The Passion," Jewish and otherwise, are missing. Namely, that this movie -- there's no delicate way to say this -- was not made for them -- or for that matter, for Muslims or atheists. It is deliberately exclusionary to a degree I've seldom seen. You didn't have to be Jewish to get "Schindler's List" or black to get "Roots." Being those things might have deepened your appreciation, but they were not necessary.
To understand "The Passion," though, you need at least familiarity with the four Gospels and ideally, faith in them. The movie does not concern itself with back story; it assumes that you come to it with a certain body of knowledge.
Otherwise, all you will see is a man being hit over and over and over again, such extravagantly brutal torture that you cringe and pray for it to be done. But it never is. There is always another blow, a fresh gout of blood. If you know the Gospels, however, you might see something more than violence. You might see the embodiment of Christ's message. Which was not simply "love and faith" but redemption, ransom, sacrifice, the willingness to take upon himself, upon his body, punishment for all the sins of humankind.
I'll leave it to others to argue whether it makes sense to exclude so many people....
It's interesting to put that together with this passage from a column about The Passion by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, author of Hitler's Willing Executioners, that was published yesterday in The Forward (subscribers only):
Because the crucifix makes present the story of Jesus' death, it inevitably conjures up the role of those accused of killing him. It is hard to think of the moment of murder without thinking of the murderer. It is hard to lament the unjust death of a beloved without blaming his killer, without feeling anger and the desire for punishment or vengeance.
I'll admit I'm judging just from clips and reviews, but my sense is that the primary purpose of the movie is to stir Christians -- and Christians only -- to anger and a shared sense of victimization and outrage. Outrage just at Jews? Or outrage at anyone, present and past, who isn't Christian, as Gibson defines the term? I can't say, but I think it's possible that the answer is the latter. If I'm right, the evil Jews who demand the torture of Jesus in Gibson's movie stand not just for Jews as a group, but for liberal Christians and liberal secularists. In other words, for you and me.