Antidotes to Gibsons cruel film

According to many critics, the hottest horror movie playing at a theater near you isn’t about a serial killer or a haunted house. It’s about Jesus.

The wait is over, and Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” is ubiquitous. Ubiquitous and cruel, that is.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle says, “It is a little disquieting to notice that every evil Jewish character carries on like a community-theater Shylock.”

The New York Times’ A.O. Scott says, “It is disheartening to see a film made with evident and abundant religious conviction that is at the same time so utterly lacking in grace.”

Our reviewer, Michael Fox, puts it like this: The “depiction of the Jews is simplistic, visceral and unflattering. … I can’t shake the unsettling feeling aroused, deliberately, by Gibson’s placement of Satan among the Jews.”

Many of the worst fears of the Jewish community around “The Passion” have come true — it seems to be a nasty film that associates the Jews with evil, and layers blood upon guts without pause.

There is a debate within the Jewish community over whether the efforts of the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center to call negative attention to the movie caused more harm than good by fueling the hype machine before the film was released.

The critics’ reviews show that the anti-Semitism and sadism of Gibson’s work would have come through loud and clear without any warning from the Jewish establishment. So that leaves some of us wondering whether the protests of the ADL’s Abraham Foxman and the Wiesenthal’s Rabbi Marvin Hier — as our columnist Gary Rosenblatt suggests — only added to the sensationalist atmosphere around the film and boosted the cult of celebrity of the famous director/producer and his distasteful “Passion” play.

But that’s history at this point. Now that the film is playing at multiplexes around the world, what is the best way to tackle its ramifications?

It’s easy to be pessimistic around this phenomenon. Already, the ADL has reported an upsurge in anti-Semitic mail related to the film, and it’s only been in the theaters for several days.

But pessimism does a disservice to the strong connections between Bay Area Jews and Christians. Interfaith solidarity around the film is a sign of the historic tolerance between religions in our community.

Jewish and Christian organizations are planning a variety of events in connection with the film. Check the calendar in futures issues of j. for a listing of those forums, which may bring compassion and understanding as an antidote to the violent passion and undermining wrought by Gibson’s movie.