• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Thursday, July 17, 2008

    The Anti-Mary in The Passion

    I received a number of interesting comments on my podcast on The Passion of the Christ, but there was one in particular that I've been meaning to mention here, as it's not something I've heard talked about elsewhere. Scott Knick made this point:
    More interesting to me is the very high Mariology of the film, particularly in light of its passionate acceptance by American conservative Protestants. This movie is almost as much about Mary as it is about Jesus. The provocative image of the female Satan carrying the deformed, leering baby quite clearly positions Satan not as the Antichrist but the anti-Mary. That’s elevating the figure of Mary pretty darned high in the Christian cosmology, something I’ve never seen in a Jesus movie, and yet you never hear a peep about it in most commentary on the film.
    It's interesting that whilst both that particular scene, and the film's generally high Mariology (her sensing Jesus through the floor for example) have both been talked about at length that the two have rarely been put together.

    There are a few further points I'd like to make here. Firstly, whilst the Satan character is meant to be androgynous, the role is performed by a woman, perhaps also emphasising this point. Secondly, it's interesting that Mary Magdalene is portrayed as a follower of Mary as much, if not more, than she is a disciple of Jesus. Yes, there's the scene where she crawls towards him to touch his feet, but the film gives no indication of any relationship between the two, whereas the two Marys are clearly very close. In a way Mary Magdalene corresponds to the only one of Jesus's followers to remain faithful throughout the film - John. Whilst this is, I suppose, largely based on John's gospel, the link between the two Marys is certainly heightened. Jesus has a disciple, Mary has a disciple. I doubt that's what Gibson intended, but there's perhaps something in it.

    Having said all that, it's unclear from scripture who or what the anti-Christ actually is, so equating he/she/it with Satan is certainly not a given. There's a modern tendency to picture Satan as the opposite of God, whereas he is nothing of the sort. So making Satan the anti-Mary rather than the anti-Christ could theoretically be about emphasising the lowliness of Satan's status rather than heightening Mary's. Nevertheless, this is certainly one aspect of the film I'll be watching very closely next time I watch it. I remember a number of shots from Mary's point of view and I'd be interested to see how these compare to those from Jesus's vantage point.

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    • At 3:08 pm, July 17, 2008, Blogger Kevin C. Neece said…

      Interesting thoughts! You can also see Satan as the 'anti-Mary' at the end of the crucifixion scene. As he/she screams, he/she casts away a black shawl that is very similar to the one Mary wears.

      As for Magdalene as Mary's disciple, it's an interesting idea, though I'm not sure I'd go quite that far. I think the relationship between Magdalene and Jesus is very clear - illustrated by the scene you describe, as well as by her clear love of him to follow after him through all his suffering and the fact that she is the only one who sees the miraculous floating cross. In fact, it is almost as though the event is for her personal benefit - and idea reflected in one of the film's commentaries.

      Also, it was very common for women and men to separate themselves at that time, so the two Marys being so close is simply a function of the fact that they spend all their time together as the primary women of the group and that they both love Jesus.

      Back to the anti-Mary, though. I'd say that's a guise or a role Satan assumes as a part of the overall scheme of derailing and mocking Jesus. I'd hardly say it defines the character as a whole, though Satan is definitely pitted against both Jesus and Mary and the anti-Mary is certainly there. Does this elevate Mary? Yes, from where most people leave her - helpless and crying. This film's Mary is very strong and has her own battle to fight against the same foe as her son.

      Singer/Songwriter Rich Mullins once said that it's not so much that Catholics honor Mary too much as it is that we all honor each other too little. I hope that this film helped Protestants understand that Mary really is worthy of honor and that, while loving her should not become idolatry, neither should it be so wholly avoided as to undervalue her importance.

    • At 3:00 pm, July 24, 2008, Blogger ScottKnick said…

      I'm gratified my comment caught your interest, Matt!

      I did not mean to suggest that the New Testament itself positions Satan as the Antichrist, but as you point out, Christians -- certainly American Christians -- make this association. That Satan would find the traditional image of the Virgin and Child worthy of mockery certainly elevates the importance of that image, and thus the importance of Mary herself. Gibson doesn't show us any Satanic equivalents of, say, the Last Supper or the baptism in the Jordan, or any other iconic moments from the life of Jesus.

      I could go on, but I think you'll get most of this on your next viewing. There's the whole thing about Pilate's wife and her mystical transaction with Mary, providing her a cloth to soak up the blood in the flogging yard, and, as you mention, the psychic location of Jesus under the floor. Etc. etc.

      Great blog!

    • At 9:46 am, July 25, 2008, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks Scott


    • At 10:41 pm, November 12, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      Should you be interested in the actual relationship between Jesus and Mary, Jesus and the Magdalene, Jesus and the world, read the Poem of the Man God - it will change your views forever, forever, forever. Read it and tell me later.

    • At 9:07 am, November 13, 2008, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks, could you provide a link?



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