The Captain and I managed to catch a theatrical showing of The Passion of the Christ before it finished its run. I’m sure he will write a more in-depth response to the film; for now I will say that The Passion was powerful, spiritual, very Catholic, and often difficult to watch. [Actually, you're doing a good job here, hon. *keess* Not being Catholic myself, I'd rather focus more on the Resurrection than the agonies He went through, but I thought Gibson did a good job of showing a living Christ at the end of the movie. *spoiler warning* When Satan tempts Christ in the garden, he sends a snake to attack Christ. Christ stomps on the snake, and his agony in the garden is done. A nice reference to Christ defeating the Devil. -The Captain] Those who have followed this film’s progress know of the problems associated with its filming—how some Jewish groups decried its anti-Semitism without having seen a frame of it; how no major distributor would touch the film, calling it “too controversial;” how Mel Gibson spent millions of his own money to ensure the project would be completed. Having seen the fruits of his labor, I can honestly say it was worth the trouble. [I liked that Gibson stuck very close to the Bible. It isn't 100% Biblical, but the differences do not detract from the story. *spoiler warning* There are some very nicely done flashbacks in the movie. My favorite shows a younger Christ working on a table. Mary calls him in to eat, and there is some playful and touching interaction here. Gibson does a good job showing that Christ was not an aloof stranger, but a loving son of His mother. There are some scenes that do not appear in the Bible -- for example, Judas being tormented by devil-children, a woman offering Christ some water, Pilate talking with his wife over the nature of truth, Pilate's wife giving Mary some clean linens, and the two Marys mopping up Christ's blood after the scourging. The last one was the most jarring to my non-Catholic eyes. -The Captain]

The Passion is effective because it is, above all other things, a work of faith. Its creation was driven by the passion of its creator to try to show the world a depiction of what Christians believe was the only perfect man ever to live on Earth, and what he willingly went through to offer us salvation from our sins. To its creator, Mel Gibson, and to millions of Christians worldwide, The Passion of the Christ portrays (in sometimes excruciating detail) the most vitally important event that has ever occurred on Earth—the Atonement, a sacrifice that affects every human being who has ever lived or ever will live. Orson Scott Card has suggested that Mel Gibson withdraw this film from consideration for any and all industry awards, and I agree—it’s not that kind of film.

One of the intriguing things about The Passion of the Christ was its relative lack of promotion. People knew about this film a long time before its release; there was hardly a need for advertising. Yet even with few ads and no preview showings for major news outlets, The Passion has done very well indeed. Works of faith are their own reward, but The Passion has additionally rewarded its risk-taking producers with gobs of money. Even if it had been a box-office flop, though, I believe The Passion would have been worth making. It is a film with something definite to say, something worth saying in a public forum—it is a declaration of faith and love.

There is another Passion being released this year, one very different from The Passion of the Christ. I was first made aware of this other Passion before this week’s American Idol, when a commercial break turned out to be a single movie preview. At 10+ minutes, it was the lengthiest film trailer I’ve ever seen, and it was visually arresting. In a series of fantastic special effects sequences, we saw people scrambling to stay alive as New York’s financial district flooded with torrents of water, then flash-froze.

“Wait a minute, isn’t this supposed to be a movie?” the Captain asked. “I thought this was being released in theaters.”

It is. But apparently the teaser trailers haven’t created quite enough positive buzz, and Roland Emmerich wants to make certain that everyone, but everyone, goes to see his movie The Day After Tomorrow, scheduled for U.S. release on May 28. Emmerich, who directed and wrote the film, has spun an apocalyptic, special-effects-laden tale of devastating climate change and the wholesale destruction of human civilization by Nature itself. The upcoming film’s official site features a second-by-second countdown, the extreme weather patterns of 2003, pseudo-scientific discussions of What You Can Do to Save the Earth, and pulsing, eerie background music. Every marketing method used for this film is designed to give it public placement as A Major Cinematic Event. Risk not seeing this film at your own peril! Check out this eye-candy of New Yorkers dying in droves! Look, we’re destroying Los Angeles again! [It's becoming as much a cliche as watching Tokyo get destroyed. "Look! It's Gojira!" *stomp* *stomp* -The Captain]

At some point during the long preview, I realized I was seeing something akin to The Passion of the Christ—even if, as I believe, it will fall far short in the quality of its message and in the realization of its delivery. It is, in a way, a public declaration of faith. To Roland Emmerich, the events portrayed in The Day After Tomorrow represent (in eye-popping detail) the most vitally important event that will occur in our lifetime, namely, global climate change and a subsequent massive die-out of humanity. Of course, Emmerich wants his movie to do well—hence the outrageously lengthy preview in the most expensive, desirable ad spot available—but more importantly, he wants it to change people. He would gladly take a loss on the film as long as it would guarantee to change the way our society thinks about human activity. Emmerich realizes that his movie is a work of fiction—but he believes, with all the passion and determination of a religious devotee, that if human life on Earth does not change now, it will soon become reality. “The threat of global climate change is the only problem big enough to force all the countries of the world to stop fighting and work together to save the planet,” he is quoted as saying on the official website.

I could take all kinds of exceptions to that comment. In fact, since this is my article, I will. [This is what happens when the Captain takes a business trip when an article is due. -The Captain]

The countries of the world will not stop fighting because of the threat of global climate change, Roland. In fact, human nature being the destructive beastie that it is, global climate change on a scale you envision would probably cause more fighting, not less, as displaced people around the world would battle each other for control of the few remaining livable areas of the planet. That’s how we are as a species, and how we have always been. We are kind when we can afford to be, but we can also be heartless when it comes to questions of survival.

One of the things I’m learning from the study of biology is that every ecosystem has built-in safeguards; if one population gets too plentiful, there are natural methods in place to make sure the population is regulated by plague or predation. Nature seems designed to protect itself against dangers from within. If Nature could destroy us all with a wave of her anthropomorphized hand, wouldn’t that just be a form of biospheric self-correction? If we really want to save the planet, should we even try to stop humanity from being wiped out by Nature?

I say this with tongue firmly in cheek, of course, since I believe that destructive weather patterns are not a sign of human ecological destruction. (They may well be a sign of something else, but that’s another article.) Humans contribute such a piddling amount to the carbon cycle that one would have to be either stupid or egotistical to believe that puny human-related carbon emissions are the primary cause of global climate changes. The global warming theory is just that—a theory, open to intense debate among serious climatologists. But numerous persons now trumpet global warming theory as though it were fact. Why? Well, if global warming is real, then the world will have to listen to the people who claim to know how to fix it, right? And those who yell the loudest that they have a cure for global warming also have, to put it mildly, an agenda. They embrace global warming for no other reason than that it supports their faith.

Faith? Certainly. Those who hold this worldview—let’s call them Ecofreaks—are supremely unconcerned with scientific findings unless those findings serve their purposes. Instead, they base their words and actions on the conviction that Earth is a living thing and that most human beings who inhabit it are a virulent cancer. Hard-line Ecofreaks think the world would be an infinitely better place without all the people—just a tiny population of devoted Ecofreaks who could properly tend to Mother Gaea’s needs, thank you. Ecofreaks welcome perilous climate change such as that seen in The Day After Tomorrow because, to borrow a phrase from Scrooge, it would “decrease the surplus population.” Self-professed Ecofreak Stuart Brand, writing for the Whole Earth Catalog in the ’70s, made the most bald-faced Ecofreak declaration of faith to date: “We have wished, we ecofreaks, for a disaster or for a social change to come and bomb us into the Stone Age, where we might live like Indians in our valley, with our localism, our appropriate technology, our gardens, our homemade religion—guilt-free at last!”

There are thus two movies about Passions this year: one of Christ, one of Ecofreaks. How do these two very different passions compare? Let’s see.

  • Both films show lightning, earthquakes and other natural phenomena causing widespread destruction. In The Passion, this is meant to symbolize the wrath of God; in TDAT, the purgative anger of Earth itself.
  • Both films portray realistic-looking pain, torture and death. In The Passion, Christ willingly undergoes such misery for a specific purpose; in TDAT, masses of human beings die for no other reason than to titillate and terrify the audience.
  • Both films strongly suggest an underlying philosophy of the value of human life. In The Passion, every soul is sacred and worth making sacrifices to save; in TDAT, every human being over an arbitrary “sustainable” number contributes to the problem and is probably better off dead. [And dying in vivid detail. Unlike The Passion, TDAT would certainly love some Oscar attention. -The Captain]
  • Both films require a response from the audience. The Passion is designed to provoke personal, inner change based on response to a demonstration of eternal love; TDAT is designed to make people change nearly every aspect of the way they live out of unreasoning fear.

I could go on, but this article is already too long. My point is that the passion of Roland Emmerich seems to me to be far more dangerous than The Passion of the Christ, simply because some people will see The Day After Tomorrow and be moved by it in precisely the way Emmerich intended they would be. I don’t believe the world would be harmed by an influx of true Christians, but I think it could be harmed by a determined barrage of true Ecofreaks. Environmental skeptic P.J. O’Rourke put it this way:

The whole dreadful history of twentieth-century politics has been made up of “coordinated, collective” responses to supposed threats that were always said to be “complex and diverse” and “sprawling and massive.” Nazis, Fascists, Bolsheviks, Maoists, Islamic Fundamentalists, and my silly commune in Baltimore in 1970 responded “in a coordinated, collective way” to the Jews, the bourgeoisie, private property, class enemies, decadent Western culture, and the pig cop on the local beat. The results were universally horrendous (except at my commune, which got busted for marijuana).

I believe all human life is worth saving, and I am appalled to find those who do not share this conviction—people who believe that humans are unnatural and expendable. To Stuart Brand and those of his ilk, modern eco-Scrooges who believe humanity is nothing but a scourge upon the planet: “Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? …. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!”

Addendum (5/16/2004): In the original article I forgot to mention a link from the official The Day After Tomorrow website to the Future Forests website. Future Forests is a for-profit group which specializes in making people and organizations CarbonNeutral, a trademarked term that apparently means “contributing zero balance to the carbon cycle.” For a fee, Future Forests will assuage your guilty eco-conscience by planting trees and performing other unspecified projects to balance out your personal, household or business level of carbon dioxide production. If Ecofreakism is a pseudo-religion, then Future Forests is selling indulgences.

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