Academic journal article Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

"He Was Pretty Good in There Today": Reviving the Macho Christ in Ernest Hemingway's "Today Is Friday" and Mel Gibson's the Passion of the Christ

Academic journal article Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality

"He Was Pretty Good in There Today": Reviving the Macho Christ in Ernest Hemingway's "Today Is Friday" and Mel Gibson's the Passion of the Christ

Article excerpt

Mel Gibson's 2004 film The Passion of the Christ, like Hemingway's 1926 one-act play/short story "Today is Friday," is about the ways in which its creator believed that he had directly benefited from Christ's suffering. Both Hemingway and Gibson were raised by religiously conservative, emotionally repressive fathers, and both declared themselves Catholics. Both men experienced suicidal depression as mature young men, and each found in Christ's torment on the cross both a trope for his own battles with depression and an inspiration to survive his own emotional suffering. In this essay, I first place both men within the sociocultural, religious tradition known as "muscular Christianity" and trace the ways in which they were both influenced by that tradition. I document their emotional volatility and their bouts with profound depression, examining the ways in which each credits faith with enabling him to survive his own dark night of the soul.

It is inconceivable that the suffering of Christ on the cross ... would mean anything to anyone unless pain was intrinsically shareable.

Ariel Glucklich (2001, p. 63)

At Chicago's First United Methodist Church, a group of about 30 people gathered in the spring of 2004 to discuss the film The Passion of the Christ. According to a press report, most of those in attendance found the film needlessly, excessively violent. One dissenter, a homeless man and ordained Baptist minister, raised a hand to ask, "Can't a person benefit from someone else's suffering? My brother saved me from getting beat up more than once by taking the beatings himself. I'm going through suffering now. If I look at Jesus' suffering, I know I can do this" (Van Biema, 2004, p. 60). The other attendees listened politely but remained unpersuaded--a problem the speaker later attributed to their own remoteness from suffering.

But that fellow who spoke up, the one who responded to Christ's suffering because it inspired him to endure his own suffering, has a point, one that I think both Ernest Hemingway and Mel Gibson would appreciate. I want to argue that Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ, like Hemingway's 1926 one-act play/short story "Today is Friday," is about the ways in which both men believed they had directly benefited from Christ's suffering. Both men were raised by religiously conservative, emotionally repressive fathers, and both declared themselves Catholics. Both Hemingway and Gibson experienced suicidal depression as mature young men, and each found in Christ's torment on the cross both a trope for his own battles with depression and an inspiration to survive his own emotional suffering.

In this essay, after briefly introducing both works, I first place both men within the sociocultural, religious tradition known as "muscular Christianity" and trace the ways in which they were influenced by both that tradition and their upbringing by strict, religiously conservative fathers. I document their emotional volatility and their bouts with profound depression, examining the ways in which each credits faith with enabling him to survive his own dark night of the soul.

As is now widely known, The Passion of the Christ portrays the last twelve hours of Christ's life, drawing extensively on the Gospels for much of its content. Hemingway's four-page, one-act play "Today is Friday" focuses on the same event, Christ's crucifixion, indirectly, by depicting the reactions of the Roman soldiers who carried out the execution. Such indirectness was typical for a man who called his own memoir, A Moveable Feast, autobiography by reflection (M. Hemingway, 1964) and who once wrote (in an article not published until after his death) "I sometimes think my style is suggestive rather than direct," adding, "The reader must often use his imagination or lose the most subtle part of my thought" (Wagner, 1987, p. 275).

Muscular Christianity

It is important to note that in reviving the macho Christ, both men are (consciously or not) working within the tradition known as "muscular Christianity," a nineteenth-century social, religious, and cultural movement originating in Britain and emphasizing the importance of health and physical fitness in Christian men. …

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