The Firmness Behind "The Passion"

The mass unveiling of Mel Gibson's cinematic vision of "The Passion of the Christ" on 2,000 screens - a massive debut for a foreign-language film with subtitles - has the entertainment elite a bit frightened. After all, how many decades have elapsed since Hollywood has been in any way associated with Christian orthodoxy?

The one who is not frightened is Gibson. He is a man who has made his own brave and generous sacrifice, putting tens of millions of dollars and his own film career on the line for a daring and controversial cultural event. He is a man who can sit in front of Diane Sawyer as she looks like she's sucking on a lemon and honestly proclaim his humble Christian beliefs, to be a "fool for Christ" before the world. He has dared to make a film that focuses only on the last hours of Jesus, leaving the gentle preachings and healings that some like to imply is the whole of the New Testament behind, honing in just on the cruel and yet necessary crucifixion of the Christ.

For many months, media outlets have promoted controversy over this film, suggesting it may be anti-Semitic, and even if it isn't anti-Semitic in intention, it could have an anti-Semitic effect. One might argue all this controversy has been good for the film, but that doesn't mean the entertainment press has been fair or accurate in its coverage of it. Our cultural elites are worried not about how the film is "anti," but how the film is "pro." They know how this film has the potential to light a fire under traditional Christianity in America and around the world.

They are worried because millions of Americans are enthusiastic. As the media boomlet picks up this growing phenomenon, it seems to overflow with secular alienation and dread that some might be using this film to evangelize, that the filmmakers are "marketing Jesus." To the bad-taste specialists that dominate our culture, there is no dirtier word than "proselytize." That, to them, is a very "divisive" act. To the secularists, it is offensive to believe that one creed, one faith is absolutely correct, and therefore the others must be in error.

But why is it not offensive to suggest, as Hollywood so often suggests, that all religions are basically fairy tales for creepy, superstitious people who need the "crutch" of faith to deal with the natural world? And why it is not offensive for Hollywood to serve the country as a sort of 24-hour Temptation Channel for exotic sex, and filthy language, and pornographic violence? The entertainment factories are proselytizers - for the lowest in human behavior. They are evangelists - for empty sensationalism.

And isn't it odd now to see, in the wake of this powerful film, cultural critics trying to curdle its impact by suggesting that the movie, with its body count of one (not counting the Resurrection), is a gorefest? "Mel's 'Passion' for Gore 'Extreme,' He Admits," claimed the New York Daily News, mangling his words out of his ABC interview. He said he wanted people to be struck, shocked by the physical pain and suffering endured by Jesus to save each believer. The spectacle wasn't for blood-loving jollies, like the choreographed mass murder of a Quentin Tarantino film. It was intended for Christian inspiration.

The Los Angeles Times wrote that Gibson made "one of the most brutally graphic and violent depictions in modern cinema" of the last hours of Jesus. But Hollywood has almost no depictions of Jesus in "modern cinema," other than Martin Scorsese's Jesus-trashing "Last Temptation of Christ," and that's 16 years old. To show your children explicitly Christian films requires a walk through the oldies section: "Quo Vadis" (1951), "The Robe" (1953), "Ben-Hur" (1959), or "The Greatest Story Ever Told" (1965).

Don't worry, film critics: it should be safe to assume that the crowds flocking to this R-rated movie will not be dragging their kids to see the pain inflicted in "The Passion." How wonderful it would be if Hollywood had such tender hearts for the well-being of vulnerable children routinely sneaking into R-rated films with little resistance.

The secular cultural elites have reason to be frightened. Millions of Americans will be dazzled in the multiplexes watching a cast of non-stars speak in non-English about what Hollywood has seen for eons as a non-story. The hubbub should send a powerful message to Hollywood: our culture could use more of this kind of artistic vision and exploration, and less of your nihilistic nonsense. There might be a new fad in town.