I enjoy films, and Mel Gibson has made some fine ones. He also has a reputation as a man
who takes his Christian faith, his marriage, his family and his values seriously.
When Gibson began filming "The Passion" some time ago in Rome a vivid depiction
of the crucifixion of Jesus as recounted in the Gospels a lot of people took notice. The movie
was shot entirely in the ancient languages of Latin and Aramaic. With Catholic Jim Caviezel ("The
Thin Red Line," "The Count of Monte Cristo") in the lead role and Gibson directing, co-writing
and financially underwriting the film, it's a labor of love from an unlikely source: Hollywood.
The era when a novel like Lewis Wallace's "Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ"could become
a Hollywood blockbuster are long since over. These days, "Dogma," "The Last Temptation of
Christ" and "The Passover Plot" all of them profoundly offensive to believing Christians are
much more likely movie fare.
Jesuit Father William Fulco, National Endowment for the Humanities professor of
ancient Mediterranean studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, translated "The
Passion" script into Aramaic and Latin, spent time on the set, reviewed hours of the footage, and believes
it's an extraordinary achievement.
Another priest friend of mine in Rome who also spent hours on the set, worked closely
with Caviezel and Gibson during the production and has reviewed much of the footage, describes the
film as a respectful, faithful, moving work of the heart.
All of this, as we continue the Easter season, is good news. The not so good news is
that, sight unseen, the film is already under fire from some critics and scholars who claim that it
may encourage anti-Semitism something a surprised Gibson has forcefully denied.
Gibson's surprise comes from his long and friendly collaboration with the Jewish
community in Hollywood throughout his successful career. It also stems from the fact that no one has yet
seen the film or even the final script. In fact, the criticism seems based on an earlier, working draft of
the script that Gibson says was stolen and leaked; in other words, an inaccurate text that was acquired
to put it politely by unauthorized means.
I haven't seen the film, and I haven't read the final script, and I haven't even had a
conversation with Mr. Gibson. But I find it puzzling and disturbing that anyone would feel licensed to
attack a film of sincere faith before it has even been released. When the overtly provocative "The
Last Temptation of Christ" was released 15 years ago, movie critics piously lectured Catholics to be
open-minded and tolerant. Surely that advice should apply equally for everyone.
If Mr. Gibson
has produced an offensive film, it will fail and should fail.
But the opposite is also true: If he has produced a good film, a film
of beauty and power and faith, then it deserves a chance to succeed
without being cut to pieces before it even opens.
Of course, nobody
has any way of knowing yet what to expect of the final product,
because nobody has seen the final script or the finished film. Nor,
frankly, is it appropriate to ask. We'll get a chance to love or criticize
"The Passion" soon enough. In the meantime, between a decent
man and his critics, I'll choose the decent man every time until
the evidence shows otherwise.