Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is due for continental release on February 25th, Ash Wednesday. Aside from the content of the film, which I have yet to see, an interesting political phenomenon has built up around Gibson's work.
For a time, Gibson couldn't find a distributor. The action star had trouble finding anyone who would take the film, given early 21st Century sensibilities about offending this or that interest group. Jews have voiced concerns that Gibson's interpretation of the last twelve hours of Jesus' life would lead to a resurfacing of the "blood libel" that Jews were responsible for the death of the Christ. I am told that this charge is groundless, but that Gibson concentrates on the physical suffering that Jesus underwent as penance for our sins, and that is not quite the doctrine of the Roman Church these days. Throughout the last year, Gibson fought a guerilla campaign against the major studios, showing the film to dozens of clerical and lay groups. In that year, Gibson built up a following among cultural and political conservatives as a result of his orthodox interpretation of the Passion. Interestingly enough, to defend Gibson was to attack social and political liberalism and a relaxed, malleable view of Scripture.
If I may hat tip Ed Kilgore at NRO, a "Popular Front" in defense of Mel Gibson's work has developed among conservatives. Money quote:
And third, I'm a bit concerned, though not surprised, by the sort of Popular Front thinking that has so many conservatives from every religious background expressing total solidarity with Gibson's faith, which is by any standard a bit eccentric, and by Catholic standards specifically, heretical or at least schismatic. I realize that many conservatives share the Left's eagerness to transfer political and cultural ideological labels into every realm of life, including religionÂ conservatives should beware embracing just anyone who calls himself a conservative.
Read the whole thing, and take in Ramesh Ponnoru's response to Kilgore's concerns, as well. Andrew Sullivan doesn't trust Gibson at all, but I strongly suspect that Gibson's orthodoxy is a huge turnoff in that regard.
My take? Not having seen the movie, I confess that I speak out of school. On the one hand, it is reassuring that the social conservative forces in this country were quite capable of getting this movie out. What I await is what Gibson does with all the attention that this movie will garner. There is an undercurrent in Hollywood that is murmuring "blockbuster". People who have seen this movie have remarked that at the end of the film, there is silence in every audience, in addition to some weeping. The reactionary impulses of many on the left in this regard commend any conservative to at least view the film. Pannoru remarks that concerns about Gibson's rather orthodox take on Scripture are misplaced, and there is little in the film that runs counter to Catholic liturgy, or Protestant liturgy for that matter.
In the film, Jesus dies and Rises again in accordance to the Scriptures (that's my lapsed Episcopalianism getting out...). Some people will actually be put off by that.
And some people will probably find a way to blame Bush.