Cultural Moments


Mel Gibson’s ‘Christ’ Controversy


Mel Gibson’s pious gorefest The Passion of the Christ may not be remembered for all the controversy it courted upon its release, or for its surprise opening-weekend take of $83 million—and perhaps not even for its director’s widely mocked decision to have his actors speak only Latin and Aramaic. Nor will The Passion be chiefly remembered for the furor surrounding its alleged anti-Semitism. (The film is, in fact, anti-Semitic. Those most thirsty for Jesus’s blood are the Jews whose brown teeth and matted hair disallow any individuality. Meanwhile, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate—who, according to history, did sentence Jesus to death—is as soulful and ambivalent as Hamlet.) What the film will be remembered for is the thing it did best—or most imaginatively. It rendered the Christian Lord as a man. Anybody with a Christian education knows, of course, that Jesus was God born flesh: in Gibson’s version the emphasis is on the flesh. His Jesus is no bland saint; he has the emotions of a man. He is fearful and arrogant, loving and cold. His masculine physicality overpowers us, even as he is beaten, thrashed, pummeled, and finally crucified. (In happier days back in Galilee, his biceps bulge out of his canvas frock.) No long-haired hero has ever been less effeminate—except, perhaps, Gibson himself as the eponymous Braveheart. It is as if Gibson, having spent his Roman Catholic boyhood regarding sugar-sweet post-Reformation images of his Lord, finally lost his patience. He made Jesus in his own image: he painted it in blood.

Miller is religion editor for NEWSWEEK.