When Mel Gibson introduced "The Passion of the Christ" into the public conversation, Hollywood had a lot to say about it. Now Hollywood is offering its response with the upcoming release of "The DaVinci Code," inviting commentary not on that movie, but on Hollywood itself.
Three years ago, Mel Gibson gambled his own personal fortune on a great creative risk, going completely outside the established Tinseltown system to produce a horrifyingly realistic reenactment of Our Lord's crucifixion and resurrection. It took not just sacrifice but also real courage to make this. The studios all scoffed at the idea. The reviews were horrible -- before anyone had seen a frame of it.
Film critics and political commentators didn't just pass judgment on the film's subject, but also on the craziness of the director (and even his father). Gibson's devout Catholicism, so foreign to sybaritic Hollywood, was described as a crutch for a man with an addictive personality.
The media assembled a stable of professors of religion (not religious professors) to insist that Gibson's film was not historically accurate, that his Pontius Pilate was too meek and his Jewish Sanhedrin was wildly exaggerated by prejudice, and that the Gospel writers were not reliable historical guides to the life of Jesus, since they wrote their works decades after his death.
But perhaps harshest of all, these pundits claimed "The Passion" would cause hatred in the land and violence in the streets. The "experts" strenuously connected Gibson's film to the notion that passion plays were traditional tinderboxes for anti-Jewish pogroms and inquisitions, that Adolf Hitler praised passion plays. Allegedly, Christians would see the film and head for the exits to deface synagogues and assault rabbis. It was even called an "ecumenical suicide bomb."
Now forget for a moment that exactly none of that violence occurred. When the film succeeded, and people attended in droves, and left in silence and prayerfulness, then the "Passion" critics complained that Gibson was "marketing Jesus," that he was going to make millions by cynically stirring the sheep out of their churches and into the theaters, exploiting their devotion for personal gain.