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.
Now witness the coming of the movie version of "The DaVinci Code." Think of it as the anti-"Passion." In one film, Jesus was Lord; in the other, Jesus was not only merely mortal, he was the center of an elaborate fraud. In one film, Jesus founded his Church at the Last Supper; in the other, the Catholic Church unfolds as a secretive, murderous, thoroughly evil conspiracy. So what's Hollywood's take? The reaction to this movie is almost the exact opposite of what Gibson received.
The studios reacted quickly, with Sony lapping up the film. The network news divisions have acted like devoted puppies, with Matt Lauer planning to go "On the Road with the Code" for NBC. ABC has held "DaVinci Code" contests on its morning show. Denying the divinity of Jesus -- the central tenet of Christianity -- is just fun and games, grins and giggles.
No one has singled out "DaVinci Code" author Dan Brown for his anti-religious and anti-Catholic bigotry. No one put him in amateur therapy. Since he was Sony's hired gun, no one assaulted director Ron Howard for his religious beliefs -- even if (or especially because) his acceptance of this job suggests he has no problem directing a film smearing Jesus or the Catholic Church.
Film critics and political commentators have been largely silent, in part because Sony has been so secretive with the film. When Gibson was slow to show his film to non-Christian audiences before its release, critics railed, but Sony is receiving no guff for anything it does with this film. Where is Frank Rich? The New York Times columnist was a major mudslinger on Mel Gibson's path, but try to find a word he's written on "The DaVinci Code."
The media assembled no stable of professors to question the historical authenticity of "The DaVinci Code," which is ironic, since its claims to non-fiction absolutely collapse within minutes of exploration. Instead, ABC News devoted an hour a few years ago to the show's shoddy claims and "legends," focusing almost exclusively on the experts trying to support it.
No one has predicted mass violence from the Christian faithful for this film's denial of the Christ, which is odd. If they were willing to riot for "The Passion," shouldn't they be much readier to rumble after this flick finishes smearing Jesus and his Church? Unlike Gibson's film, this movie took no courage to make.
Certainly, no one accused Dan Brown or Sony of "marketing Jesus," since they're going to be making millions by pouring mud on Our Lords. Hostility or indifference to Christianity is just another day at the office for today's titans of popular culture.