The Passion of The Christ may be the most artistically and commercially ambitious feature film about Jesus to come out of Hollywood since the 1960s. It is certainly the most devout, though at first it seems odd that Mel Gibson should be the one to produce, write, and direct a film about the Prince of Peace.
From the buddy-cop Lethal Weapon franchise to revisionist epics like The Patriot, Gibson has specialized in playing violent action heroes who take bloody revenge for the deaths of their wives, children, and girlfriends. In Braveheart, the 1995 film for which he won the Best Director Oscar, Gibson kept the fatal wounds inflicted on William Wallace and his wife just out of frame, to spare his audience the full brutality suffered by these heroes, but he reveled in the gory details with which Wallace executed his personal enemies.
In some ways, The Passion seems like a repudiation of much of his career to date: last year, Gibson, a traditionalist Catholic whose faith has surfaced in recent films like Signs and We Were Soldiers, told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly he wanted to promote faith, hope, love, and especially forgiveness through this film. But The Passion also dwells, at considerable length, on the physical pain inflicted on Jesus. Has Gibson found a way to baptize, as it were, the sadistic or masochistic impulses of his other films? Is it possible he is indulging himself under the cover of religious piety?