Tags: Mel | Gibson's | Jesus

Mel Gibson's Jesus

Tuesday, 24 February 2004 12:00 AM

I had joined his senior producer, Steve McEveety, at the Paramount Studios in Hollywood for lunch. At that time Gibson’s production company, Icon, was headquartered at Paramount.

I spoke to Gibson briefly and found him to be remarkably humble for a worldwide celebrity. I joked with him about the upcoming elections. Perhaps he would be running for office someday, I said.

It was clear to me that he didn’t like politics. I remember him saying, “Not me, buddy, never.” But what did animate him in that brief conversation were issues involving the Catholic Church.

Gibson is a devout Catholic and good family man. Unusual for Hollywood, he is married to his wife of 23 years, Robyn, and they have seven children. Gibson makes no pretense about being a saint, though. He is open about his bouts with alcoholism, and his language can be tough and rough, just the way it is in the movies.

Now fast-forward to 2003. After NewsMax reported that Gibson’s upcoming film about the death of Jesus Christ was receiving a lot of anger from the liberal media, I received a phone call from McEveety.

He told me that Gibson really appreciated what NewsMax had been writing in his defense and expressed surprise over how much heat this movie was generating.

Gibson does not appear in “The Passion of the Christ,” but he is its producer and director. He reportedly paid about $30 million of his own money to make the movie.

But despite the public interest and Gibson’s appeal, he had difficulty finding a distributor. Early last year, the New York Times Magazine offered an unfavorable portrait of the actor, his devout Catholicism (he still attends Latin Mass) and his father, Hutton.

Gibson’s dad has some different and eccentric ideas. Such ideas are probably not different from what one might expect from an 84-year-old. The Times quoted Gibson’s father as saying he doubted that the Holocaust ever took place.

This report by the Times was the opening shot in media criticism of Gibson and his movie. The charge was that Gibson was anti-Semitic and his film would fuel anti-Semitism.

Gibson told me he absolutely believes the Holocaust took place. But what son wants to get into a public argument with his father? Gibson, no doubt, became increasingly worried about the negative and contrived press reactions.

The Anti-Defamation League quickly demanded to screen the movie and vet it before it hit theaters.

Additionally, a committee of scholars obtained a copy of one of the original scripts of the movie. (Gibson and his team would later say that the script was stolen.)

Interestingly, Eugene Fisher, head of the committee, wrote an e-mail to McEveety after his first review of the script, indicating that he saw no problem with it.

But after other scholars raised a fuss, there were demands that the film be re-edited. The scholars’ problem was not with Gibson’s account of what had occurred in Jesus’ last hours. They complained instead that “Passion” stuck too closely to Gospel accounts, which the Jewish and Catholic scholars argued are not historically accurate.

Last May, I was invited by Gibson to the first screening of the movie with, among others, his parish priest from Malibu. I saw “Passion” without subtitles and not fully edited. Still, it was a powerful cinematic display of what Christians believe to be the course of events involving the death of Jesus of Nazareth.

This is the first Hollywood depiction to dramatize the excruciating details of Jesus’ torture and crucifixion. I do not believe that the film harbors or offers anti-Semitic sentiment.

As a Christian, I was taught to believe that the most culpable figure was Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate knew he was putting an innocent man to death, and yet he, the responsible authority, did nothing to stop it.

Still, I also believe that the ADL and other Jewish groups such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, headed by Rabbi Marvin Hier, have a right to worry about anti-Semitism. Just last century Hitler’s genocidal Final Solution was attempted against the Jews.

It is unfortunate that early news reports cast Gibson’s endeavor as anti-Semitic, which has led to an apparent divide over the movie.

Starting today, Ash Wednesday, the American people will make up their own minds as “The Passion of the Christ” is released in thousands of movie theaters.

After the release, Mel probably will continue his illustrious cinematic career with more films such as “Mad Max,” “Lethal Weapon,” you name it.

The story of Jesus’ death will remain just as the pope has reportedly remarked after seeing the film: “It is as it was.”

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I had joined his senior producer, Steve McEveety, at the Paramount Studios in Hollywood for lunch. At that time Gibson's production company, Icon, was headquartered at Paramount. I spoke to Gibson briefly and found him to be remarkably humble for a worldwide celebrity....
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2004-00-24
Tuesday, 24 February 2004 12:00 AM
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