Mel Gibson's Jesus Christ Pose

The Passion of the Christ Marks the Latest Chapter in the Making of a Hollywood Martyr

In recent years, a favored role for Gibson has been the solitary shepherd tending to his flock, firm but kind, whether as a single parent to seven children in The Patriot or the devoutly Catholic colonel in We Were Soldiers, who is thoughtful enough even in the confusion of nighttime siege to give his men encouraging pats on their helmets and a "Keep it up, son." In Signs, though, Gibson's sorrowing Graham is a strayed lamb of God; his minister's collar has been gathering dust for six months, and yet the whole town stubbornly persists in calling him "Father." When Graham refuses to say a prayer over what could be the family's last meal, son Morgan blurts out, "I hate you," and Graham spits the same words at God when Morgan later suffers a severe asthma attack. The implication is thumpingly clear: A man who's lost his faith in God is as a petulant child who hasn't gotten his way. Graham's fleeting weltschmerz amounts to a temper tantrum.

In its finished form, The Passion of the Christ may prove to be a spectacularly misjudged tantrum—against Jews, the Vatican, lapsed Catholics, or ancient Romans. It may instigate violence, stir religious awe, or inspire indifference. If it strings up Gibson for the crucifixion of well-founded ridicule, he will only have himself to blame—or thank, for that matter. Like Saint Catherine, Gibson's métier is gluttony for abuse. As a Payback baddie prophesied, "He just wants to get himself beat up, that's all."


Braveheart (1995)
photo: Staci Schwartz
Braveheart (1995)

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Related Articles:

J. Hoberman's review of The Passion of the Christ

"The Backlash Passion: a Messianic Meller for Our Time" by Richard Goldstein

Related Articles:

J. Hoberman's review of The Passion of the Christ

"The Backlash Passion: a Messianic Meller for Our Time" by Richard Goldstein

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