It’s a story Hollywood loves and knows well. The hero rises to the heights but stumbles due to his own shortcomings, which are also exploited by his enemies. Sent beyond the pale of polite society, stripped of his honor and position, he wanders in the wilderness until an opportunity appears for redemption.
Seizing it, he rises from the ashes, reborn into a new chance at life and success. He’s the Comeback Kid.
From Palm Sunday until Easter, the story of Christ’s triumphal return to Jerusalem, His betrayal, arrest, trial, condemnation, death and return to life is the most grand, transcendent and sublime version of this idea (in which, of course, the hero didn’t actually have shortcomings, but then, this version is unique … and True).
But on a human scale, we see it not only in the movies but in everyday life as well. Only time will tell if Mel Gibson, big-time movie star and filmmaker turned Hollywood outcast, can write his own iteration of the Comeback Kid story.
On Sunday, April 13, Palm Sunday, family-and-faith-friendly cable channel UP presents the commercial-television debut of Gibson’s 2004 masterwork, “The Passion of the Christ,” starring Catholic actor Jim Caviezel, currently seen in CBS’ “Person of Interest.”
It airs with limited commercial interruption and is part of UP’s two-week celebration of Easter, under the theme “Easter Lives Here.” TV and feature films during the coming week include “Judas” (April 14), “King of Kings” (April 15), “Mary, Mother of Jesus” (April 17), “The Story of Jacob and Joseph” (April 18), “Jesus” (April 18), “The Robe” (April 19), “Demetrius and the Gladiators” (April 19) and “Apostle Peter and the Last Supper” (April 20).
Acted (with subtitles) in Aramaic – the common language of Israel at the time of Christ – and common Latin – the language of Pilate and his Roman soldiers – “The Passion of the Christ” traces the last 12 days of Jesus’ life.
It ends with the most graphic depiction of Christ’s torture and resurrection put on screen, still surpassing the somewhat tamer version from the recent Biblical feature, “Son of God” (but then that was composed largely of footage from the hit New Testament portion of the TV miniseries “The Bible,” so different standards were at play).
At the time of “The Passion,” its uncompromising depiction of the events upset many Christians, and some Jewish leaders felt the film would encourage anti-Semitism. Gibson’s cause wasn’t helped when, in 2006, was stopped on suspicion of DUI in Malibu, Calif., and went on a drunken rant that included anti-Semitic statements.
Gibson also had separated from his wife of many years, mother of his seven children, and then had a volatile relationship with a Russian woman that resulted in a child – and a lot of public scandal, in which neither party was blameless.
But recently – as outlined at length in this earlier CatholicVote post – a journalist friend of Gibson’s wrote a plea for Deadline.com for him to be forgiven and welcomed back into the filmmaking community, echoing earlier sentiments from his friend, actor Robert Downey Jr.
Gibson’s apparent schismatic leanings and his funding of a private church in Agoura Hills, Calif. (on the other side of mountains from coastal Malibu) – unaffiliated with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles or the Catholic Church at large – to celebrate the Tridentine Mass, has also put him in an uncomfortable position with many Catholics.
Ten years ago, when “The Passion” was released in theaters, Tom Allen, the co-founder, editor-in-chief and president of media organization Catholic Exchange, helped in the distribution and marketing of the film. He shares some thoughts on Gibson (whom he has not spoken to in seven years) and more:
On the plea published at Deadline.com:
I’m very sympathetic to that plea and to that story and to your follow-up story. It’s completely outrageous, actually, that he has this pariah status right now. We’re a forgiving crowd. The faith-based community is a very forgiving crowd, and they understand what sin is, and they also understand spiritual warfare – our job is to love and forgive.
When you’re talking about a creator of immense talent like Gibson, we’re all losing from him not being in the game, contributing to the culture in the way that he did with ‘The Passion of the Christ,” “Apocalypto” — there’s much more to this man, this inspired artist, what he has to say, I believe.
We’re worse off for it, the fact that he’s sidelined.
On why Hollywood, especially the major studios, won’t open the doors again for Gibson:
There are loud voices; there are some shrill voices, that are perhaps anti-Catholic. It may come down to that. There are accusations relating to alleged anti-Semitism, but perhaps there’s an anti-Catholic bias happening underneath that.
And then there’s also the useful idiots that … think they’re currying favor with their peers by jumping on the bandwagon with their criticisms of Gibson.
I can only speculate, but I know that Mel Gibson is not the only gifted Hollywood creator whose personal life went through a tumultuous period. So it’s completely inconsistent that he would be excluded when everyone else is welcomed back.
I sympathize with Robert Downy Jr. and Jodie Foster and those voices who rise for defense of Mel Gibson. I’m also confident that he will return, that the culture will once again be enriched by his art, which is imbued with a Catholic sensibility.
On how Catholics can consider Gibson:
Yeah, he’s off the reservation on certain points of Catholic doctrine. Where are any of us at any given snapshot in time? All of us are somewhere along a spectrum of conversion and reconversion. So, what Mel might have believed ten years ago, we have no idea whether he believes that right now.
Our job as Christians is to give a man who makes a movie like “The Passion of the Christ” the benefit of the doubt, and to pray for him and support him. Here, on the occasion of the commercial-TV debut of “The Passion of the Christ” on UPTV, on a Sunday night, at the 10-year anniversary of the theatrical release, is a wonderful time for us to pray for Mel and to support Mel.
Don’t quote me as telling him what to do – I am in what has been characterized as the radical middle, in terms of the Catholic faith. That’s where I believe the mind of the Church is, and that’s where I’m happy to reside. So, I’ll just say that.
On the role of the movie in evangelization:
I’ve encountered many people myself who went from other faiths or no faith into a strong Christian faith (after seeing the movie). The trajectory is frequently an evangelical path first and then leading to the fullness of the Faith after there’s more prayer and study.
The scales fell from a lot of eyes on what Christ’s sacrifice really was and really means. You can’t just skip to Easter. You have to go through the Way of the Cross and the Crucifixion.
For every Resurrection, there’s a Crucifixion. Catholics do have that strong sense of Christ on the Cross, Christ Crucified, as Saint Paul said.
On what the film says about Gibson the man:
I’m just offering thoughts on my experiences working with him back then. The man I got to know is a very gifted man who’s also a good man, as I see him. He’s generous, and he’s good, and he’s brilliant at what he does. He’s uniquely talented, but he’s tormented and troubled and all that.
My feelings about him are that he should not be blackballed or blacklisted. He should be allowed to create. I represent the type of Christian who wants the culture enriched by his work.
No one can reasonably make the claim that Mel wasn’t an agent of the Holy Spirit and God’s work when he did “The Passion of the Christ,” because he certainly was.