MEL GIBSON has the right to make any movie of his choosing. But no one should mistake his latest epic, The Passion of the Christ, for anything other than the word according to Mel.
His take on the last 12 hours of Jesus' life dwells so obsessively on the brutality of the beating and scourging inflicted on Jesus by Roman soldiers that it reduces the character to a bloody pulp and the movie to a slasher flick with a religious twist. Viewers should rightly ask, What's the point? It's tough to come away with any other answer than "gore for gore's sake." And at that, the mutilated body of Christ is not only unrecognizable but also beyond belief.
Christian groups who view The Passion as a "must see" film should think again. Christ's message of forgiveness and love of one's enemy - though uttered in the language of the time by the crucified Christ on the screen - is lost in Mr. Gibson's unrelenting bloodbath. And that is the essential truth of this sacred story.
And what of the concern that generated so much hype before The Passion opened yesterday, charges that Mr. Gibson's portrayal of Jews would incite anti-Semitic feelings? Passion plays and movies of this genre have raised similar concerns in the past - and for good reason. Some have been blatantly anti-Jewish.
The problem with Mr. Gibson's depiction centers on his reliance on certain historical material, including some of the Gospels - and his distortion of it. There are historical inaccuracies and misrepresentations of Jews and Romans in the film that could offend. In one scene, a group of Jewish boys taunt Judas after he has sold out Jesus to the high priests. As the children circle him, their faces mutate into gruesome gnomes. For what purpose?
Mr. Gibson has at his disposal all the Hollywood tools to put forth his questionable polemic - the special effects, the soaring soundtrack that shifts from high church to satanic, the marketing - and that's why the film is so troubling.
The story of Christ's death may be Mr. Gibson's present passion, but it's only a movie.