CRISIS Magazine - e-Letter

July 25, 2003


Dear Friend,

I've just witnessed the rebirth of great Catholic art in our time.

A few days ago I was fortunate to be part of a small group of 
journalists, pundits, and Christian leaders in Washington, DC, who 
were invited to an early screening of Mel Gibson's new movie, The 
The film focuses on the last few hours in the life of Christ, and 
the result is truly stunning. 

Gibson and his film company, Icon Productions, have come under heavy 
fire lately from the Anti-Defamation League and a group of professors 
from -- where else? -- Boston College, who say that the film is 
anti-Semitic and will encourage violence against Jews.

But these accusations are based on an early script of the movie that 
wasn't even filmed, one that was stolen without Icon's permission. 
You can tell from their loaded questions and criticisms that these 
people haven't seen the movie. Yet their protests have already made 
it to all the papers, crippling the film before it even leaves the 
starting gate (it isn't slated for release until Ash Wednesday of 
next year).

So what's the REAL story behind this controversial new film?

One of the qualifications for viewing the movie at the screening was 
signing a confidentiality agreement, but I've been authorized to tell 
you the following: 
From an aesthetic standpoint, the film is beautiful. Its visual 
narrative carries traces of the long tradition of Christian art, from 
the very earliest Christian styles and medieval iconography up to 
pre-Raphaelite images. As for the casting, it's fabulous: The faces 
of the actors carry the movie. Only two are even moderately 
well-known stars, Jim Caviezel as Jesus and Monica Bellucci as Mary 
Magdalene. Both are powerful in their roles, but the face of Maia 
Morgenstern, playing the role of Mary, the mother of God, will stay 
with you the rest of your life. She makes you forget you're watching 
a movie.

The music -- a combination of Middle-Eastern sounds and Hebrew 
chanting -- is well-chosen and adds to the visual drama unfolding 
before you. Composed by Jack Lenz, the music becomes part of the 
dialogue itself.

Many people were concerned that the movie was filmed entirely in 
Aramaic and Latin, one of Gibson's appeals to historical accuracy 
(there are English subtitles). Instead of being a hindrance, though, 
it actually enhances the film. Within the first 10 minutes, you 
become accustomed to the sounds, and then the realization hits you: 
You're hearing the words of Jesus, Pilate, and his disciples as they 
were originally spoken. There aren't any hackneyed performances of 
the English lines, so there's a freshness to the words that we often 
miss. And Aramaic is a guttural language, one that punctuates the 
drama of the film perfectly.

Gibson's Passion is also profoundly Catholic. The Marian imagery and 
Eucharistic themes permeate the entire movie. My wife Theresa and I 
came away from the film with a sense that our faith had been 
revitalized. Make no mistake: this movie will convert and uplift 
hearts. Once you've seen it, you'll never again take for granted the 
words: "He suffered, died, and was buried."

The movie is both beautiful and brutal, and frankly, it isn't easy 
to watch in places (especially the scourging scene). You want to turn 
away, but then you see that Mary, His mother, is watching... and so 
you continue to watch as well.
And what about all the alleged anti-Semitism? I didn't see any kind 
of anti-Jewish bias in the film. If anything, it was the unspeakable 
brutality of the Roman soldiers that enraged me. Of course, that 
doesn't make me hate modern-day Italians. Nor do I hate the French 
when I see a film about the brutality of the French Revolution. 
Simply put, there's no reason to be concerned that this movie will 
spark any sort of anti-Jewish campaign. 

The Passion is a great work of art. Mel Gibson has given a beautiful 
gift to the Church and to God.

Talk to you early next week,


P.S. A lot of people have asked me about The Da Vinci Code -- the 
current best-selling novel that claims the Catholic Church has hidden 
the "truth" about Jesus. Among other things, the book argues that 
Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children with her. This book is 
a full-scale broadside into Christianity, and it will lead a lot of 
people astray.

In the upcoming September issue of CRISIS, we dismantle the Da Vinci 
Code, piece by piece, demonstrating the novelist's anti-Christian 
bias and shockingly poor research. If you know anyone who has read 
the book, you MUST give them this article. 


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