Jesus, Mel! 

Indy and New Life talk film, Jesus, and Melly G.

click to enlarge James Caviezel as Jesus in The Passion of the Christ.
  • James Caviezel as Jesus in The Passion of the Christ.

The Passion of the Christ (R)
Newmarket Films

Unless you've been residing in a mine shaft, you probably know that Mel Gibson's film about the last 12 hours of Christ's life has been praised for its scriptural accuracy and attacked for its anti-Semitism.

Since it's nearly impossible to see this film untainted by one's own spiritual baggage, the Independent decided not to write a traditional review. Instead we chatted up Rob Brendle, associate pastor at New Life Church, who was among the first to see Gibson's film when it was screened by the director for Focus on the Family and New Life Church leaders in June.

Indy: Can you comment on the version you saw in June and how it differs from the final cut?

RB: Actually I can't. They (producers) asked us not to comment in detail on the pre-released versions.

Indy: C'mon ...

RB: The core essence of the film has remained the same. It's just more finely honed. There was nothing they took out that was extra-biblical or that was heretical and therefore they cut it.

Indy: How do you rate this film as an evangelical tool?

RB: From having heard Mel Gibson speak at New Life in June, it's clear it was not intended to be an evangelistic tool. He wasn't trying to convert people or get people saved as much as communicate the truth of the Gospel. But anything can be an evangelical tool.

Indy: Even a piece of cheesecake?

RB: Especially a cheesecake.

Indy: Some of the voices one might expect to hear castigating Hollywood for its exploitation of violence are saying that the violence in this film is different and they even recommend it for children. Would you take your kids to this movie?

RB: Actually the reverse is the case. Typically there's a high tolerance among American people for violence in films. But when one communicates ideas about Jesus or the Bible by accurately portraying the violence then people are up in arms about it. That said, yes, I would bring my children if they were of an age that it was sensible. My daughter's two and a half, so no. She was scared at Finding Nemo.

Indy: Do you think the representation of Christ's suffering was sensationalized?

RB: It does feel gratuitous to me when I watch it and it's disturbing almost to the point of being offensive and that's the point. I don't think that it's sensationalized.

All the passion plays we've seen show Jesus hanging on the cross sighing with a crown of thorns around his head and a trickle of blood running down his temple and that's just not accurate.

Indy: What do you make of the charges that this film's portrayal of Jews' role in Christ's death will incite anti-Semitism?

RB It is possible to look at any film through a particular lens and come out with anger toward a particular group or individual or ideology. You can watch Finding Nemo and if you're looking at it through the lens of an animal rights activist you could come away offended. You can watch Star Wars and be offended on behalf of Japanese people because those weird creatures who speak with pseudo-Japanese accents portray what could be construed as Japanese people offensively.

If people who have trumpeted this potential for anti-Semitic sentiment so loudly hadn't been trumpeting, then no one would be offended because the point of the movie isn't the Jewish people. People aren't going to come out of this movie hating Jews, unless they're told to look for that. People are going to see this film and leave loving Jesus.

Indy: That's funny, I left ambivalent about Jesus and thoroughly annoyed at Mel Gibson. Moving on, I couldn't help but notice that Gibson's name appears above the likeness of Christ in the movie's poster and -- I don't think I'm giving away anything here -- after Christ's resurrection his name drapes the screen in a closing credit. Is he trying to insinuate something here?

RB: I don't view his using his name as an ego trip; I view it as using the most logical means to get the film on people's radar screens.

Jesus films are in no short supply. Campus Crusade has produced a film called Jesus, which has been distributed all over the world in dozens of languages yet CNN never talks about it.

Indy: Did the film's depiction of Christ's experience with capital punishment change your views on the subject?

RB: (Laughs) My position on the death penalty is that I'm in favor of it and the portrayal of the crucifixion of Christ doesn't impact my position.

I believe Jesus' execution had to happen. It was God's plan for the atonement of people for allowing us to have access to him in a personal way. If you show me a criminal whose death is going to do that for me and all the human race, I'll show you a vast exception to all the rules of the death penalty.

Indy: How would you pitch this film to secular folks?

RB: I think the most effective way for Christians to invite their friends who aren't is to do it in the context of existing friendships. There's no way for it to feel artificial. Like, meeting someone and saying, "Hi, are you a heathen? Great, let's go watch this movie about Jesus together and let me persuade you that you need to get born again."

Indy: So, that approach hasn't worked for ya?

RB: Nope.

-- John Dicker

Tinseltown, Cinemark 16

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