Two Thumbs Up

Spirit & Life

Dear Children,

Mom and I are fairly picky about the movies we recommend for you to see. Mom's fancy runs to musical comedies. I like the science fiction.

Of course, we both like movies where the priest (usually Bing Crosby or Gregory Peck) is a good guy who is wise and overcomes evildoers.

So you might be a bit surprised when I tell you that the one film I hope you'll see in 2004 is a Mel Gibson thriller. It has some very bad people in it and lots of blood, suffering and gore.

It doesn't turn out the way you might hope (at least in the short run). And there really isn't much suspense, since you've heard the story before and know how it ends. To top it off, I expect it will be R-rated for violence.

I'm talking about The Passion of the Christ, the story of the last hours of the earthly life of Jesus. I admit that I have not seen the film — which makes me as qualified to praise it as are those who have not seen it but are bashing the movie. I have seen the trailer for the movie and heard Gibson talk about it. I can hardly wait to see it.

Criticism of The Passion seems to center around the concern that it will stir up anti-Semitic feelings and that it will foster some sort of conservative, pre-Vatican II Catholicism. Several friends (some of them priests) who have seen previews of the film assure me this is not the case.

Letters to My Children

The movie is based on a strict, honest interpretation of the Bible, down to the detail of being presented in the original language spoken at the time.

But let's be honest. Christ suffered for all our sins; the people directly responsible for him being on the cross were the folks running things in Jerusalem at the time. They were primarily Jewish or Roman, not Chinese, Russian, American Indian or Mexican. That is historical fact. It also is a fact that we all share the guilt, blame and need for salvation.

The details of the story are neither conservative nor liberal but very well established in the Gospels. My guess is that The Passion is the closest you will ever get to being an eyewitness to Christ's crucifixion.

As the film previews clearly show, this is a richly textured film of shocking reality. It is not a pretty film; a crucifixion was not a pretty event. In this film, the makeup, special effects and realism are on a par with the best Hollywood can offer. (Wes Craven and Sam Peckinpah would be proud.)

Gibson is a fine actor who has made some very entertaining films and made a heap of money. I think he is doing a great service to Christians to underwrite The Passion.

Frankly, nobody would have blamed him for skipping the whole thing, given the criticism he is receiving. Fact is, there are folks who would love to keep the movie from gaining wide distribution. They want to keep it away from the public.

Perhaps they fear many people will for the first time hear and see a story that is both compelling and salvific.

So go see The Passion of the Christ. Don't wait until it comes to the dollar theater — pay full price at the first-run cinema with the wide screen and fancy stereo. Please go back and see it a second time.

And don't forget that we're all part of the story.

Jim Fair writes from Chicago.