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Gibson's Artistic Passion
February 23, 2004

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

We have heard a great deal of rhetoric from predictable sources regarding Mel Gibson's soon-to-be-released movie, "The Passion of the Christ." I have had the privilege of getting to know Gibson and watching him work. I have also been a longtime observer of Hollywood.

When an artist brings his unique vision of religious expression to the screen, it is not grounds for controversy. It is an exercise in freedom.

Some critics charge that the film ascribes blame. Their complaint is not with Gibson but with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The movie merely depicts the life and death of Christ directly from the Gospels. Scores of respected religious experts concur that the movie is an accurate depiction of Scripture.

"The Passion of the Christ" focuses on the last 12 hours of Christ's life and the suffering he endured. The story that Gibson brings to life is the same story set forth in both the New Testament and the Talmud. It is the same story that has been immortalized in clay, on canvas and in composition by great masters over the centuries. And it is one that has deep religious significance for hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Gibson is one of the most bankable stars of today. A Harris poll recently named him America's favorite male movie star. He easily could have cashed in on Hollywood's sequel craze and enriched his personal bank account in the process. Instead he chose to spend his time working on a project that he has carried in his heart for more than a dozen years.

On Feb. 25, Gibson's creative effort will take flight. "The Passion of the Christ" will appear on thousands of movie screens across the nation. The cinematic launch will occur despite unprecedented attempts by critics and foes to alter the film's content and thwart its release.

What has been lost in all of the controversy surrounding the film is creativity's voice, free expression. Ironically, many of the same people who defended the right of Martin Scorsese to display "The Last Temptation of Christ," Andres Serrano to immerse a crucifix in urine and Chris Ofili to smear the Blessed Mother of Jesus with elephant dung have been hard at work trying to shackle Gibson. Gibson had to overcome personal insults, stolen scripts, pirated prints and dire predictions to deliver his film to the public. His ability to do so is an exercise of his fundamental rights as an artist, an American and a person of faith.

Especially important to us as an independent people is our rich variety of ideas. Americans inherently understand that the marketplace of the mind is perhaps the most critical component of the freedom formula. Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" is a manifestation of artistic freedom and ought to be respected as such.

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Copyright © 2004
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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