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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

February 23, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 204




Pat Morrison Applause for Mel's passion

Pat Morrison, NCR managing editor

That's right, not for Mel Gibson's "Passion" (capital letters), which I haven't seen yet. But for Mel Gibson's passion, lower case. I'll explain why in a moment.

In the meantime, relax. This is not yet one more opinion piece about "The Passion of the Christ." From Evangelical preachers to Jewish watchdog groups, it seems everyone but the Dalai Lama and the Orthodox monks on Greece's Mount Athos has weighed in on Mel's controversial opus -- and we may hear their opinion as well before it's all over.

I definitely intend to see "The Passion of the Christ." (And no, NCR hasn't gotten any free promotional tickets, so I'll pay my own way.) If, as some critics have said, it's gratuitously violent and bloody, I'll deal with that (but I won't bring kids along). If it seems anti-Semitic, I'll make my own judgment on that as well -- albeit from my limited perspective of that topic as a Catholic Christian. If it adds content to or puts a spin on the Gospel narrative, I'm OK with that. Film, after all, is art, and filmmakers, like all artists, offer their creative vision viewed through their own uniquely personal lens. And I firmly believe artists have that right.

I'll go to see Gibson's movie because it's art, and I love art, and because it's about the suffering and death of the person who's central in my life, Jesus Christ. Anything that has the potential to make me better appreciate Christ's message and his sacrifice on the cross, and in the process deepen my love for him, seems like a plus to me. I'll also go to see "The Passion of the Christ" because it has been promoted by one of the most aggressive advertising and marketing campaigns in movie history and both have contributed, as they intended, to make me and millions of other Americans convinced we have to see it.

But the reason I say "three cheers!" is because from the outset of this daunting project, Mel Gibson has brought a tremendous passion to this film of the same name. Some associates of his would say he's almost obsessed with it. I'll leave that judgment to his shrink, but in this day and age when everything from new breakfast foods to TV news programs is decided on the basis of "Will it sell?," I find it refreshing that a Hollywood-raised actor/director has committed a good chunk of his life and his savings to a project because he passionately believes in it.

Diane Sawyer interviewed Gibson on ABCNEWS' "Primetime." The show aired Feb. 16. She asked the filmmaker about estimates that he had spent between $25 million and $40 million of his own money on "The Passion," and Gibson confirmed it, saying the real figure was somewhere in the middle; he hadn't totaled it all yet. No mainstream Hollywood studio would touch the movie -- Gibson expected that going in -- but he was fiercely committed to making the film he believes can change lives, as he claims Christ changed his own.

Gibson has chutzpah. He knows marketing, and in "The Passion of the Christ" he pulled out all the stops to use it to hype his film. The secret, selective screenings -- excluding the U.S. bishops' own Office for Film and Broadcasting was no fluke -- made sure there was incredible buzz about the film long before its release date. Even Gibson's courting of the American Evangelical camp while avoiding the Catholic church was a carefully calculated stroke of marketing savvy.

Other Today's Takes by Pat Morrison
Dec. 19, 2003 Altering the face of Christ
Dec. 17, 2003 Go ahead, get Uncle Edgar's goat!
Dec. 15, 2003 Finding Saddam, losing Mazen
Oct. 3, 2003 (Un)happy anniversary, intifada
Oct. 1, 2003 An ordinary life sparks an unlikely revolution
Aug. 14, 2003 Women's realities, Mary's feast
Aug. 13, 2003 Maybe it's time to change pews
It's ironic that Mel Gibson, a traditionalist Catholic who rejects the Second Vatican Council, is perhaps the best example of implementing what Vatican II said about the media. One of the first conciliar documents to be released, Inter Mirifica, on the means of social communication, has been largely overshadowed by its twin sibling, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the degree on the liturgy. Both were released the same day. But even though the liturgy document dramatically changed Catholic life and praxis, the much less-known Inter Mirifica was in its own right a groundbreaking document. For the first time in modern history, the Catholic church not only tolerated, but actually promoted the use of the media and acknowledged its evangelizing power (more on that later this week).

Unfortunately Catholics haven't done a very good job befriending the media and using it effectively. The Protestant churches, especially Evangelicals, are light years ahead of Catholics on this one. Mel Gibson knows that. He knows the power of film, the power of the Gospel story, and he has been smart enough to go to the people who know how to market his message and get the world lined up to see his "Passion."

The Catholic church should salute his passion, if not his product. And learn something from Mel Gibson about how to use the media.

Pat Morrison is NCR managing editor. Her e-mail address is

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