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January 25, 2004
Hugh Hewitt Reviews 'The Passion of the Christ'

Hugh Hewitt posts a lengthy review of the new and controversial Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ (no permalink yet). Hugh's enthusiasm for this film is evident in this review, as it was in his radio show on Friday night:

The Passion of the Christ is a phenomenal work of art; a moving and inspiring film that will certainly be shown again and again for generations to come. Though I am a follower of Jesus Christ, I do not believe that one needs to be a believer in the divinity of Christ to appreciate the majesty of the movie and its extraordinary commitment to authenticity and an objective recounting of the story of the passion and death of Christ as relayed through the Gospels.

I have wondered how well Gibson would adhere to history in the Passion story. After all, his previous efforts at historical cinema fell somewhat short of the mark. In Braveheart, for instance, Gibson took an oral history with plenty of historical vagueness and managed to get a good deal of the known facts incorrect:

1. Wallace was no reluctant warrior; before his lover was murdered, he had already built a fearful reputation for killing Englishmen in Scotland. His lover's murder occurs late in his career.

2. William Wallace actually co-ruled an independent Scotland for a few months (there are treaties signed by Wallace) between the battles of Stirling Bridge and Falkirk.

3. Robert the Bruce was not about to be named a puppet King of Scotland on the fields of Bannockburn, as shown in the final scenes of the movie. He had already declared himself an independent king and Edward II's army was there to engage and destroy him. Outnumbered 2-1, Robert destroyed the English army at Bannockburn in 1314, creating a de facto independent Scotland that was confirmed by treaty in 1328.

4. Edward II did not marry until after Wallace was dead, so the whole ridiculous subplot with Sophie Marceau could not possibly have been true. It doesn't even pass the laugh test. The historical character she played would have been 13 years old at the time of Wallace's death (1305) and didn't marry Edward II until 1308.

In his later epic The Patriot, Gibson took even more dramatic licence with history, this time with the American Revolution. Among the more egregious errors Gibson allowed were a fictional account of the British burning down a church full of civilians as a reprisal for his character's commando raids on the British. Not only is this libelous to the British, who on the whole conducted themselves honorably during the Revolution, but it steals an actual Nazi atrocity from WWII. Also, slavery seemed to be miraculously scrubbed from The Patriot; the African-American characters are freed men in South Carolina, where freed Negroes were illegal right through to the Civil War. While the film was entertaining, its history was appallingly bad -- a great example of how Hollywood can't be trusted with truth.

Which brings us to Gibson's latest effort. I trust Hugh, as he is a well-read man with extensive historical knowledge, so I am greatly relieved to hear that Gibson's depiction of the Gospels improves on his track record. However, I do not blame people for being nervous about possible anti-Semitic biases or departures from the Gospels, given that track record. It demonstrates the wisdom of actually seeing a film before attacking it -- or defending it.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 25, 2004 4:02 PM

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