On this day: The Passion of the Christ opens

February 25 2004: Mel Gibson takes on the bible

By Jennifer Lipman, February 25, 2011

At first description – religious story, told in Aramaic and Latin, more than two-hours long - The Passion of the Christ doesn’t sound too appealing.

But audiences flocked to see it after its release (on Ash Wednesday), and the film became the most successful foreign language film in box office terms ever.

Still, Mel Gibson’s project was not without controversy. Critics accused the film of reviving the centuries-old lie, officially discredited long ago by Catholics, that the Jews were responsible for the crucifixion of Christ.

The film, which followed in graphic detail the final hours of Christ and the violence of his death, raised the ire of Jewish and non-Jewish groups worldwide. Commentators highlighted Mel Gibson’s reported links to an extremely conservative and anti-Jewish Catholic group.

Concerns grew two years later when the actor was arrested for drunk driving and caught on tape allegedly telling the Jewish police officer who arrested him: “F***king Jews… Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.”

As for the JC’s verdict? “Near unwatchable” and “unquestionably one of the most gruelling and grisly movies”.

What the JC said: For at least some Christians — indeed, for many hundreds of thousands of evangelical Christians in America — it was a deeply moving film on Christ’s final hours and his death on the cross. But its message is also relentlessly, violently, obscenely anti-Jewish — not least because of its ahistoric portrayal of the Roman leader who ordered the crucifixion of Christ, and of countless others, as a wonderfully sensitive lad who would not have been out of place as the lead in “Sleepless in Seattle.”

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 8:46am, February 25 2011