Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

For Sunday, November 23, 2003


Dobson’s daughter deeply moved by Gibson’s movie, The Passion

            Interest in Mel Gibson’s new movie, “The Passion,” continues to grow, especially among Christians. The film opens in theaters across the country in February. Many Christians have grown weary of Hollywood’s typically negative treatment of Christ. On the other hand, most Christians would welcome a portrayal of Christ that is consistent with the biblical account.

            Mel Gibson has apparently prepared just such a movie. A devout Christian himself, a Roman Catholic, Gibson says that he was compelled to produce the movie, despite the risk of criticism in our increasingly pluralistic society. Frankly, I admire his courage. The man has backbone that is missing in some followers of Christ.

 Evidently Gibson wants to portray to the world the graphic violence of Christ’s final hours. Thus the title, “The Passion,” a term used by Christians to depict the Savior’s suffering and death. The two-hour film covers only the final 12 hours of Christ’s life.

            Since I shared in this column last Sunday the reaction of Pastor Lester Spencer, many readers have responded to me with appreciation. Like me, most are eager to see for themselves this unusual motion picture.

            Both to stimulate interest in the movie, and to gain helpful criticism before its final editing, Gibson has arranged private screenings of a rough cut of the film in major cities across the nation. Thus Lester Spencer and others were able to view it in Atlanta recently.

            Long an admirer of James Dobson, I was delighted, though not surprised, that he was invited to view the movie in a private screening. His daughter, Danae Dobson, has made public her response to the film. Like that of my friend Lester Spencer, her reaction is worthy of sharing.

            Actually Danae and her family were privileged to see a private screening of the movie in Mel Gibson’s studio. What a unique experience that must have been.

            Danae was deeply moved, to say the least. She describes the film as “the most beautiful, profound, accurate, disturbing, realistic, and bloody depiction of this story that I have ever seen!” Not surprisingly, she said the “truly amazing” movie “left all of us speechless for a few minutes when it was over.”

As if that was not enough drama, Mel Gibson himself entered the room during the final minutes of the screening, “and stayed for an hour to discuss the content and to answer questions.” He was candid enough to make known his desire for James Dobson to promote the film through his popular Focus on the Family ministry. According to his daughter, Dobson was enthusiastic about promoting the movie.

Danae shared that when Gibson was asked why he made the movie, he said that he “had no choice in the matter--he felt called to the assignment, and he was determined to carry it out.” Asked if he could find a distributor for the movie, Danae reported that  Mr. Gibson said confidently, ‘Oh, I'll find a distributor!’"

            Here, in her own words, Danae shares even more feelings she experienced from watching the movie:

“‘The Passion’ should not be labeled a religious film, or something to be shown only in churches. Compared with examples of recent Christian films, like ‘Left Behind,’ ‘The Passion’ is a work of high art and great storytelling.

“The rough cut I saw contained graphic scenes, including the seemingly endless  scourging of Jesus. The crucifixion scene is long,  bloody, and painful to watch. It is very disturbing, but it is also moving at the same time. While I  was taking all of this in, I was thinking, ‘Christ did this for ME, and he would have gone through it if I was the only one in all the world, and the same goes for each person who has ever lived!’

“To those in the Jewish community who worry that the film might  contain anti-Semitic elements, or encourage people to persecute Jews, fear not. The film does not indict Jews for the death of Jesus. It is faithful to the New Testament account.”

Danae seemed pleased to report that Gibson, though a devout Roman Catholic,
”does not elevate Mary beyond what  Scripture says of her, which will broaden the film's appeal to Protestants.” That is an insightful observation.

While the dialogue is in Aramaic and Latin, English subtitles are provided. Danae found them very helpful in following the story line.  “A decision about using them in the final version has not been made,” she said.

 “My family and I tried to persuade Mr. Gibson to leave the subtitles in, and my dad pointed out that those who are unbelievers (or those who are weak in their understanding) will have no idea of what is going on in the flashback scenes of Jesus' life  without subtitles.” I imagine that Doctor Dobson was rather persuasive.

Danae said that the film takes “few liberties” with the accounts found in the four Gospels. “The extra dialogue,” which is added, “helps round out the characters without damaging historical or biblical accuracy.” 

If, like me, you wonder how the Devil is portrayed, Danae says, “Satan is cleverly played as an asexual being who at first seems to be an observer in the Garden of Gethsemane (and other scenes), but then becomes a snake slithering between the character's feet and  attempting to wrap itself around the arm of the prostrate and praying Jesus.”

 Danae found the film “an intense two hours.” By using unknown actors, she said that Gibson “keeps the focus on the message. By the end of the film (a unique portrayal of the Resurrection), the viewer is exhausted!

            Mickey Rooney is so old I had forgotten about him. Danae, however, helped me remember Rooney’s public profession of faith in Christ some years ago. She observed: “Thirteen years ago, actor Mickey Rooney wrote an editorial for Variety in which he said, ‘The onscreen depiction of religion is less than flattering and, as a Christian, I pray the era of denigrating religion on screen comes to a screeching halt. And soon.’”

“His prayer,” Danae said,  has been answered in ‘The Passion.’ It is a soul-stirring film that deserves wide distribution and viewing.  Its message is not just for Christians, but for everyone. I hope you all will support Mel Gibson's bold and courageous effort to portray the sacrifice that our Lord made for us….Yes, it is a disturbing film, but every person should see this realistic depiction of what Christ  did for them!”

Again, I must admit I have not seen the film. I wish I had been in the audience when Danae and her family saw it, or when my friend Lester saw it in Atlanta. Like most of us, I must wait until Ash Wednesday to see it.

I can tell you this: I want to see the film, even though I know it will hurt me to see Jesus suffer. I want to feel deeply what Danae and Lester both felt – that the man who died on that cross endured that agony for me. Then I will cry with the songwriter, Charles Wesley, “for me, for me, he died!” + + + +