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Oscaring Mel Gibson

Why isn’t his Passion in line for even a single Academy Award?

By 12.21.04

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Both the Golden Globes and the Broadcast Film Critics passed over The Passion of The Christ for any major nominations this year. The American Film Institute made no mention of The Passion in its 2004 best films of the year announcement. And according to USA Today's Oscar Oracle, The Passion isn't on the radar screen for even a single nomination when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hands out nominations at the end of January.

In the shadow of a public debate over the propriety of the words "Merry Christmas" at department stores, a big battle in the culture war is looming. The Passion of The Christ, one of the most powerful, commercially successful, and, by any measure, brilliant films of the year is being utterly rejected by the Hollywood elites this award season, demonstrating yet again their tone deaf disdain for all things middle-American.

What's going on here? Well, the cultural elites took a whooping on Election Day, 2004. And they are taking it out on Mel Gibson.

The official reasons for denying The Passion an Oscar nomination are fivefold. Herewith, I will attempt to discredit them all:

The Passion is just a sadomasochistic bloodbath with quasi-religious overtones.

The body count in The Passion is one (actually it's zero, but that argument is too big a leap for the average Academy member, so we'll just stick with one), far fewer than Mel Gibson's 1995 Best Picture winner Braveheart, 1974's The Godfather Part II, or even 1991's The Silence of the Lambs in which the main character is a cannibal.

In 1994 The Academy nominated Pulp Fiction in which an overdosed woman is resuscitated with a hypodermic stab to the heart. Fargo, in which a murder victim is shredded to bits in a wood chipper, was nominated for Best Picture in 1996. And two years later Saving Private Ryan was nominated because it depicted some of the most graphic and realistic war scenes in cinematic history, not despite it.

The Academy has a long-running love affair with blood and guts, so the idea that The Passion was just too gory doesn't hold water.

The Academy doesn't do religious films.

This argument is a little sturdier. But on closer examination, we determine it, too is a fallacy. Ben Hur won the Best Picture Oscar in 1959. Schindler's List won in 1993. The Ten Commandments was nominated in 1956. The Diary of Anne Frank was nominated in 1959, as was The Nun's Story. The Exorcist was nominated in 1973.

Just last year The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King won the Oscar for Best Picture and its director Peter Jackson won for Best Director. Said J.R.R. Tolkien of his master work, "The Lord of the Rings is, of course, a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision."

The Passion just reflects Mel Gibson's obscure brand of extreme Catholicism.

Not true. Regardless of Mel Gibson's own denominational oddities, the film depicts an event no orthodox Christian -- Catholic or Protestant -- denies occurred. Contemporary non-Christian texts from Roman Jewish historian Josephus substantiate at least the gist of what Gibson captures on screen.

Moreover, Martin Scorsese was nominated for his direction of 1988's The Last Temptation of Christ, which includes artistic creations for which there is no scriptural support.

The factual errors disqualify the film for any nominations.

There are only two serious "errors" in The Passion so far as I understand this argument. The first is that none of the Gospels has Satan moving through the crowd of Jews during Christ's passion, as Gibson does in the film.

This is a legitimate theological gripe, but a cinematic one? Besides, who's to say Satan wasn't there? Satan obviously took a considerable interest in the life, suffering, and death of Jesus.

The second criticism is that the ten graphic minutes Gibson dedicates to the flogging of Jesus is drenched in gruesome detail for which there is no scriptural substantiation. Matthew, Mark and John only say Christ was flogged; they mention no amount of time and the severity is never indicated. But it would be irrational to believe the flogging was mild considering the intensity of Jesus' suffering throughout the balance of his Passion, about which the Gospels leave little to the imagination.

Regardless, given the Academy has named Titanic Best Picture and nominated Oliver Stone for Best Director (JFK), we can reasonably assert that historical accuracy is not a prerequisite for Oscar glory.

The Oscars don't do foreign language films.

This myth actually applies to the Golden Globes, not the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy nominated La Vita é Bella (AKA: Life is Beautiful) for Best Picture in 1998. The film's leading man, Roberto Benigni, won the Best Actor that year.

This is not a legitimate reason to pass over The Passion.

Red Staters may have won on Election Day. But the cultural elites will always have Hollywood.

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About the Author

Patrick Hynes is an account executive with the consulting firm Marsh Copsey + Scott and the proprietor of the websites www.passionforfairness.com and www.crushkerry.com.