Remember how “The Passion of the Christ” was supposed to be a wet smack in the face for those jaded sybarites of Hollywood/Babylon? How church basements, not focus groups, would be the new proving ground for America’s blockbusters? After the success of Mel Gibson’s thanato-pic, the theory went, the suits on Melrose would finally get it, and they’d greenlight a host of imitators, full of spiritual intensity and religious relevance.
If today’s Oscar nominations are any measure, it’s clear that Hollywood still doesn’t get it. If Mel were handing out the awards instead of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences–call them the “Mels” instead of the Oscars–which of the current crop of nominees would win big? “Brokeback Mountain,” in which two cowboys get it on in the heart of Red America? “Capote,” in which an effete New York writer seduces a murderer to tell him his tale in ghastly detail, and then roots for the dead man walking to hang for the sake of book sales? Spielberg’s ambivalent take on the events of Munich in 1972?
The Oscar nominations, of course, may not be an adequate measure. “The Passion,” after all, didn’t get a nomination either. But if Gibson’s film has a legacy at all, we’re still waiting for it to show up somewhere in Hollywood. Even the one spiritual film of the year, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” neither sought nor got prior approval from the evangelical Christian community that Gibson rallied before going wide with “TPOTC.”