Mel Gibson: Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Jeff Jensen
January 20, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

Mel Gibson made our 2004 Entertainers of the Year list

Mel Gibson did not entertain us in 2004. His reason for being on this list — The Passion of the Christ, a visceral and violent ticktock of Jesus’ torture and crucifixion; a self-financed, $25 million profession of faith (and, to some, of anti-Semitic bias) that grossed $370 million and triggered a culture-war firefight — was not the least bit amusing to anyone who saw it. Instead, the Braveheart Oscar winner’s dark and bloody Technicolor tract, released last March, made us profoundly…uncomfortable. Only now that the fire and brimstone of controversy have cooled can we see how this feeling was powerful — and beneficial.

In Texas, The Passion moved a man to confess to a murder he had gotten away with — one of many reported cases of Passion-inspired repentance. In churches and living rooms, The Passion provoked difficult conversations — about theology and history, about the conflict between faith and intellectual responsibility. According to the Barna Group, a company that tracks religious trends, one in six people who saw The Passion said the film affected their spiritual beliefs; most elaborated that it made them want to live more loving lives.

Truth is, life-changing pop culture — a film like Schindler’s List, an album like The Joshua Tree — is a rare occurrence. Truth is, it would be really nice if there were more of it.

The movie’s impact doesn’t necessarily mean The Passion is a superior piece of film craft — critics were split on this point. But give the onetime Mad Max this much: With The Passion, he has exposed himself in a way few mega-celebrities have ever done before. This is Mel Gibson: Ambitious. Brazen. Flawed. Fallen. And yes, born-again. How he grows from here will be a journey well worth watching.

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