When Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ came out last year, it immediately became more of a controversy than a film. Churches and televangelists hailed it, while most critics and secular Americans savaged it. With its religious subject matter, alleged anti-Semitism, and much-hyped blood and gore, it's hard to think of any film more relevant to America's thorny relationships with religion, violence, and popular art. But one extraordinary thing that stood out was how Gibson, a Catholic, unswervingly defended his film and his decisions. In the face of multilateral, vicious criticism (both justified and unjustified) the guy stuck to his guns.

But that changes Friday, when--just in time for Easter!--Gibson will roll out The Passion Recut. Six minutes shorter, Gibson says that in order to "make the film accessible to as many of those who would want to see it," he's "alleviated some of the [film's] more horrific aspects." (Recut--which wasn't screened for critics--is still pretty gruesome. "The goal [of the edits] was to try and reach toward a PG-13 level," Newmarket Films President Bob Berney stated. "But the MPAA felt it still was an R due to the overall intensity of the film, so we are going out unrated.")

I'm not about to cry a river over the loss of Gibson's artistic integrity, but how Recut reflects upon The Passion phenomenon is worth getting into. If nothing else, Gibson's film had a fascinating affect on film and culture--it was something everyone talked about, everyone had an opinion on, and just about everybody saw (it took in over $370 million domestically, and over $611 million worldwide). But Recut, by principle alone, is less of a divisive artistic expression and more of a cash cow. Regardless of specific reactions, The Passion universally inspired emotions, reminded people of the power of film, and invited visceral civic discourse. And while I can't say that the excised blood and guts of The Passion will be missed in Recut, that discourse should be. ERIK HENRIKSEN