In this article we examine Mel Gibson's controversial 2004 film The Passion of the Christ and the critical response it evoked within the American cultural context. Focusing on the modern fascination of especially Hollywood with generating "real" experiences for the viewing audience, we argue that the film and its critics are both caught up in a particular cultural debate regarding differing social and political visions and practices. Special attention is given to the spectacle of violence in the film, examining particularities of The Passion in the larger context of Gibson's cinematic work. However, rather than criticising Gibson's film for its violence or for being "unfaithful" to history and the Gospels, we explore the ideological and socio-cultural underpinnings of Gibson's cinematic work, situating it more fully within the visual context of Hollywood and the cultural and political milieu of America. In our view, The Passion has distinctive features that come together to create a uniquely "American Gospel."