Fifteen years ago, today, the #1 film at the box office was The Passion of the Christ, a biblical drama starring Jim Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci, Claudia Gerini and Sergio Rubini. Directed by Mel Gibson, the screenplay was co-written by Gibson and Benedict Fitzgerald. Released February 25, it was based on The Passion of Jesus in the New Testament and Clemens Brentano‘s The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the first volume of his records (notes) from conversations regarding meditations by Anne Catherine Emmerich, a canoness, mystic, visionary and stigmatist. John Debney was composer and cinematographer was Caleb Deschanel (father of Emily & Zooey Deschanel).
The Passion of the Christ focuses on the last twelve hours of Jesus of Nazareth’s life. The film begins in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus has gone to pray after sitting [at] the Last Supper. Jesus must resist the temptations of Satan. Betrayed by Judas Iscariot, Jesus is then arrested and taken within the city walls of Jerusalem where leaders of the Pharisees confront him with accusations of blasphemy and, his trial results in a condemnation to death.
From Roger Ebert:
If ever there was a film with the correct title, that film is Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” The movie is 126 minutes long and, I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned, specifically and graphically, with the details of the torture and death of Jesus. This is the most violent film I have ever seen.
What Gibson has provided for me, for the first time in my life, is a visceral idea of what the Passion consisted of. That his film is superficial in terms of the surrounding message — that we get only a few passing references to the teachings of Jesus — is, I suppose, not the point. This is not a sermon or a homily but, a visualization of the central event in the Christian religion. Take it or leave it.
David Ansen, a critic I respect, finds in Newsweek that Gibson has gone too far. “The relentless gore is self-defeating,” he writes. “Instead of being moved by Christ’s suffering or awed by his sacrifice, I felt abused by a filmmaker intent on punishing an audience, for who knows what sins.” This is a completely valid response to the film, and I quote Ansen because I suspect he speaks for many audience members, who will enter the theater in a devout or spiritual mood and emerge deeply disturbed. You must be prepared for whippings, flayings, beatings, the crunch of bones, the agony of screams, the cruelty of the sadistic centurions, the rivulets of blood that crisscross every inch of Jesus’ body. Some will leave before the end.
♦ On February 11, 2008, Benedict Fitzgerald filed a lawsuit against Mel Gibson and the production company Icon Productions, alleging the unfair deprivation of compensation and deception on the overall expense of the film production budget after the blockbuster box office success of the film The Passion of the Christ, including, but not limited to, “fraud, breach of contract & unjust enrichment” seeking unspecified damages.
♦ Jim Caviezel experienced a shoulder separation when the 150lbs cross dropped on his shoulder. The scene is still in the movie.
♦ In an interview with Newsweek magazine, Jim Caviezel spoke about a few of the difficulties he experienced while filming. This included being accidentally whipped twice, which has left a 14-inch scar on his back. Caviezel also admitted he was struck by lightning while filming the Sermon on the Mount and during the crucifixion, experienced hypothermia during the dead of winter in Italy.