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The Passion of the Christ

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The Passion of the Christ (2004) is a film about the last 12 hours of Jesus's life, financed and directed by Mel Gibson, a traditional Catholic. Its projected release date in the United States is February 25 (Ash Wednesday), 2004.

On October 17, 2003, Gibson's film production company announced the name of the film had been changed from The Passion to The Passion of Christ, because the title The Passion had already been trademarked by a different motion picture. This was then further amended to The Passion of the Christ. The following week Gibson announced a distribution arrangement had been reached with the independent Newmarket Films.

Gibson's film was produced in Italy, on scenic locations that were selected to evoke Caravaggio's paintings. In a bold departure from previous films of the life of Christ, the dialogue is spoken entirely in Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew, with the inclusion of subtitles still being debated. (This has already led to criticisms of the film's historical accuracy, with many scholars pointing out that the Roman soldiers in Judea would not have spoken Latin, but Greek.) Jim Caviezel portarys Jesus. Great attention was paid to historical detail such as traditional clothing of the period, and Jewish dietary customs. The crucifixion sequence is exceptionally violent and graphic, requiring Caviezel to endure seven hours of makeup sessions daily; his shoulder was even dislocated at one point during the scourging scene.

Gibson's religious beliefs, which inspire the film, can be described as traditional Catholicism, which rejects most of the pastoral reforms set by the Second Vatican Council, commonly referred to as Vatican II.

Mel Gibson and his staff state that this movie was true to the New Testament texts, but some religious scholars [1] say that it departs from the New Testament in a number of areas. Other scholars and Christian leaders, both Catholic and Protestant, disagree, including Pope John Paul II who praised the film and wrote of its accuracy, "It is as it was." [1]

According to some reviewers of the script, significant parts of the movie departs from the New Testament by incorporating material from from The Mystical City of God by Mary of Agreda (a 17th century nun), and the writings of Anne Catherine Emmerich (a 19th century stigmatic). The latter is a highly controversial work, as it contains material that is considered highly violent and, by many Jews, anti-Semitic.

Table of contents
1 Cast and crew
2 Reactions
3 References
4 External links

Cast and crew

The film's principal cast and crew are as follows:


Crew: The film was shot at Rome's Cinecitta Studios and various locations in Italy on a budget of $25 million, personally financed out of Gibson's pocket.



Those who have screened the film, prior to its official release, have have mixed comments as the film has evolved.

Peggy Noonan wrote:

It is the story of a Jew who was the Messiah; it is the story of his loving Jewish mother, his ardent Jewish followers, and his Jewish opponents, who saw him as heretical and dangerous. He is brutally put to death by non-Jewish Roman soldiers, who are portrayed as sadistic in a businesslike way, on the acquiescence of a tired, non-Jewish cynic who then sought to wash his hands of culpability. It is a film that leaves the viewer indicting not Jews and not Romans and not cynical bureaucrats. It leaves you indicting yourself: it leaves you wondering about what your part in that agonizing drama would have been back then, and what your part is today. [1]

Some evangelical Christians have considered the release of the movie to be a crucial moment for evangelism. Stated Marta Poling-Goldenne, Minister for Outreach of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Grand Canyon Synod in a 2004 email to pastors:

Seize this mission moment, friends! God is providing "the best outreach opportunity in the last 2,000 years" [sic] for us to witness about the gospel story to people for whom it may be very unfamiliar or unknown.

Charges of anti-Semitism

As much as a full year before the film's projected release, a heated controversy arose over whether or not it would depict Jews as responsible for Jesus' death, thus inspiring anti-Semitic reaction.

When Gibson was asked if his movie would be offensive to Jews today, he responded, "It's not meant to. I think it's meant to just tell the truth. I want to be as truthful as possible. But when you look at the reasons Christ came, he was crucified - he died for all mankind and he suffered for all mankind. So that, really, anyone who transgresses has to look at their own part or look at their own culpability."

In an interview in The New Yorker, Gibson charges that he trimmed a scene from The Passion of the Christ involving the Jewish high priest Caiaphas because if he did not, "they'd be coming after me at my house, they'd come to kill me." In response, Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish civil rights group, publicly charged Gibson with anti-Semitism, and New York Times critic Frank Rich openly accused Gibson of "Jew-baiting".

In an apparent effort to stem the tide of criticism, Gibson arranged for screenings of the film; yet these merely caused more criticism, as his audiences included prominent Christians and Jews known for their political and social conservatism. Requests for a screening by the ADL were declined. American film reviewer, Michael Medved -- a secular Jewish author, columnist and film reviewer -- praised the movie's Biblical accuracy. However, one statement by the ADL read:

"For filmmakers to do justice to the biblical accounts of the passion, they must complement their artistic vision with sound scholarship, which includes knowledge of how the passion accounts have been used historically to disparage and attack Jews and Judaism. Absent such scholarly and theological understanding, productions such as The Passion could likely falsify history and fuel the animus of those who hate Jews." [1]

The ADL recently made a web page illustrating anti-Semitic attacks that are linked to their criticism of this project. [1] Critics of the ADL retort that it couldn't possibly be the film that caused any hateful e-mails to the ADL because the film isn't in theatres yet; it is, instead, the ADL's attacks against a film on the life of Jesus that was the motivation. The Catholic League has responded to the ADL by accusing the organization of "seeking to poison relations between Catholics and Jews," contending that the "attacks on Mel Gibson have little to do with some off-the-cuff quips and everything to do with waging a frontal assault against all those people - Catholics, Protestants, Jews et al. - who have seen 'The Passion' and love it." [1] Other commentators who have seen the film - such as Cal Thomas - have also categorically denied that the film contains anti-Semitic material. [1]

Darío Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, a senior Vatican official who has seen the film, addressed the question at length:

"Anti-Semitism, like all forms of racism, distorts the truth in order to put a whole race of people in a bad light. This film does nothing of the sort. It draws out from the historical objectivity of the Gospel narratives sentiments of forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation. It captures the subtleties and the horror of sin, as well as the gentle power of love and forgiveness, without making or insinuating blanket condemnations against one group. This film expressed the exact opposite, that learning from the example of Christ, there should never be any more violence against any other human being." [1]

More controversy arose when it was revealed in the press that Gibson's father, Hutton Gibson, had made statements that appeared to constitute Holocaust denial. Mel Gibson has responded by saying his father doesn't "deny the Holocaust" and the mistreatment of Jews by the Third Reich, but questions statistics concerning the Holocaust, such as the six million statistic and the use of crematoria. [1] Supporters of Gibson see the bringing up of Hutton Gibson's view of history as irrelevant and hypocritical, pointing out that the opinions of the father should not be de facto construed as those of the son, and that Gibson himself has never indicated that he shares his father's views.

Some commentators have added an element of confusion into the debate surrounding the film. Fox News talk show host Bill O'Reilly, for instance, charged that much of the controversy surrounding the film was the result of "secularists" attempting to "demonize" Gibson for his faith. However, no prominent American secular organization — including the Council for Secular Humanism, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, or American Atheists — has issued any kind of statement to the media expressing a position on the film, either pro or con. Most of the controversy appears to arisen from within the Jewish and liberal Christian communities.

Further criticism

In November 2003, The New York Post somehow got its hands on a copy of the film and screened it for a handful of reviewers including Robert Levine, vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis; Mark Hallinan, a Catholic priest [1] with the St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church; Elizabeth Castelli, a professor of religion at Barnard College; and others. This marked the first time the film had been screened for viewers not hand-picked by Gibson himself. For the most part their reactions to the film were extremely harsh.

Rabbi Levine wrote that "It hurt me as a Jew to watch it. It was the most appalling depiction of Jews in a film in my recollection. It was painful and inaccurate. My eyes burned. My hair fell out. Nevermind that Toledoth Yeshu behind the curtain!" [1] He stated the film "undermines the 1965 Vatican II declaration that the human element of the Church is no longer Catholic and no longer believes that Jews were anywhere near the crime scene as they were much too busy at the time debating whether walking around with a mote of dust on your coat constitutes carrying something on the Sabbath."

Father Hallinan, perhaps facetiously, claimed that the film focuses too much on Roman responsibility. "Unsophisticated people viewing the film will see Romans as cold, heartless people. Italians everywhere should be on guard and report anti-Italian sentiments immediately. I wouldn't be surprised at all if anti-Italianites started burning down Italian restaurants and randomly attacking anyone whose name ends in a vowel, and when they do, it will be Mel Gibson's fault" he seethed. [1] No other Christian or Jewish group takes such charges seriously however; there is currently no evidence of anti-Italian hatred being stirred up by the movie.

Professor Castelli added that "[Gibson] had an opportunity to reflect on the long history of the theology of suffering, and he got a greater opportunity when he dared make a Gospel-true movie about Jesus in today's world." [1]

The Post’s report drew cries of outrage from Gibson's representatives, who accused the Post of stealing their copy of the film, and the FBI announced it would begin an inquiry into how the newspaper obtained a copy of the film to begin with, hinting that its doing so could constitute an act of piracy. Gibson's lawyer George Hedges said, "Our biggest concern here is that a major media organization would become involved with pirates to concoct a news story to sell newspapers."

Public reaction

On December 7, 2003, The Passion of the Christ had its first public screening in Austin, Texas at the annual 24-hour movie marathon "Butt-Numb-a-Thon 5", sponsored by Harry Knowles and his website Ain't It Cool News. Gibson was in attendance and followed the screening — which reportedly drew a five-minute standing ovation — with a 90-minute Q&A session. None of the attendees who have written about the event believe the film is anti-Semitic, with some taking the view that its critics are promoting "agendas".

See also: Fictional portrayals of Jesus Christ


  1. Official site - The Passion of the Christ
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External links