The Christ saga on celluloid

Mel Gibson talks to actor James Caviezel, who plays Christ in the film.  

NEVER IN the history of American Cinema was so much controversy generated by a single movie. Passion, anger, rage, tears of joy and pain. So much heat and noise have been raised over the much discussed, and much maligned Mel Gibson movie, "The Passion of Christ", which was released all over the American Continent on Ash Wednesday, February 25.

The film narrates in two hours in moving detail the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ and His Crucifixion. To watch Him beaten, whipped with vengeance, and crucified so graphically is a shattering experience for all viewers.

Mel Gibson said in an interview with The Star that he had been obsessed with this project for the past 12 years.

Expectedly as the news of the movie's launch spread, there was an avalanche of protests in America, especially from powerful Jewish groups and also from some of the top newspapers, backed by Jewish interests.

Their reason for the attack was that the project was an attempt to condemn, defame, vilify and malign the beliefs of the Jewish community and to hold it as being mainly responsible for the Crucifixion of Christ. And to promote anti-Semitism.

Here is a `montage' of criticism against the movie culled from various sources... ``(The movie) unambiguously portrays Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob as the ones responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus.''... ``This film is dangerous for Jews all over the world. I am concerned that it would lead to violence against Jews.'' (New York State Assembly member Dov Hikind in a rally)... ``... It could therefore be a catalyst for renewed outbreaks of anti-Jewish sentiment around the world''... ``Even a faithful repetition of the Gospel stories of the death of Jesus can do damage exactly because those sacred texts themselves carry the virus of Jew hatred.'' (James Carroll of The Boston Globe, a subsidiary of The New York Times)... A noted columnist described Gibson as ``Jew-baiter!''

Many powerful Jewish interests in America brought pressure on the moneybags of Hollywood to keep away from Gibson's movie project. Undaunted, Gibson, after many rebuffs, was able to finalise the deal with Newtime Pictures.

He had so much faith in his project that he invested $30 million of his personal funds to produce it. Apart from being the producer and director, he also worked on the various drafts of the screenplay with his writers to bring out the facts about the Crucifixion. He based it on St. John's New Testament.

Gibson had a special screening for the renowned spiritual icon of America, Billy Graham. Graham was moved to tears and remarked in a public statement, ``... The film is faithful to the Bible's teaching that we are all responsible for Jesus's death, because we have all sinned.'' That was not all. Gibson succeeded in having a screening for the Pope at the Vatican City and the Pope said, ``It is as it was.'' And he approved of Gibson's movie version.

"The Passion of Christ" has James Caviezel as Jesus Christ. Caviezel is 33, the same age as Christ and he has acted in movies like "Count of Monte Cristo," "Angel Eyes," and "Frequency." He is supported by Maia Morgenstern who plays Mother Mary and the stunning Italian beauty, Monica Bellucci, who is Mary Magdalene.

Produced in the ancient languages of Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic with subtitles in English, Gibson shot the movie in remote places in Italy and also on sets.

Christ carries the cross, as Simon (Jarreth Merz) of Cyrene tries to help him.

Christ carries the cross, as Simon (Jarreth Merz) of Cyrene tries to help him.  

The movie has also been audio-translated into an incredible number of 848 languages. Few philologists would have heard of languages like Acholi, Amde, Bacama, Borroro and Indian languages like Deccani!

Expectedly, the filmhas built up enormous enthusiasm in America and Canada. Advance booking of an unprecedented nature was noticed in the United States and many churches had booked entire shows for their congregation.

It is believed that the production cost of $100 million would be recovered by Gibson within the first few weeks!

For an actor from `down under' who reachedthe top in Hollywood with his blockbusters, Mel Gibson is all set to create movie history of an unusual kind.