The Passion of the Christ explained

The Passion of the Christ
Director:Mel Gibson
Producer:Bruce Davey
Mel Gibson
Stephen McEveety
Eproducer:Enzo Sisti
Starring:James Caviezel
Maia Morgenstern
Monica Bellucci
Hristo Naumov Shopov
Mattia Sbragia
Rosalinda Celentano
Music:John Debney
Cinematography:Caleb Deschanel
Editing:John Wright
United Kingdom, Australia: Icon Entertainment
USA: Newmarket Films
Canada:Equinox Films
Taiwan, Argentina, Singapore, Brazil: 20th Century Fox
Malta: KRS
DVD:United Kingdom: MGM Home Entertainment
Australia, Canada: Warner Home Video
USA, Taiwan, Argentina, Brazil, Singapore: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Released:USA February 25, 2004
Runtime:130 minutes
Country:United States, Israel
Awards:3 Oscar Nominations
Budget:$30 million USD
Gross:Domestic: $370,782,930[1]
Worldwide: $611,899,420

The Passion of the Christ is a 2004 film co-written, co-produced and directed by Mel Gibson. It is based on Catholic accounts of the arrest, trial, torture, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus, events commonly known as "The Passion". The film was rated R by the MPAA for "sequences of graphic violence." The film’s dialogue is in Aramaic, Latin, and Hebrew, with subtitles. It is the highest grossing non-English language film and the most successful R-rated film in the United States.[2]


The film opens in Gethsemane in medias res as Jesus prays and is tempted by Satan, while his apostles, Peter, James, and John sleep. After receiving thirty pieces of silver, one of Jesus' other apostles, Judas Iscariot, approaches with the temple guard and betrays Jesus with a kiss. Peter cuts off the ear of Malchus, but Jesus heals the ear. The temple guard arrest Jesus and the apostles flee. John tells Mary and Mary Magdalene of the arrest, and Peter follows Jesus at a distance. Caiaphas holds a trial of Jesus over the objection of some of the other priests, who are expelled from the court. When questioned by Caiaphas whether he is the son of God, Jesus replies "I AM", which to Caiaphas justifies the charge of blasphemy, and Jesus is condemned to death. Three times Peter denies knowing Jesus, and the remorseful Judas returns the money. Tormented by demons, Judas flees the city and hangs himself with a rope from a dead donkey. Crows fly down and peck his eyes out, and eat them.

Caiaphas brings Jesus before Pontius Pilate to be condemned to death, but after questioning Jesus, Pilate sends him instead to the court of Herod Antipas, as Jesus is from Herod's ruling town of Nazareth. After Jesus is returned, Pilate offers the crowd that he will chastise Jesus and will be set free. Jesus is viciously scourged but the people still demand Jesus to be crucified. Though, Pilate gives the people an option of freeing Jesus or Barabbas. When Barabbas is chosen, Jesus is sentenced to be crucified. As Jesus carries the cross along the Via Dolorosa to Calvary, Veronica wipes Jesus's face with her veil. Simon of Cyrene is unwillingly pressed into carrying the cross for Jesus. Jesus is crucified, and after his death, a single drop of rain falls from the sky. Jesus is lowered from the cross to his mother Mary, who looks directly at the audience in this Pietà. The movie ends with Jesus's resurrection and exit from the tomb, with the holes in his hands from the nails visible as he walks.


In The Passion: Photography from the Movie "The Passion of the Christ", Gibson says "This is a movie about love, hope, faith, and forgiveness. He [Jesus] died for all mankind, suffered for all of us. It's time to get back to that basic message. The world has gone nuts. We could all use a little more love, faith, hope, and forgiveness."

He also explains one of his appearances in the film, the close-up of his hands nailing Jesus to the cross: "It was me that put Him on the cross. It was my sins [that put Him there]."

Source material

New Testament

According to director Mel Gibson, the primary source material for The Passion of the Christ is the four Gospel narratives of Christ's passion. The film also draws from other parts of the New Testament. The line spoken by Jesus, "Behold Mother, I make all things new," is taken from the Book of Revelation.[3]

Old Testament

The Passion of the Christ also references the Old Testament. The film begins with an epigraph from the Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant from Isaiah.[4] In the opening scene set in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus crushes a serpent's head in direct visual allusion to Genesis 3:15.[5] Throughout the film, Jesus quotes from the Psalms, beyond the instances recorded in the New Testament.

Traditional iconography and stories

Many of the depictions in The Passion of the Christ deliberately mirror traditional representations of the Passion in art. For example, the fourteen Stations of the Cross are central to the depiction of the Via Dolorosa in The Passion of the Christ. All of the stations are portrayed except for the eighth station (Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem, a deleted scene on the DVD) and the fourteenth station (Jesus is laid in the tomb).

Early in the film, Mary quotes from the Passover Seder, "Why is this night different than other nights?", and Mary Magdalene replies with the traditional response: "Because once we were slaves and we are slaves no longer".

The conflation of Mary Magdalene with the adulteress saved from stoning by Jesus has some precedent in tradition but according to the director was done for dramatic reasons. The names of some of the characters in the film are traditional and extra-Scriptural, such as the thieves crucified alongside the Christ, Dismas and Gesmas (also Gestas).

Catholic devotional writings

Screenwriters Mel Gibson and Benedict Fitzgerald said that they read many accounts of Christ's passion for inspiration, including the devotional writings of Catholic mystics. A principal source is The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ[6] the meditations of the stigmatic, German nun Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774–1824), as told to the poet Clemens Brentano. Elements taken from Emmerich include the suspension of Jesus from a bridge after his arrest by the Temple guards, the wiping up of the blood of Jesus after his scourging, and the dislocation of Jesus’ shoulder so that his palm would reach the hole for the nail.[6] A second source mentioned was The Mystical City of God by Maria de Agreda (1602–1665), a 17th century Spanish nun.

Differences from traditional Passion story

Certain elements of The Passion of the Christ do not have precedent in earlier depictions of The Passion. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus converses with the devil and crushes a serpent beneath his heel; this does not occur in any of the gospels. In another example, Judas Iscariot is tormented by demons who appear as children to him. The film also gives focus to the fragile relationship of Tiberius Caesar with Pontius Pilate through Pilate's discussion with his wife about imperial orders to avert further Judean revolts. The movie clearly identifies Simon of Cyrene as Jewish although the Synoptic Gospels provide only his name and place of origin. In the film, a Roman soldier derides Simon of Cyrene (who helped Jesus bear the cross) by derisively calling him Jew. In contrast, Simon of Cyrene is described as a pagan in The Dolorious Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ[6]

Other scenes unique to The Passion of the Christ include when the crucified thief who taunted Jesus has his eye pecked out by a crow. The flashback of the carpenter Jesus building an elevated, four-legged table for a Roman is also particular to this film. The scene of Satan carrying a Demon baby during Christ’s flogging has been construed as a perverse mockery of traditional depictions of the Madonna and Child. Mel Gibson described this scene as follows:

"'s evil distorting what’s good. What is more tender and beautiful than a mother and a child? So the Devil takes that and distorts it just a little bit. Instead of a normal mother and child you have an androgynous figure holding a 40-year-old ‘baby’ with hair on his back. It is weird, it is shocking, it's almost too much – just like turning Jesus over to continue scourging him on his chest is shocking and almost too much, which is the exact moment when this appearance of the Devil and the baby takes place."[7]


Script and language

Gibson originally announced that he would use two dead languages without subtitles and rely on "filmic storytelling." Because the story of the Passion is so well-known, Gibson felt the need to avoid vernacular languages in order to surprise audiences: "I think it's almost counterproductive to say some of these things in a modern language. It makes you want to stand up and shout out the next line, like when you hear 'To be or not to be' and you instinctively say to yourself, 'That is the question.' "[8] The script was written in English by Gibson and Benedict Fitzgerald, then translated by William Fulco, S.J. into Latin, reconstructed Aramaic, and Hebrew. Gibson chose to use Latin instead of Greek so that the audience could easily distinguish between the sound of Italianate Latin and Semitic Aramaic.[9] Fulco sometimes incorporated deliberate errors in pronunciations and word endings when the characters were speaking a language unfamiliar to them, and some of the crude language used by the Roman soldiers was not translated in the subtitles.[10] The pronunciation of Latin in the film is closer to ecclesiastical Latin than to more historically accurate classical Latin. (Clear instances of this can be heard when Pontius Pilate says "veritas" and "ecce".)


The movie was filmed in Italy, specifically in Matera and Craco (Basilicata) and Cinecittà Studios, Rome. Gibson consulted several theological advisors during filming, including Fr. Jonathan Morris, who would later go on to become a news analyst and contributor. During filming, assistant director Jan Michelini was struck twice by lightning. The second time this happened, the lightning bolt also hit James Caviezel.[11]


Title change

Although Gibson wanted to call his film The Passion, on October 16, 2003 his spokesman announced that the title used in the United States would be The Passion of Christ because Miramax had already registered the title The Passion with the MPAA for the 1987 novel by Jeanette Winterson.[12] Later, the title was changed again to The Passion of the Christ for all markets.

Distribution and marketing

Gibson began production on his film without securing outside funding or distribution. In 2002 he explained why he could not get backing from the Hollywood studios: "This is a film about something that nobody wants to touch, shot in two dead languages. In Los Angeles they think I am insane, and maybe I am."[13] Gibson and his Icon Productions company provided the film's sole backing, spending about $30 million on production costs and an estimated $15 million on marketing.[14] After early accusations of anti-Semitism, it became difficult for Gibson to find an American distribution company. 20th Century Fox had a first-look deal with Icon and passed on the film in response to public protests.[15] In order to avoid the spectacle of other studios turning down the film and to avoid subjecting the distributor to the same intense public criticism he had received, Gibson decided to distribute the movie in the United States himself, with Newmarket Films.[16]

Gibson departed from the usual film marketing formula. He employed a small-scale television advertising campaign, with no press junkets.[17] Yet The Passion of the Christ was heavily promoted by many church groups, both within their organizations and to the general public, often giving away free tickets.

Notes and References

  1. Web site: The Passion of the Christ (2004). Box Office Mojo. 2009-02-05.
  2. Web site: Domestic Grosses by MPAA Rating: R.
  3. Book: The Holy Bible, Book of Revelation 21:5.
  4. Book: The Holy Bible, Book of Isaiah 53:5.
  5. Book: The Holy Bible, Book of Genesis 3:15.
  6. Book: The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Clement Brentano.
  7. News: Moring. Mark. What's Up With the Ugly Baby?. Christianity Today. 2004-03-01. 2008-08-20.
  8. News: [h Mel Gibson’s Great Passion]. Zenit. 2003-03-06.
  9. Web site: SBL Passion of the Christ interview - Fulco and Fitzgerald.. Mark Goodacre. NT Gateway Weblog. November 26, 2004.
  10. Web site: TRANSLATING THE PASSION.. Language Hat. March 08, 2004.
  11. News: Jesus actor struck by lightning. BBC. 23 October, 2003.
  12. Web site: Susman. Gary. Napoleon Branding. “Entertainment Weekly”. 10-16-2004. 2008-08-16.
  13. News: Gibson To Direct Christ Tale With Caviezel As Star. Nick Vivarelli. The Hollywood Reporter. 2002-9-23. 2008-10-20.
  14. Web site: What Mel's Passion Will Earn Him. 2004-03-03. Patsuris. Penelope.
  15. News: Fox passes on Gibson’s ‘The Passion’. Los Angeles Times. 2004-10-22. 2008-8-30.
  16. News: Gibson to Market ‘Christ’ on His Own, Sources Say. Horn. John. Los Angeles Times. 2004-10-22. 2008-10-20.
  17. Web site: Marketing ‘The Passion of the Christ’. Cobb. Jerry. 2004-02-25.