Movie of the Week: The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson, 2004
Old Testament: Isaiah 53
New Testament: Matthew 26:36-46
Week #6 Movie Introduction Guide: The Passion of the Christ
Producer/Director: Mel Gibson
Premiere: February 24, 2004 (Ash Wednesday)
Running Time: 2 hours
Parent Guide/Rating: R for extreme gore
Watch The Passion of the Christ free online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4k1uExAOa4
By the time Mel Gibson’s movie debuted in theaters on Ash Wednesday, 2004, there was such a buzz surrounding his audacious endeavor that few people were unaware of the release. He had achieved enough success in his acting and directing career to be considered among the leaders in the industry, so why someone like that would jeopardize his reputation by producing such an overt religious project was hard for people to understand. People seemed to be lining up in preparation for his downfall. However, the combination of his high profile celebrity, massive pre-release media exposure, and, perhaps most significant of all, a deliberate marketing scheme directed at the Catholic Church and evangelical churches helped propel The Passion of the Christ into becoming one of the most financially successful movies of all time grossing over $600 million worldwide. Not bad considering Gibson’s initial $25 million investment.
“A crisis in Gibson’s life led him to make The Passion – a crisis which he often referred in the months before the film’s release. Some years earlier, in his mid-thirties, already having tasted fame and fortune, Gibson experienced a despair and desperation that led to rediscover the Catholicism on which he had been nurtured in his early years. As Gibson described it, in various words, he had used the wounds of Jesus to heal his own wounds. Thus he had been meditating on the passion of the Christ for twelve years.”
We have noted other movies that focus mostly on the end of Jesus’ life (Jesus Christ, Superstar, for example), but The Passion stands out in its emphasis on the crucifixion. It is a movie about the death of Christ more than a movie about the life of Christ. It is impossible to miss Gibson’s Catholic influences throughout the movie. It is best, perhaps, to view the movie as a visual Stations of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross is a devotional guide/program that walks the devotee through the final day of Jesus’ life before crucifixion. You can often find icons or guides that walk you through each step at Catholic Church cathedrals, installed in gardens, or outdoor in other outdoor displays. Most of the stations are directly from the Gospel accounts, while others have arisen from church traditions and nonbiblical writings. Gibson heavily relied on the visually stimulating stations as well as the mystical visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich recorded in her book The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. For reference, the fourteen stations of the cross are listed here.
You will see a deliberate attempt of the movie to follow the unfolding of these events.
Clip: 0:00 – 3:30
We have arrived at what is known as Holy Week. This will prove to be the most unique Holy Weeks in our lives. While the movies we have covered up to this point all include the crucifixion scene, I have intentionally kept our focus on other parts of Jesus’ life so that we could wait until now to really fill our hearts with the message of Jesus’ death. Now, as we enter into this week of preparation, we begin to consider the implications and realities of Jesus’ death. This opening clip of the movie is a perfect meditation for us to begin this week. I like the way Tatum describes the opening scene. This is where the tragedy begins to unfold. Ask God to prepare your heart.
Passion of the Christ opens in the eerie, even ghoulish, darkness with the
camera peering through gnarled tree branches that partially conceal and
partially disclose an unidentified figure standing and praying audibly with his
back to the viewer. The place is Gethsemane; the man, Jesus.”
 W. Barnes Tatum, Jesus at the Movies, 3rd ed. (Salem, OR: Polebridge Press, 2013), 256.
 Ibid., 259.