Skip to comments.The Passion of Mel Gibson
Posted on 01/29/2003 6:35:45 PM PST by TD911
Sunday, Jan. 19, 2003
The Passion of Mel Gibson
His Jesus film is bloody, bold and in Aramaic. Here's an exclusive look
You may expect a certain tense solemnity when an Academy Award winning director is shooting a film on the life and death of Jesus Christ. On the sound stage of The Passion in Rome's Cinecitta studio, the famed auteur prepares a scene for Maia Morgenstern, the Romanian actress playing the Virgin Mary. She is to enter the abandoned temple where her son has just been removed in chains on his way to Calvary. The director needs an enshrouding silence, so he shouts down some workmen's chatter. Then he coaxes the actress into a long, slow walk that hits the perfect notes of apprehension and anguish.
But since this director is Mel Gibson (who got his Oscar for Braveheart), the tone isn't always pious. Gibson loves to goof. Playing practical jokes is a way of keeping the crew loose, asserting the primal jester inside the armor of a star's machismo. So to wrap up the temple take, he has a quiet word with Morgenstern and steps back to leave the actress alone staring dolefully into the camera with a bright-red clown nose he has stuck on her face. Cut. Print. Amen.
Don't look for levity in The Passion, an account of the day Jesus was crucified starring James Caviezel (The Count of Monte Cristo) as Christ and Italian sex diva Monica Bellucci (soon to be seen in Matrix 2 and 3) as Mary Magdalene. Gibson is life-after-deathly serious about the project, which his production company is financing on an estimated budget of $25 million. (He doesn't yet have a distributor.) "This has been germinating inside me for 10 years," he says. "I have a deep need to tell this story. It's part of your upbringing, but it can seem so distant. The Gospels tell you what basically happened; I want to know what really went down."
In the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon series, in Ransom and in Signs, Gibson was the loner battling impossible odds. He seems to feel that way about The Passion, which should be ready for Easter 2004. A conservative in reflexively liberal Hollywood, and a devout Catholic in an industry whose products often mock religion, Gibson senses opposition to his film. The star, who had kept the set closed to the press before allowing TIME to visit this month, was angry that friends and relatives, including his 85-year-old father, had been pestered by an unidentified reporter preparing a story on The Passion. He suspects this is part of a media attack on a Christian testament.
"When you do touch this subject, it does have a lot of enemies," he told Fox News channel host Bill O'Reilly last week. Asked whether The Passion will upset Jews, Gibson replied, "It may. It's not meant to. I think it's meant to just tell the truth." Gibson's company recently signed a lucrative deal with Fox TV's film-studio sibling and has optioned O'Reilly's novel Those Who Trespass. So his TV anger may simply be the latest form of media synergy. Besides, Hollywood likes Gibson; moguls wish him well. "If anyone can pull it off, it's Mel Gibson," says Richard Cook, chairman of the Walt Disney Studios, for which Gibson made the megahit Signs. "The project is fraught with all sorts of issues, but I would never bet against him."
The Passion will be told boldly, perhaps perversely in two dead tongues: Latin, used by the Roman occupiers of Palestine, and Aramaic, the language of most Semites at the time of Christ. If it's hard for the actors to speak their lines, it will be a challenge for the audience too: Gibson wants to show the film without subtitles. "The audience will have to focus on the visuals," he says. "But they had silent films before talkies arrived, and people went to see them."
Jesus has been the subject of a hundred or so films, from Edison's The Passion Play at Oberammergau in 1898 to a quartet of Stan Brakhage experimental shorts in 2001. The story has been filmed by Cecil B. DeMille, Nicholas Ray, George Stevens. The Messiah has been portrayed with stolid reverence (in Franco Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth) and Surrealist blasphemy (Luis Bunuel's L'Age d'Or). Often he sings: in Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, in a born-again Bollywood musical and in the Canadian kung-fu horror comedy Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter.
Gibson has few kind words for previous Passion films. Mention Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew (which, like Gibson's location shots, was filmed in the Italian town of Matera), and he fakes a big yawn. On Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ: "You've got Harvey Keitel as Judas saying"--and here Gibson shifts into a Brooklyn accent--"'Hey, you ovah dere.'"
Gibson's film will be Scorsesean in one aspect: its meticulous attention to violence. "It's gonna be hard to take," he says. "When the Romans scourged you, it wasn't a nice thing. Think about the Crucifixion there's no way to sugarcoat that." Not if you're playing Jesus. Caviezel, a practicing Catholic who met and was blessed by Pope John Paul II, logged 15 shooting days on the Calvary cross which may have been easier than wearing shackles and getting beaten and whipped. During one trouncing, he separated his left shoulder. "There's an immense amount of suffering on this," the actor says. "Fortunately, God is helping me."
Gibson is a more truculent Catholic. He scorns the Second Vatican Council, which in the 1960s replaced the Latin Mass with the liturgy in the language of the people and lots of perky folk songs. To Gibson, Vatican II "corrupted the institution of the church. Look at the main fruits: dwindling numbers and pedophilia." He might also have noted that Catholicism flourished in those countries where it became a church of liberation where priests welded traditional doctrine to radical social reform.
It's dodgy to argue theology with an actor-director who seemingly sees a fusion of the movie characters he has played and Christ: feisty, persecuted, able to take whatever punishment the bad guys can dish out. Gibson is determined to walk his own lonely path. But it hardly seems unreasonable that there can be a contemporary film about a Christian hero when there are so many about, say, serial killers. So Gibson pursues his passion to make The Passion.
Got a problem with that? Take it up with your new spiritual counselor: Mad Max.
With reporting by Jeffrey Ressner/Los Angeles
Copyright © 2003 Time Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
Little quirky on his feeling that the mass should be in the language of ancient Rome, though.
The actor's speak in two dead languages? That will be interesting to see/hear!
Hey, you're lucky your tabernacle is at least "on the sidelines". Our parish built a new church and the tabernacle is in a seperate room, door closed during mass. For me, the symbolism of this is just awful, kind of like kicking Christ out of the church and closing the door on him; as if he has nothing to do with what is going on at mass.
You'd almost think that somebody was ashamed to have Him hanging around.
Yes it will.
I don't get it. What's so holy about Latin?
But to be frank, subtitles might be a good idea.
I can see the first negative review now: "The Book was better." ;)
I LOVE the fact that the actor playing Jesus was Blessed by the Pope!! Way to Go MEL!!!
People genuflect towards the main altar completely unaware that such reverence is to be directed towards the tabernacle.
When they enter the "sanctuary" they continue to visit and talk in loud voices until the organ and choir commences singing the recessional which is customarily an old protestant hymn. I thank God for those old hymns and the occasional homily that deals with those forbidden subjects: sin and hell.
The whole thing is in Aramaic, with no subtitles.
Granted the film won't be substanceless fluff that can be easily viewed and just as easily forgotten.
Rise to the challenge.
For the millenium stretching from 1054 to 1970 Roman Catholics shared a common language of liturgical devotion and scholarly discussion. The use of Latin was a sign of Catholic unity and the hymns and prayers composed in that language and incorporated into the Mass are among the most beautiful and impressive literature ever written.
The Latin language is an incomparable treasure of the Catholic faith - as it has been lost, Catholics have lost a large measure of unity, orthodoxy and their sense of historical mission and heritage.
Latin was extremely practical as well - as the official language of the Church it shows no bias for or against any modern tongue. Because it is no longer used as a language of casual conversation, its semantic content is much more stable - it is hard to twist the meanings of words in Latin anymore.
Its use in the liturgy was a signal to Catholics that they had entered into a different place, a divine sanctuary. The worshipped in a language which they associated with sacred worship and the sacraments.
The study of the language was an excellent, broadening experience for young Catholics, and knowledge of Latin increases one's level of culture and intellectual discourse.
Latin is still kept as a sacred treasure of the Church by many - it's return to its rightful status as the common heritage of Catholics is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
Right freaking on, Mr. Gibson.
Although I do not "scorn" any Council of the Church, it's obvious that to some the so-called Spirit of VII was simply an excuse to open a Pandora's box of satanic infiltration into the Church -- many of the "reforms" seen since then have proven to be attempts to Protestantize, paganize, or otherwise dilute and destroy authentic Christian worship within the Body of Christ.
Well, the Arians thought they'd beaten Him too -- and they were wrong. Long after the fads and fancies are gone, the authentic Church will exist. As our parish priest wryly notes, "the Age of Aquarius can't go on forever".
This may be true of the writer but not all Catholics.
Many Catholics would probably also prefer that the Bible not be translated into the common tongue; they may consider that the common tongue is not associated with sacred worship and devotion. However, disgruntled Christians who were being treated in a condescending manner by their leaders wanted to understand the truths of God a few centuries ago, not just recite them like a parrot or follow after a leader because he/she can orate in Latin.
I agree that Latin and other classical languages are extremely valuable for any person to study however I do not believe that the following statement is accurate:
worshipped in a language which they associated with sacred worship and the sacraments.
I think they realized that any language can be associated with worship and/or the sacraments. God does not understand just one language, as important historically as it may be. And He probably prefers to hear the common tongue, as it would be more representative of an individual's true heart and mind.
Liturgical abuse may be widespread, but is far from uniformly distributed.
Do you happen to know the date of the Tyndale translation? Also, I would like to know when Luther did his German translation.
Didn't think so. You might want to find out, before making any more foolish remarks about what Catholics do or do not want.
I am an ex-Catholic and know a bit about that church. There was huge opposition to an English translation in the 1500's. But I forget...it is easier to call people names than engage in true debate, isn't it?
By the way, it's not helpful for you to use words like "rant" and "foolish" if you want to be taken seriously.
My point was if Catholics desire to maintain Latin in the Mass (as the poster above maintains) because they associate it with sacred worship these same Catholics might in my mind want the Bible to still be Latin. Why one and not the other?
Incidentally, even at a Latin Mass, the Bible readings are in English (or whatever the local language is).
BTW, in the Fourth Century Roman Empire, the local languang was ... LATIN! For which reason the Church had the Scriptures translated from Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic to ... Latin.
I have never before considered your point that the amount of Latin knowledge would have been small for the mass compared to the amount needed for reading the Bible.
However, converts still have to learn some new language if they wanted to worship God in a Latin mass. Perhaps this is why Vatican II decided to change...perhaps too many Africans and Asians converting and not liking that they were not able to comprehend what they were saying?
I understand this, but I am not all about it. But kudos to Mel and Jim. I adore them both and have been watching them for a long time.
Or, something like that.
It didn't seem to hurt the Church from the time of Pope St. Damasus(4th Century) until 1967.