The Passion Of The Christ

The Passion Of The Christ

Icon Pictures

Original Release Date: February 25th, 2004
Running time: 125 minutes

Original language: Aramaic w/ subtitles in English

Director: Mel Gibson
Writers: Mel Gibson and Benedict Fitzgerald
Composer: John Debney

Cast: James Caviezel, Maria Belluci and Maia Morgenstern

Crucifixion Scene: 01:30:05 to 01:55:57

Deconstructing Cinema: One Scene At A Time, the complete series so far

I believe in leaving a positive mark in whatever field that you are involved in, whether you are a painter, poet, writer, scientist, doctor or a filmmaker.

As a filmmaker, Mel Gibson, without any argument, leaves his mark positively on cinema whenever he directs a film in terms of story, style and technique of film-making.

His directorial work includes, The Man Without A Face (1993), Braveheart (1995), The Passion of The Christ (2004), and Apocalypto (2006).

Deconstructing Cinema: The Passion Of The Christ

As a true artist and as a true auteur, Mr. Mel Gibson has made a film that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Maybe not for its religious subject for some, but for its dialogues, score, beautiful artistic images, performances and the passion for true filmmaking. The film I am pointing to so religiously is The Passion of Christ. A film that depicts, in detail, the final 12 hours and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The Passion of The Christ is one of most controversial films. It raised questions and angered many minds. Some claimed that its subject matter was not relevant to biblical material. There were slogans and angry chants on the television screens against director Mel Gibson and his film. I remember it like it was yesterday, but despite all the hate against the film’s message, beauty and Mel Gibson himself, the film was released theatrically in the U.S. on Ash Wednesday – February 25, 2004.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Passion Of The Christ

I am not really into religious films, but what led me to watch The Passion of The Christ on the big screen on the day of its release is the respect that I have for Mel Gibson. And, of course, as a film lover I had to attend and experience a good film. And, part of me was getting inquisitive due to the media’s coverage. I was eager to investigate for myself why this film is different. What Mel Gibson has done that he has raised so many speculative eyebrows?

It was truly a magical moment for me that day when I arrived in the theatre. It was a calm evening. A beautiful environment was covered with thick gray clouds. Before I entered the dark auditorium a man in front of me stopped and leaned. He touched the floor and then kissed his own hand.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Passion Of The Christ

Usually when you are watching a film you either laugh, get emotional a bit or scream, yet there was a different feeling when I was watching The Passion of The Christ. In my opinion there was nothing negative, but positive display on the screen in a silent dark room full of people. Every audience member was in tears. Some called for forgiveness literally. Like a church, men and women were sitting on the floor, for it was a houseful. The Passion of The Christ did anger some people, but not everyone.

The film’s subject and the performance by James Caviezel (Jesus) moved audiences around the world. It runs for 125 minutes and for 125 minutes of my life in a dark room with strangers, I experienced artistic beauty on the screen. A performance that I don’t have the words for to express. Twice during the film, I turned my head to both sides just to see other people’s reactions. I saw tears rolling down a man’s and a woman’s eyes. Then I realized that I was in tears as well.

Many film-makers before Mel Gibson touched the subject of Jesus’ life and his sacrifice, yet no filmmaker like Mel Gibson attempted to bring this story of passionate sacrifice to life with such intensely focused cinematic detail and naturalism. For Mel Gibson, this project was a long-lived dream. A dream that he had to take out a significant amount of his own passion for.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Passion Of The Christ

“My intentions for this film was to create a lasting work of art and to stimulate serious thought and reflection among diverse audiences of all backgrounds” says Gibson.

He continues: “My ultimate hope is that this story’s message of tremendous courage and sacrifice might inspire tolerance, love and forgiveness. We’re definitely in need of those things in today’s world.”

Gibson co-wrote a screenplay with Benedict Fitzgerald, he knew he was going into largely unexplored territory where storytelling, art and personal devotion meet.

“When you tackle a story that is so widely known and has so many different pre-conceptions, the only thing you can do is remain as true as possible to the story and your own way of expressing it creatively. That is what I tried to do.”

Deconstructing Cinema: The Passion Of The Christ

From the beginning, Mel Gibson knew a key to making The Passion of The Christ would be finding an actor capable of embodying to the highest degree possible both the humanity and spiritual transcendence of Jesus Christ. Gibson sought an actor who could lose himself in the role entirely, and whose identity would not interfere with realism that director was seeking. The search led Gibson to James Caviezel who was daunted and energized for the challenge after Gibson discussed with him that role he is playing is Jesus Christ.

During the production of The Passion of The Christ Caviezel explains:

“For day after day of filming, I was spat upon, beaten up, flagellated and forced to carry a heavy cross on my back in the freezing cold. It was a brutal experience, almost beyond description. But I considered it all worth it to play this role.”

As Caviezel stated, “Forced to carry a heavy cross on my back.” It is a scene that leads us to the final moments of Jesus Christ’s life. The final moments of his magnificent journey. Jesus is exhausted, beaten and defeated physically. His heavy cross is laying few feet away from him and he is on rubble.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Passion Of The Christ

One of the soldiers demands Jesus to rise. He rises on his feet slowly. Shaking. The soldiers begin tearing his dirty scarlet robe. The soldiers force Jesus on the cross. Stretching his weak arms and begin nailing his hand. Jesus moans in pain. They grab his other arm, yet it’s short to reach the hole on the cross. So, another soldier brings a rope and wraps it tightly around Jesus’ wrist. He begins pulling his arm to adjust his hand on the hole. As he pulls his hand hard, Jesus’ shoulder breaks and Mary (Maia Morgenstern) flinches, in tears watching her son. The soldiers continue nailing his hand. Blood spurting as they hit the hammer on the nail digging it through his flesh.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Passion Of The Christ

The soldiers walk down the cross and grab his feet. Captured in slow motion, the soldiers nail Jesus’ feet. Jesus shakes his head in pain. Blood and sweat flowing from his face. His teary eyes looking up toward the sky. When the soldiers finishes nailing his feet, they tie the ropes on the cross and they lift the cross up from the ground. The beautiful and poetic track, Crucifixion composed by John Debney starts playing. The cross stands in the middle of two condemned criminals. Jesus is on the cross. His blood is flowing down the wood slowly.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Passion Of The Christ

As Jesus hangs on the cross between two criminals who are weeping on their cross, he looks down. Mary, John (Christo Jivkov) and Magdalen (Monice Belluci) are looking up at him in tears. Caiphas (Mattia Sbragia) slowly walks and stands beneath Jesus’ cross. He tells Jesus,

“You said you could destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days… and yet you cannot come down from that cross. If he is the Messiah… I say let him come down from the cross… so that we may see and believe.”

Jesus with tearful eyes looks up and prays, “Father, forgive them…” Caiphas stops walking as he hears Jesus praying for him. Jesus continues, “… they know not what they do.” Caiphas walk away wordlessly. The thief on the cross (Sergio Rubini) yells at Caiphas, “Listen… he prays for you.” Caiphas joins the rest of the elders standing in the crowd and Jesus redeems the good thief next to him on the cross who asks for forgiveness.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Passion Of The Christ

Wind begins to get stronger. The clouds begin moving. The guards looks at the angry sky and the crowd begins to move. Donkeys begin crying. Mary, John and Magdalen walk to Jesus’ cross. Mary kisses her son’s bloody feet. She cries to him, “Flesh of my flesh… heart of my heart. My son let me die with you.”

Jesus looks down at Mary and tells her, “Woman… behold your son. Son, behold…” Jesus looks at John who is holding Mary. Jesus tells John, “Your mother.” He looks up at the gray sky as clouds are getting darker. Jesus cries to his father, “My God… why have you forsaken me?” After a pause, he looks down at us directly and tells us, “It is accomplished.” We hear the heartbeat. A close-up shot of Jesus’ affected face looking up. Jesus says his last words, “Father, into your hands… I commend… my spirit.”

Deconstructing Cinema: The Passion Of The Christ

He shuts his eyes and his head falls upon his chest. He dies.

A single drop of rain captured from our point of view falls from the sky, triggers a earthquake which shakes the cross and men. Horses scream. The earthquake destroys the temples and rips the cloth covering the holly of hollies in two, to the horror of Caiphas and to the other priests. Satan (Rosalinda Celentano) screams in defeat. The picture of Satan screaming slowly fades away.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Passion Of The Christ

Everyone with different cultural and religious background knows the story of Jesus Christ whether they believe in Christianity or not, but the reason I am focusing on crucifixion of Jesus Christ in The Passion of The Christ, is because it’s shot and directed differently. From a different point of view which in my opinion is legitimate. A serious story of a serious figure in a very serious moment of his life has been captured with heart and passion on the screen. I am not arguing the religious subject of the film.

It’s interesting how artistically Mr. Gibson has captured it. Every single scene of this film is poetic and beautiful, but it’s the crucifixion scene which moved me. It moved me not only because of the performances or what Jesus went through, but how passionately the scene is painted. Yes, it did change me in a way. It actually made me a better person, but also this particular scene taught me to focus on details as much as possible as a scriptwriter.

Caravaggio (1697-1768) Christ at the Column

The crucifixion scenes were filmed in a beautiful city of Matera, in the Basilicata region of Southern Italy, near where Pier Paolo Pasolini shot The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1965). Gibson asked cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (The Patriot, The Right Stuff) to make the movie look like the paintings of Italian Baroque artist Caravaggio, whose images are known to have a lifelike glow from sharp contrasts of light and darkness.

As far as Mel’s decision to highlight physical realism, he says,

“I really wanted to express the hugeness of the sacrifice, as well as the horror of it, but I also wanted a film that has moments of real lyricism and beauty and an abiding sense of love, because it is ultimately story of faith, hope and love. That, in my view is the greatest story we can ever tell.”

Deconstructing Cinema: The Passion Of The Christ

In my opinion, when a writer writes a movie and when a filmmaker shoots it, what matters is the beginning and the end, for the beginning is the promise which leads us to a interesting conflict and the conflict ends with a great resolution. A conclusion that should remain alive as long as you’re alive. To me the poetic, artistic and powerful crucifixion scene in The Passion of The Christ is one of the best and will remain as one of the best scenes ever captured in cinema.

It has inspired me as a writer and truly left me thinking that if I should as well, someday, helm a film big or small in premise, no matter what, it should remain memorable and artistic. And, most importantly, alive in the audiences hearts.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Passion Of The Christ

The purpose of the cinematographic technique of the scene in question is to deliver that artistic stroke of a filmmaker. A filmmaker whose intention is to reveal his creativity as an artist and is obliging the audience to comprehend the gravity and importance of the scene, its concept and the character’s condition, so it can be experienced in a art form and most importantly to present us respectively that it is not pastiche.

Besides the lighting, performances and camera shots of this particular scene what fascinated me even more is that Mr. Gibson has consecrated on diegetic sound. The ‘literal sound.’ This happens when the audience hears the sound of objects in the scene. In this particular scene on the cross as Jesus is looking up, we hear his heart beats. The sound of thunder and wind. The impact of the wind shaking the wooden cross. The sound of foot steps crushing the rubble. I think these essential details has made this scene unique and artistically heartwarming.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Passion Of The Christ

Gibson comments,

“One of the greatest hopes I have for The Passion of The Christ is that when audiences walk away from it, they will be inspired to ask questions.”

I know he’s referring to the film’s religious subject. Yes, I am inspired religiously, but I am inspired as a writer and artist as well. In a way, as a writer when I think of a scene, The Passion of The Christ comes to mind. It has unlocked the secret part of my mind which is full of creativity. Artists like Mel Gibson belong here to make films. To inspire us and to change the cinema and make it better, for “art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time” as Thomas Merton once said.

Deconstructing Cinema: The Passion Of The Christ

The Passion Of The Christ, Production Notes by Icon Productions & Newmarket Films

About Rohan Mohmand

Rohan Mohmand

Rohan is the lead US correspondent for Static Mass. Graduating from High School in Atlanta, Georgia in 2003, Rohan fell in love with the environment of the cinema hall and moving images on the big screen, watching Bollywood, American and Iranian films.

As an aficionado of film noir, mysteries, drama and thrillers, he enjoys the films of Alfred Hitchcock, M.Night Shyamalan, Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan. Engrossed by the originality of his favourite filmmakers it opened a door for him to take on writing scripts as well.

The reverence of directors, actors, stories, art and cinema allows him to experience films with an open mind and leads him to believe strongly in the correspondence of films with the occurrences of the real world.

Rohan writes about the work of directors on his site Masters of Cinema, and you can follow him on Twitter @nightwriter22.