When I first saw The Passion of the Christ I had mixed emotions. I was greatly moved by what I had just seen, but it unnerved me at the same time.
Back in the fall of 2003, I was privileged to view the film about six months before it hit theaters. Mel Gibson sat behind me at Focus on the Family’s Welcome Center theater. My uneasiness with the film was due to how real the suffering of our Lord appeared onscreen. Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus, was incredibly convincing. Months later, I would regularly tell the media that it was as if, unbeknownst to historians, video taping-technology actually existed in the first century and that archeologists had only recently discovered an ancient camera containing footage of the scourging and crucifixion of Christ. It was that realism that earned The Passion an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America.
I saw the film once more after that initial screening. And as much as I’m a huge fan, I may never view it again. But I’m so glad I saw it. I’m glad Gibson rejected the studio-exec-naysayers who told him there was no audience for yet another film about Jesus. Even 12 years later, no R-rated film has made more money domestically ($370 million). And although it didn’t spur the global revival that I had hoped, the Bible clearly states that the Word of God does not go void. This was the Word in visual form. Only in eternity will we discover how many came to Christ because of it, and how many believers were greatly strengthened in their faith.
What I didn’t know until recently, however, was how un-Hollywood some of the scenes in the movie actually were (meaning: more real than one might think). A colleague here at Focus emailed me a link to a 39-minute interview with Jim Caviezel as part of a San Diego church service.
From this YouTube clip, I learned a number of things about what went on before and during the filming. For instance, I learned how Caviezel got the role of Jesus and how Gibson was ready to abandon the whole project because of feelings of unworthiness. I learned how sickly Caviezel was while filming in Italy (his shoulder repeatedly went out of joint, and he lost 50 pounds). I learned that he was actually struck by lightning while hanging on the cross. I learned how he was accidentally scourged during the whipping scene, leaving a 14-inch gash in his side. I learned how his bluish appearance on the cross was not makeup, but was due to just how ill he really was. In fact, he was of such poor health that he had to have heart surgery shortly after the filming.
But what most impressed me was how Caviezel believes that every trial he experienced while filming (and he experienced quite a few) was insignificant compared to what His Lord had gone through for him.
What’s more, I appreciated (and was challenged by) Caviezel’s words that those who were listening to him that day in the sanctuary (and the more-than million YouTube viewers who watched as well) should be less concerned about material possessions and titles and concentrate more on things that are eternal. I don’t know about you, but I forget this simple truth far too often!
His closing words grabbed me as well: Words directed to those facing discouragement and even depression, to those wondering if anybody really cares whether they live or die. For those of you reading this who can relate, here’s Caviezel’s encouraging thoughts:
Your name may not appear down here in this world’s Hall of Fame. In fact, you may be so unknown that no one knows your name. The Oscars and the praise of men may never come your way, but don’t forget that God has rewards He’ll hand out some day. This crowd on earth, they will cheer like mad until you fall and then their praise will stop. Not God! He never does forget. In His Hall of Fame, by just believing on His Son, forever there’s your name.
I tell you, friend, I wouldn’t trade my name however small that’s written there beyond the stars in that celestial Hall for all the famous names on earth or the glory they share. I’d rather be an unknown here and have my name up there!
Have you seen The Passion of the Christ? How did it affect you when you first saw it? Or did it? Did seeing this movie have lasting and life-changing spiritual benefits for you? People you know?