So many thoughts.
First, couldn’t believe how long it’s been since the film was released. Twelve years. Has it really been that long?
So many memories.
Living in Los Angeles at the time made for a hotbed of frenzy around the film. The church was ecstatic and defensive of the piece. Mel was defensive of the piece, going on Dianne Sawyer, talking about the Gospel. It was a good time for Christians.
At the time I worked out of a private home in Malibu in a small neighborhood that housed Britney Spears, Olivia Newton John, and Mel Gibson. A co-worker and fellow-believer of mine commented how she saw Mel walking the neighborhood streets one day and wanted to pull over the car and say, “Hey, we all support you,” because the publicity was also brutal on Mr. Gibson.
I saw the film with my then boyfriend who later became my husband who later became my ex-husband. But as we sat innocently in that theatre that night, I remember being struck by his sobbing at one point. He doesn’t sob. He’s not a sobber, and one particular scene made him bowl over. Ironically, it was the scene about the adulterous woman. Years later when I questioned my husband’s salvation, this memory came to mind, and it became an answer that yes, at least once upon a time he loved Jesus. Also ironically that night after we watched the movie with all our church friends, we went back to my apartment, and he tried to feel me up. I pushed his hands away a couple times, then finally caved. I felt guilty about it later.
I also worked at Disney TV animation at the time and I remember my two bosses, one a believer, one an agnostic (or maybe atheist) went to the film and brought THEIR Jewish executive boss. It was kind of amazing how far the tendrils of that movie stretched to all peoples.
I remember hearing Jim Caviezel speak and accept an award on behalf of Gregory Peck’s film and moral goodness legacy at some Catholic film event, and Jim, after having just played JESUS, went off! I mean like in a good way, shouting/preaching about the sword of the Spirit and the Shield of Mary (what? oh, he’s Catholic) and going into the land and spreading the word, fighting the good fight. It was a beautiful impassioned Braveheart sort of speech (another Mel movie), and it was quite surreal because Jim Caviezel was like a movie star and he was all talking about Jesus and stuff. And years later I’d find myself laying in bed with my boyfriend asking him about the time he was on Person of Interest and what Jim Caviezel was like. “He never broke character, after every take he’d stare squarely into a focused space…or do push-ups,” I was told. And yes I said “in bed with my boyfriend” as I’m talking about the guy who played Jesus and yes I feel guilty about that.
And I remember Mel’s downfall after that. Sugar tits. OctoDad. Face beatings. My heart breaks for him. You can’t make a movie that big about Jesus and not set yourself up square in Satan’s target. There was a red laser mark on that man’s forehead, and though he’s responsible for his own behavior to be sure, his fall was so public and humiliating and black-balling, that I can only imagine it was because of the good that he did with that film.
And after all those memories hash out in my mind, I am brought to the today, watching The Passion in 2016, the night before Maundy Thursday with my little 9 year old boy, as he’s screaming at Judas, wishing he’d “die a terrible brutal death only to be revived again so he could die some more.” I tried to explain to my son that if it wasn’t for Judas, Jesus wouldn’t have died, and in some way we wouldn’t have wanted to avert Judas’s actions. He didn’t care. He wanted him tortured. And he also wanted the Romans tortured too for what they did to Jesus. I tried to remind him that the point was that Jesus forgave those Romans and those Jews for what they did. And he wouldn’t have had to die if WE hadn’t messed up too. I didn’t like seeing Jesus whipped and tortured on account of me, and I wrestled with weighing my sins: were they really THAT bad? And yes, some of them were. Some of them are. And some of them aren’t, though theologically I’m not supposed to say that. And I found myself questioning what sins I was willing to give up because look what this man did for me! And I didn’t like that some sins I didn’t want to give up, even as I’m watching Jesus writhe in pain, because I can’t reconcile how some of my sins are worth THAT. But they are. And I am heartbroken over my sinfulness and God’s loving grace.
And then as the movie wore on (and yes I say wore on because watching Christ’s agonizing walk to the cross beat down was a beat down), my son asked, begged me if we could skip the crucifixion part. And I wondered if this movie was too much for my child. Probably, I found myself answering. But it’s also kinda the most important thing ever to happen in the history of mankind, so no, we’re not gonna skip this part, plus you play Call of Duty Black Ops, so you should be used to gore right now (but let’s be honest JB, no one’s using leather strips laced with metal spikes and gouging them into the back of an innocent’s skin in Call of Duty, so) no he’s not used to this you’re a bad mother showing him this…or am I maybe a GOOD mother for showing him this? Is this going to scar him, these images of Christ? What’s a mother to do? And I assured my son we were NOT going to skip the crucifixion, thought I said he could go to bed if he wanted. He didn’t want. So we finished the film and he was scared and asked if he could sleep with me.
And after he fell asleep, I found myself wanting to tell the world what I just saw. This movie that disturbed me and moved me to tears and convicted me and angered me and surprised me. This movie that no one’s come close to doing justice like it did. This movie that holds so many loaded memories and continues to affect my life. This movie. This Jesus. This man who came for Jews and then saved me too. This man who loves me. This man who if I was alive when he was would’ve looked into my soul and seen everything there. This man who would’ve put his arms around me as my earrings dangled and said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” This man who would’ve kissed my cheek in joy if I was his mother. This man who walked the earth and suffered a violent and brutal death. For me. This man. This God. I am in awe and humbled. Thank you Jesus.