Miracles on Set
For years Mel Gibson carried it in his heart. He felt called to do a movie about Christ but he was giving himself excuses not to respond to the call. After living with the feeling for about 15 years, he approached Jim Caviezel and started talking about “Jesus this” and “Jesus that.” Jim asked him, “You want me to play Jesus.” Mel responded, “Yes.”
The next day Mel called Jim and tried talking him out of it. Mel was probably thinking, “I have done all of these things and people will eventually find out that I am this kind of person. I am the wrong guy to direct this movie.” Mel was not the first person to make a commitment to Christ and having a second thought about it. No thanks to the devil. Mel told Jim, “If you do this movie, you may never work in this town again. I don’t want to be responsible for that.” Jim felt the fear as he thought of the nice things he has that money has bought but he realized that God brought him into the movie industry and his talent came from God, not man. Jim told Mel, “Look man, we are all called to carry our own cross. If you don’t pick up and carry your cross, you will be crushed by the weight of it.” Mel got quiet on the phone. And Jim said, “Oh my.” Mel asked, “What?” Jim replied, “I just realized my initials are J.C. and I am 33 years old.” “God! You are freaking me out,” Mel said and hung up the phone.
Mel Gibson ended up directing and Jim Caviezel ended up playing Jesus in the movie The Passion of the Christ. Mel shot that movie with his own money, about $30 million.
And it started, the battle between light and darkness with respect to the movie – the movie that was more than just a movie. Mel Gibson was persecuted as an artist, as a man, as a filmmaker, as a Christian, even as an American – his rights were violated and it bothered him. People said the movie was anti-Semitic, it was bad filmmaking, Mel Gibson was a bigot. Mel harboured some anger about it then.
On the very first day of shooting, the crowd rushed in around Jim Caviezel, guards hit him with whips which hit his flesh. His arm was wedged under the 150 pound cross when someone yanked the top of the cross in the other direction. His muscles wrenched, his shoulder separated, he fell to his knees, dropped the cross, and buried his head in the ground. This scene is actually in the movie – the scene in which Jim experienced his shoulder dislocation. Jim carried the cross in that condition and every day he carried the cross, it was like penance. Jim said, “When you do films like this, you are always going to be under attack.”
Talking about the movie, Mel said in an interview that the subject they were filming draws enemies, “In the world there is good and bad, and anybody who wants to tell a story of this magnitude, about the nature of good and evil, is going to draw people who are influenced by something dark and it’s going to come and afflict you in some way. And I am not just talking about only people. I am talking about a whole other realm because I believe in these realms. I believe there are realms outside our own. If I didn’t, then I would wonder about the point of this.”
Mel believes that there was a spiritual battle taking place while the movie was being shot and he took steps to “put on some armour” having engaged the spiritual realm. He went to Mass daily and “tried to stay clean” which was a tough job according to him. “The big dark force didn’t want us to make this film,” Mel said, “I believe the Holy Ghost is looking favourably on this film and he wanted to help.”
Jim Caviezel while acting had daily confessions, prayed the Rosary daily, attended Mass and received Holy Eucharist daily. This strengthened him for what he was passing through as he played Jesus. What were the things he passed through?
The film was birthed in pain. I already mentioned Jim had a shoulder separation from the start. Then Jim was like, “Hello God. We are trying to do a movie here. I am an actor. Just an actor. You are letting the devil to destroy us.”
That was only the beginning for Jim. Due to Mel’s athletic directing, “Mary” ran to Jim and slid right into him. That moment the cross came down on Jim and his dislocated shoulder. Jim bit his tongue so bad that his own blood ran down his mouth. “Wow! That’s brilliant. I love it,” Mel said as he smoked.
Make-up time for Jim in order to look like Jesus with wounds all over his body was from 2am to 10am. It took two hours to take off the make-up. Latex was used for the make-up and taking it off took with it the top layer of Jim’s skin. As a result of this, Jim had sores all over his body – real sores. Also, one of his eyes was shut and he worked with only one eye open. That wreaked havoc on his depth perception and gave him headaches.
During the scourging scene, a metal plank was placed about a foot away from Jim’s back which was what was being hit. There was a language barrier between Mel and the men doing the flogging. Mel told his assistant to tell them to hit Jim like a pitcher in baseball. One of them went back, took a run and hit the plank hard. Due to momentum, the whip went over and landed on Jim’s back. This gave Jim a 14 inch gash on the back. He went down like the wind was knocked out of him. Later, feeling like Satan, Jim turned around, looked at the man and uttered some expletives, “@#$%^& *&^ %$#@ !%$@# ^&%&%@#$.” “Jesus” was swearing. As if that was not enough, Jim was accidentally hit again. He was hurt so much that he pulled his hand quickly from the shackles scrapping his wrist badly. Sorry Jim. Jesus loves you. And Jim was like, “Lord Jesus, love me less.” You know I was kidding with the last three sentences right?
It was bone-chilling cold while the crucifixion scene was being shot. It was November in Italy. Jim was on the cross with only latex and loin cloth. Back then when the Romans crucified people, it was not really loss of blood that killed the crucified. It was oxygen loss – asphyxiation. Jim gasped for air on the cross and his legs went numb. Hypothermia (a condition in which the body temperature is much lower than normal) set in for Jim. To bring his temperature up, they brought gas heaters. They brought them too close that the latex started to melt and his toes started to fry. Na film the man dey act o.
Towards the end of the movie, Jim’s body became blue while he was on the cross. It was no make-up, his body was actually blue. A man put a stethoscope on his chest and told Mel, “He can die.” Something was wrong with Jim’s heart. Mel looked at Jim and asked, “What do you think?” Jim replied, “This is between me and God.” At that point Jim thought if God willed that he dies while acting the movie, God’s will be done. Jim was ready to go home. Eventually he made it through and went for a heart surgery. This film na die.
At the end of the movie, they were to shoot the Sermon on the Mount. As Jim was half way the mountain side and everybody was in location, he felt an evil presence come over him and it was like, “You are a dead man.” He got to the top. The cloud was low and there was lightning and thunder. It came to a point Jim could no longer hear anything in spite of the thunder. Seconds later, light came down from heaven and lit him up – he was struck by lightning! Rather than Jim being incinerated, people witnessed an illumination around his body and a fire on the right and left side of his head. According to Jim, “For one moment, I was looking at myself outside my body.” Before Jim got struck, Jon Mikalini, the assistant director was struck by lightning. After Jim was struck, Jon got struck again.
Dislocated shoulder, headaches, hypothermia, deep cuts, sores on the body, burnt toes, heart problem…Mel Gibson wondered if Jim was experiencing something otherworldly. As it was, Jim was actually experiencing some of the pains Christ experienced.
Some conversions took place on set. Luca Lionello who played Judas asked for confession from a priest who was present. He was transformed by the experience. He baptized his children, sanctified his marriage, and came back to the Church. A number of people were affected during the filming including a Muslim who became a Christian. Some people became Catholics. It has been said that a couple of people’s diseases were healed on set. I am leaving out the conversion a lot of people had after the movie was released. That may require a book.
If you dig into what transpired while this movie was being shot, you would most likely start to see and feel that something more than ordinary happened on set. I cannot write all I have come to know about the shooting.
That 2004-released movie has been the highest grossing R-rated movie to this day. There is something about Jesus that keeps breaking records.