Catholic: Why make a movie about Jesus?
Mel: I had to make this film; I couldnít not make it. About 13 years ago I came to a difficult point in my life, and meditating on Christís sufferings, on his Passion, got me through it. I began to understand it as I never had before, even though I had heard the story so many times. It was like giving birth: the story, the way I envisioned the suffering of Christ, got inside me and started to grow, and it reached a point where I just had to tell it, to get it out.
Catholic: Did you mean to depict Christ as the ultimate hero of history?
Mel: This story of Christís suffering and death is, in my opinion, the greatest story, the greatest heroism, but that doesnít mean other brands and manifestations of heroism have nothing to say to us.
Catholic: The Gospels themselves do not give much detail at all of Jesusí physical suffering. Why did you emphasize this dimension so strongly?
Mel: Life is hard, and we all get wounded by it ó I was no exception. I went to the wounds of Christ in order to cure my wounds. And when I did that, through reading, and studying, and meditating, and praying, I began to see in my own mind what He really went through. I tried to make it as realistic as possible; I wanted the audience to feel like they were really there, witnessing the events as they had actually happened.
Catholic: The film has been subject to lots of criticism. What do you say to those who feel the film fails to realistically depict the Jewish high priests and Jerusalemís Jewish community as a whole, who, some argue, were not so monolithically dead set on the execution of Christ?
Mel: I expected some criticism, but I wasnít expecting it to get so personal. Itís been a real eye-opener. I have handled it by not letting it thwart this project, and by praying. My prayer life has grown a lot as a result of it. I pray for the people who are upset. I sincerely believe that their suspicions are wrong. This movie will bring people closer together, not incite violence and hatred. That was our experience in making it, and that has been the experience of the people who have seen it so far.
Catholic: You said that you didnít want to make a religious movie.
Mel: When people hear the word religion they tend to think of weakness, you know, pious folks saying little prayers and being goodie-goodies. But thatís not what Jesus is all about. He is the quintessential hero, the strong man par excellence. The Passion is his victorious battle against the forces of evil. He is the ultimate good guy conquering the mother of all bad guys. Itís the ultimate conflict. Thatís what I see in it, and thatís what I had to show.
Catholic: Why did you include the flashback scenes?
Mel: The flashbacks are escape hatches, to give you relief from the suffering. But they also help fill out the story, the character of Jesus. The flashbacks show the human side of Jesus ó that He was a real man, a working man, with a real mother, with a sense of humor. You need to see that to understand that He really felt his suffering, just like any real man. And the Last Supper flashbacks show the whole reason why He came: his sacrifice, for our salvation. Thatís the secret to everything, the explanation of everything.
Catholic: How has the Passion story affected† your own life?
Mel: In my 30s, I hit
a low point where I was wondering if there was any hope left. So I asked a man
of great faith if there was such a thing as a situation without hope. And he
said, ďNo.Ē And since this man had never lied to me, I had to believe him. And
I hit my knees and started to pray, and meditate, and read. And somehow the
Holy Spirit squeezed in through a crack and started giving me the hope I was
looking for. It was the sacrifice, seeing how much Jesus suffered, not for his
own sake, but for my sake. If He loved me that much, how could I not have hope
in Him?† If you follow Christ ó if you
really follow Him ó you have to follow Him to
Catholic: What is your greatest hope for the film?
Mel: I hope it makes people reflect, and sparks an investigation for people. Itís done that for many who have seen it already. I hope it communicates, at least a little, what Christís sacrifice really means ó the extent of his love, his mercy. Thatís what itís about ó faith, hope, love, and forgiveness. Itís something we all need right now.††