In February 2004, the controversial film, The Passion of the Christ, co-written, co-produced and directed by Mel Gibson for his company, Icon Productions, was released to enormous acclaim.
Church groups throughout the country bought out theaters to see it in groups. Religious leaders debated whether it had an anti-Semitic overtone, for blaming the Jewish rabbis in the film for Jesus’s death. It became one of the most popular and celebrated independent films of all time and the highest-grossing R-rated film until the release of Deadpool (2016).
The film was banned in Kuwait and Bahrain, because the religion of Islam forbids the visual depiction of prophets, and in Islam Jesus is considered a prophet. In Malaysia, only Christians were allowed to see it, and only Christian churches were allowed to sell tickets to the film.
Though it was shot in the ancient Aramaic language (along with Hebrew and Latin) and then subtitled, the film spoke in the only language that Hollywood understands: It cost $30m to make (paid for by Gibson himself, with an additional $15m for marketing) and grossed over $370m in the United States and over $240m in the rest of the world. That’s more than $600m in total.
When it was re-cut and briefly re-released the following year, it earned another half million dollars worldwide. Hollywood paid close attention.
Now, more than fifteen years later, Mel Gibson is in pre-production on a new film, The Passion of the Christ: Resurrection, dealing with the 72-hour period between the crucifixion and death of Jesus on Good Friday, and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Gibson will again direct and co-produce for his company, Icon Productions, with his longtime producing partner Bruce Davey, and he’s co-authoring the new screenplay with Randall Wallace, who also wrote Braveheart, Pearl Harbor, and Heaven is For Real. As with the first film, Resurrection will be shot in Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew.
Jim Caviezel, who starred in the original film as Jesus, will reprise that role.
Gibson must have enormous faith in Caviezel’s ability, since at the time the original film was cast, Caviezel was almost exactly Jesus’s age (33) at his death. Now he’s fifty-one, playing the same character in the 72 hours after the end of the last film. Gibson had hinted in a TV interview with Stephen Colbert in 2016 that part of that three-day period might involve Jesus descending to hell and dealing with the demons there.
Gibson plans to release the new film on March 31, 2021, in time for Easter next year. No one is sure yet what we’ll see on the screen at that time, but Caviezel apparently took his role as Jesus seriously enough to later take on the role of Gospel writer Luke in the 2018 film Paul, Apostle of Christ.
During interviews for Paul, Caviezel said of Resurrection, “There are things that I cannot say… [but] It’s great…I won’t tell you how he’s going to go about it, but I’ll tell you this much, the film he’s going to do is going to be the biggest film in history. It’s that good.”
Caviezel probably hopes the next shoot will be less dramatic than his previous shoot as Jesus. During the original Passion shoot, he was struck by lightning twice (during the Sermon on the Mount scene and the Crucifixion scene). He suffered a separated shoulder when the heavy wooden cross fell on him, experienced hypothermia in the cold Italian winter, and still bears a 14-inch scar from the scourging scene when the whip accidentally hit him and tore open his skin. He was also the only American actor in the international cast.
Many of the actors in the original film were deeply moved by the experience and chose to convert to Catholicism after the film was finished. Among the actor converts was the atheist who played Judas Iscariot.
If the new film is even half as impactful as the last film, Gibson will still have made a significant statement to the world.