CHRISTIANITY TODAY editor David Neff and TODAY'S CHRISTIAN WOMAN editor Jane Johnson Struck interviewed Mel Gibson about The Passion of The Christ, following an advance screening in January. Here is an edited transcript of their conversation.
David Neff: You have been getting a tremendous reception at screenings for evangelical church leaders. As a traditional Catholic, how has being exposed to this different segment of Christianity affected you?
For years, my best friends were actually evangelicals, many in the business and many in professional ways. I love them. I think they really know the Book. They know the Book better than Catholics, actually.
I've been actually amazed at the way I would say the evangelical audience has—hands down—responded to this film more than any other Christian group.
For me the amazing thing is that the film is so Marian. But I think the way the film displays her has been kind of an eye opener for evangelicals who don't usually look at that aspect. They understand the reality of a mother and a son.
Jane Struck: You've been quoted as saying that you felt that the Holy Spirit was helping to direct this film. Do you feel like you had any specific answers to prayer throughout the process of filming and even as far as getting a distributor?
Well, this is very funny. There's a friend of mine. She's an evangelical pastor. She just said to me, "How many screens do you want?" And I won't tell you how many but I gave her a number and she said, "Okay." And I'm telling you, it's getting there.
Struck: Does she have people praying specifically?
I think she's doing it all by herself. She's just going for it. So that will be interesting to see if we hit the mark. We'll know she gets heard anyway. It's pushing this week to 3,500.
Struck: How did you find the balance between staying true to the Scripture and your creative interpretation?
Wow, the Scriptures are the Scriptures—I mean they're unchangeable, although many people try to change them. And I think that my first duty is to be as faithful as possible in telling the story so that it doesn't contradict the Scriptures.
Now, so long as it didn't do that, I felt that I had a pretty wide berth for artistic interpretation, and to fill in some of the spaces with logic, with imagination, with various other readings.
For example, Judas goes to kill himself and I had him being tormented by children. I made up the children idea and that they were somehow diabolical, so they weren't real children. And that he was on a hillside and he looked at a dead goat, and then he goes and kills himself, hangs himself with a halter. I thought, so where's he going to get the halter? Well wait a minute, it should be a dead donkey with a halter on. I mean there's nothing that said there was a dead donkey there, but why not? It just says he "hung himself with an halter" [Matt. 27:5, Douay].
Neff: At the July screening and in an EWTN interview, you talked about spiritual warfare. What kinds of attacks did you experience during the filming?
Well you know, there's technological nightmares that crop up, complications that block certain things. And the closer you are to a breakthrough point, the more vigorous it gets, so that you know when the opposition is at its greatest, you're close and that you have to keep pressing on.
That happened a number of times, and it's happened a number of times since. Post-production has been more difficult than production. Post-production has been brutal: crashing computers, you name it, it's happened. It's kind of a mechanical weirdness. Whoa! The world goes into revolt.
Neff: So you think there are spiritual forces resisting this project?
Oh, of course. But that's the big picture, isn't it? The big realms are slugging it out. We're just the meat in the sandwich. And for some reason we're worth it. I don't know why, but we are.
Struck: Even though the film is R-rated, church youth groups are planning to see this movie. How did your own older children react to this film? And did it have an impact on their own faith?
I think they were moved by it and astounded by it. Which is a good thing for my own family; they're kind of used to my stuff.
The most interesting reaction was from the guy who lives over the fence. He's known my boys since he was a little kid. He wanders in, goes through the refrigerator, helps himself to food, comes in, plops in front of the TV. We're watching it, so he catches it only from about halfway through, from the flagellation. He forgot to eat. He had his food, but he forgot to eat it. When it's over, he just has this stunned silence and doesn't really know quite how to react. He sits there for a couple of minutes, and I'm was watching him. And he finally turned to me and he said, "Dude, that was graphic."
Now that's an understatement, but it indicated to me that he was really thinking. He was searching. And I think people don't usually say much after the film. They can't really talk, which is a good reaction, I think, because they are introspective—which is what I hoped to achieve: introspection.
Neff: The film does a great job of showing Jesus' suffering. And you've taken some steps to address the meaning of Jesus' suffering. But what are the limits of film as a medium in communicating that meaning?
Film, I think, is visceral. It has the power to draw you in and have you experience something on an emotional level that you may not be able logically to explain. However, it will leave you with a set of images or an experience or a feeling that may make you want to look further. That's all, the film is just a jumping-off point.
But the film makes some parallels for a reason. I juxtapose the Last Supper with the Crucifixion to point out what it is, how it was instituted, and why. To the best of my ability, I just tried to tell the story and to have some deeper meaning in it that would affect people and cause them to be introspective and to seek further. And if that happens, that's a great thing, and that they can come to some truth.
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