After months of interest and controversy (primarily over alleged anti-Semitism) that led to record pre-release sales, the movie opened in the United States on February 25 (Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent), 2004. Taking $370m in the US, it became the highest-grossing R-rated film ever made, and the 9th highest all-time domestic gross.
The film was re-released on March 11, 2005 "recut", or in other words reedited, in which Gibson removed approximately 5 minutes of the most graphic footage, in an effort to broaden the audience of the film.
Mel Gibson played a crucial role in getting the film made, putting up his money to finance the project and directing and co-producing the film. He also co-wrote the screenplay. Gibson's religious beliefs, which inspired the film, are those of traditional Catholicism, which rejects most of the pastoral reforms set by the Second Vatican Council, commonly referred to as Vatican II. Gibson intended the movie to be faithful not to the New Testament alone, but rather to the New Testament as viewed through Catholic tradition, which accepts as valid a number of later sources.
Cast and crew
The film's principal cast and crew are as follows:
The film was shot at Rome's Cinecitta Studios and various locations in Italy, much of it in Matera, on a budget of US$25 million, financed entirely by Gibson.
Details of the film
Details in the film not present in the New Testament
(Where possible, the source of these details is indicated in parentheses after the entry.)
During Jesus' distress in the Garden of Gethsemane, Satan is shown speaking to him. (In Luke 4:13, it is said that the Devil left Jesus "for a time", and many theologians reason that Satan's moment was in the Garden, but this encounter is not recorded in the Gospel.)
A Jewish Temple guard, sent to apprehend Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, drops him from a small bridge suspended from a chain. (Taken from Anne Catherine Emmerich, The Dolorous Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, chapter 3.)
Judas is tormented by "children" whose morphing facial features suggest they are demons, driving him to suicide. Matthew reports that Judas committed suicide by strangulation, presumed to be from hanging. Acts states that his body also fell, causing him to burst open and spill out his bowels. (Emmerich reports that he "fled as if a thousand furies were at his heel" and later mentions Satan standing at his side to drive him to despair, chapter 14.)
The movie depicts some Jews as opposing the absence of the Sanhedrin's quorum, thereby challenging the legality of the trial and intimating that Jesus was not being treated fairly by Jewish leadership. (Emmerich mentions a similar event in chapter 13.)
When Jesus is first brought before Pontius Pilate, Pilate beholds his bloody, bruised condition and asks members of the Sanhedrin (the high council of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem) if they always beat prisoners prior to trial. (Emmerich, chapter 17.)
Herod Antipas is portrayed as a mincing, lisping, effeminate homosexual, complete with a "boy-toy". Although this was a common caricature of Herod in medieval Passion plays, it does not appear in the Gospels and is contrary to the historical record regarding Antipas.
Mary Magdelene is shown as "the woman taken in adultery" saved from execution by Jesus' famous "let him who is without sin cast the first stone" statement. The identification of Mary Magdalene with the adulterous woman is a matter of contention between the Catholic Church and various Christian denominations, feminists, and adherents to "New Age" religions.
Pilate is shown discussing with his wife the fragility of his relationship with Tiberius Caesar, emphasizing orders Caesar gave him to avoid uprisings in Judea. (Cf. Emmerich, chapter 19. The gospel of Matthew only mentions a message from Pilate's wife delivered while Pilate is hearing the case.)
During the scourging scene Jesus is nearly flayed alive, back and front, by a variety of whip implements, some with embedded shells, glass and nails. The Gospels state only that he was scourged. (See flagellation.)
After the scourging, Mary wipes up the blood of Jesus with towels provided by Pilate's wife. (Emmerich, chapter 23.)
Along the Via Dolorosa, Jesus is repeatedly rope whipped by a trailing Roman soldier.
Simon of Cyrene, who helps Jesus carry the cross and puts his arm around him, is debased, treated poorly by a Roman soldier, and called "Jew" with a sneer. Simon's name and the fact that he helped Jesus carry the cross are in all three Synoptic Gospels, but the rest of the event is not in the Bible. (Cf. Emmerich, chapter 36.)
Along the Via Dolorosa, the image of Jesus' face is transferred to a cloth given to him by a woman. This event does not appear in any Bible narrative, but is a depiction of the Roman Catholic tradition of Veronica's Veil. (Emmerich, chapter 34, which also includes her offering Jesus a drink.)
While travelling along the Via Dolorosa, Jesus falls under the weight of the cross three times. Also, Mary goes to Jesus so that she may comfort Him. Though these events are traditionally accepted in the Roman Catholic Church as part of the Stations of the Cross, they are never mentioned in the Gospels. (Emmerich describes seven falls and also the encounter with Mary, chapters 31-36.)
When Jesus' right arm does not extend far enough to reach a nail hole on the cross, a Roman soldier seems to dislocate the arm at the shoulder by pulling it with a rope until the palm is over the hole. (Emmerich chapter 38.)
After Jesus is nailed to the cross but before it has been raised, Roman soldiers flip the cross and Jesus over. When they are flipped face-down, Jesus and the cross seem to levitate above the ground, and when flipped back-down, both land with high impact on the ground. (Reportedly a mistake in the filming that Gibson decided "looked good".)
The names assigned to the thieves crucified with Christ, Dismas and Gesmas (also Gestas), are traditional but are not given in Scripture. (Cf. Emmerich, chapter 43, and the apocryphal "Acts of Pilate," also known as the "Gospel of Nicodemus".)
The crucified criminal who mocked Jesus was shown being pecked at mercilessly by a raven.
In the film Jesus builds a table in a rather modern style -- one that one would sit at using chairs, but his mother tells him that "it'll never catch on."
The devil is shown carrying an "Ugly Baby" during Christ's flogging. No mention of this is in the Gospels, and Mel Gibson is reported to have said "it's evil distorting what's good. What is more tender and beautiful than a mother and a child? So the Devil takes that and distorts it just a little bit. Instead of a normal mother and child you have an androgynous figure holding a 40-year-old 'baby' with hair on his back. It is weird, it is shocking, it's almost too much—just like turning Jesus over to continue scourging him on his chest is shocking and almost too much, which is the exact moment when this appearance of the Devil and the baby takes place."
The earthquake causes a huge fissure to split the Temple down the center. In the Gospels it is only reported that the curtain at the holy of holies was split.
The final scene of the movie shows Jesus leaving the tomb after the Resurrection. This detail is not present in the Bible - it only tells of the arrival of the women at the tomb, where Jesus is nowhere to be found.
Most of these details have been taken from Roman Catholic "Sacred Tradition" and the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich, who vividly described Jesus' Passion in the book "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the Meditations of Anne Catherine Emmerich" (Sulzbach, 1833). For Catholics, the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich are not considered part of the oral Apostolic Tradition and aren't something that Roman Catholics must accept as true lest they be outside the faith; Catholics are free to accept or not accept her visions. (Emmerich received beatification in 2004, though her visions were not considered as material for the process, since they were written down by another, who appears to have elaborated on them.) Details beyond primary textual sources are to be expected in dramatizations of historical events, but the trend and tenor of non-source material can assist in understanding the general tendencies of the creators.
Some of the details in the film present in the Gospels
Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus asks his three chief followers, Peter, James and John to "watch" (i.e., stay awake) while he prays.
Jesus chides them for falling asleep instead.
Judas receives 30 pieces of silver from the Jewish leaders for betraying Jesus's whereabouts.
Judas identifies Jesus to the soldiers with a kiss.
Soldiers come to arrest Jesus there.
Peter cuts off the ear of a man, when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus; Jesus heals that man (see, e.g., John 18:10, Matt 26:51).
After his arrest and delivery to the Temple, Jesus is slapped, punched and spat upon in the presence of the Sanhedrin before any trial is held. Both Matthew and Mark relate this.
Jewish leaders accuse Jesus of violating their religious tradition.
They spit in his face and beat him.
The leaders bring Jesus to Pilate for punishment.
Pilate is hesitant to condemn Jesus to death. The Gospels unmistakably hint at this.
Pilate finds no "cause" to put Jesus to death.
Pilate offers the crowd a choice: release Jesus, or release another condemned prisoner in Jesus's place.
Judas tries to return the blood money to the Jewish leaders. (Matthew 27:4-5)
Judas commits suicide by hanging himself from a tree. This is in keeping with the description of the fate of Judas found in the Gospel according to Matthew (Matthew 27:5). However, a verse in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:18) indicates that Judas purchased a field with the money he earned betraying Jesus. Judas went to the center of the field, and fell head first on to the ground and his body burst open. (It is also possible that Judas impaled himself, and that his entrails consequently spilled out onto the field.)
The man who carried the cross for Jesus was named Simon, as noted in all three Synoptic Gospels.
The crucifixion took place on the top of a hill.
Jesus was crucified alongside two criminals.
One of the criminals mocked Jesus. The other said that he and his fellow criminal deserved to die, but Jesus was not worthy of death. He asked Jesus, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom;" Jesus responded, "Today you will be with me in Paradise." This is a choice between two versions: in the other, the repentance of the one thief is not detailed.
The words of Jesus on the cross, entrusting Mary to an apostle's care (see John 19:26-27).
The curtain in the temple was ripped after the crucifixion.
Jesus told Peter to his face, "Three times you will deny me."
Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, welcomed with palm leaves by the crowds.
Jesus is shown at home with Mary, showing her the new table that he had built. The table is higher than is normal, and Mary remarks that it (the table) would never catch on.
The Last Supper is shown in the theologically right moment with the consecration Words of Jesus: "This is My Body, which is given up for you and the many ...".
The Passion Recut
In March of 2005, Gibson released a slightly edited version of the film, titled The Passion Recut, to the theaters. Some five or six minutes of the original version were cut in order to make the film less violent. Gibson's stated aim was to make the film more family-friendly. However, the movie was still deemed too violent by the MPAA for a lesser rating than R, so Gibson decided to release it without a rating. This has caused some theater chains which do not exhibit "unrated" films to turn down the recut version, while others will be enforcing the R rating it would have received. Some theaters have passed on the recut version simply because the film is already available on DVD.
The recut version's showing in theaters was not successful. Its release in 950 theaters in North America averaged only some 10 viewers per showing.
Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus Christ, was allegedly struck by lightning during the shooting; while the assistant director, Jan Michelini, was allegedly struck by lightning twice.  and .
Jim Caviezel also bears the initials "JC." When Gibson first requested Caviezel to portray Christ in early 2002, Caviezel, was 33 years of age. This is the same age Christ is said to have been upon his crucifixion.
Jim Caviezel admitted that he was struck in the back accidentally during the scourging sequence, leaving a significant scar on his back. Apparently one of the actors portraying the Roman Guards was supposed to strike a board on Caviezel's back to prevent from injuring Caviezel but had missed the mark.