Mel Gibson and Anna Catherine Emmerich
“I had to make this film … I just had to tell it”
A Catholic Digest interview
Why make a movie about Jesus?
I had to make this film; I couldn’t not make it. About 13 years ago I came to a difficult point in my life, and meditating on Christ’s 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.
Did you mean to depict Christ as the ultimate hero of history?
This story of Christ’s suffering and death is, in my opinion, the greatest story, the greatest heroism, but that doesn’t mean other brands and manifestations of heroism have nothing to say to us.
The Gospels themselves do not give much detail at all of Jesus’ physical suffering. Why did you emphasize this dimension so strongly?
Life is hard, and we all get wounded by it — 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.
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 Jerusalem’s Jewish community as a whole, who, some argue, were not so monolithically dead set on the execution of Christ?
I expected some criticism, but I wasn’t expecting it to get so personal. It’s 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.
You said that you didn’t want to make a religious movie.
When people hear the word religion they tend to think of weakness, you know, pious folks saying little prayers and being goodie-goodies. But that’s 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. It’s the ultimate conflict. That’s what I see in it, and that’s what I had to show.
Why did you include the flashback scenes?
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 — 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. That’s the secret to everything, the explanation of everything.
How has the Passion story affected your own life?
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, “No.” 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 — if you really follow Him — you have to follow Him to Golgotha. That’s what it’s about. It’s the narrow path. The seed has to die in the furrow in order to bear fruit. You know, He warned us, “the disciple isn’t greater than the master.” This is the real faith. It’s the Gospel. And people forget about that — I forgot about it for 15 years. You look everywhere else to find peace and meaning in your life — all these soothing techniques and spiritual quick fixes. But Christ already gave the answer. He showed it to us in his Passion. I didn’t make it up, and I’m no saint, but I believe it’s the only path that’s not a dead end.
What is your greatest hope for the film?
I hope it makes people reflect, and sparks an investigation for people. It’s done that for many who have seen it already. I hope it communicates, at least a little, what Christ’s sacrifice really means — the extent of his love, his mercy. That’s what it’s about — faith, hope, love, and forgiveness. It’s something we all need right now.
Movie spurs book sales, good and bad.
Gibson has cited "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ," a 19th-century memoir that describes Jewish mobs as "cruel" and "hardhearted," as a source for his movie. Sales have jumped from under 3,000 for all of 2002 to 17,000 just last month, according to Tan Books, a publisher based in Rockville, Ill.
A Letter the Publisher, Thomas A. Nelson, of Tan Books and Publishers.
There is an old tradition in the Catholic Church, that toward the End of Time, Our Lord Jesus Christ will be seen in the sky by everyone in the world, hanging from His Cross, and that everyone will understand from this apparition how his or her own sins have contributed to Our Lord's Passion and Death.
1824 there died at the age of 49 in
Most famous of the texts to emerge from the recording of her revelations is The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The appearance of this book—and now the movie based upon it by Mel Gibson, which this book has inspired—almost seems to be a harbinger of the much-prophesied miraculous vision of Our Lord on the Cross toward the End of Time. It would seem that God appears to be granting the world a great grace of understanding and repentance by the appearance of Mr. Gibson's movie on the Passion. For tens—and perhaps even hundreds—of millions of people worldwide are probably going to see this movie and thereby come to understand the horrendous sufferings undergone by Our Lord in His act of redeeming mankind from sin.
The question that must arise in all men's minds is, "Why did He undergo this incredible suffering, abuse and humiliation?" The answer has always been known in the Church: To impress upon all mankind the seriousness of sin, the dire reality of eternal perdition, and the importance of our attending first and foremost to the salvation of our immortal souls.
Of the hundred or so movies made depicting various aspects of Our Lord's life and death, Mel Gibson's movie The Passion of the Christ is easily 50 or even 100 times as emotionally moving as the best of all the others—this from someone who has previewed Mr. Gibson's film and who has always been poorly impressed by the usually flat effect achieved by the many other movies about Our Lord. Mel Gibson's film rendition of the Passion is faithful to the Bible and was inspired by Sister Emmerich's Dolorous Passion (cf. The World Over, E.W.T.N. interview aired 8/15/03) and generally follows that book as its outline—as far as I can see, from having reread the book after seeing the movie. Pope John Paul II saw the film and is said to have commented: "It is as it was."
When after Mass one Sunday I told a gentleman who had read The Dolorous Passion and who had named one of his daughters "Anne Catherine," that Mel Gibson had made a movie based on this book, he caustically replied, "It can't be as good as the book!" Well, no movie is as good as the book- because a movie cannot portray all the detail of the book it is based upon. But in one sense, this movie is even better than the book—because it is so graphic and impresses the minds and the hearts of its viewers as few other movies ever have or probably ever will! In several showings that I know about, people just sat silently afterward for about 10 minutes, trying to digest what they had just experienced.
Moreover one of the greatest effects that Mel Gibson's movie will ever have on its viewers, in my opinion—as the current publisher of all the writings by Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich—is to introduce this great mystic and her incredible revelations to the world at large. Anne Catherine herself commented that she could see the information she was imparting not being readily accepted in her own country, but traveling afar, and then returning to do great good. (Cf. Vol. 1, p. 2). Here would seem to be a prophecy fulfilled—for the English translation of The Dolorous Passion has traveled to the U.S.A. for publication, has inspired a great movie on the subject, which thereby may well introduce millions worldwide to her revelations, and then help convert countless souls in many countries.
Mel Gibson's movie stands to influence enormous numbers of people, but if it did no more than just introduce the world to the revelations of the Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich, it would have succeeded beyond what anyone could imagine.
It is my hope that Mel Gibson makes back 100 times—or more(!)—what he has invested in this movie, and that in the process his efforts lead to the conversion of countless souls and their perseverance in the Faith, as well as that it quickens the hearts of the rest of us flagging followers of Christ—so that we will appreciate more fully the great gift of Faith and increase our love for Our Saviour, who underwent so dolorous a passion to redeem us from our sins.
Dear Reader, you have two great experiences in store for you: one is seeing Mel Gibson's movie; the other is reading The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ—as well as the Life and Revelations of Anne Catherine Emmerich, plus the other surprising books of Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich.
Sincerely yours in Jesus and Mary.
Thomas A. Nelson
The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary from the Visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich has become a classic in Catholic literature. Based on the mystic visions of the Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), a German Augustinian nun from Dülmen, it focuses first on the ancestry of the Blessed Virgin Mary, then on her childhood and early life, next on her life with Jesus and St. Joseph at Nazareth—though it does not include the Public Ministry of Christ. Thereafter, the narrative picks up following the Passion and Death of Our Lord.
Two other books based on the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich cover the Public Life of Christ and His Passion and Death, namely, The Life of Jesus Christ and Biblical Revelations (in 4 volumes) and The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (in 1 volume). In both of these other books, mention of Our Lady during the Public Life is prominent.
Characteristic of all the writings from the visions and revelations of Anne Catherine Emmerich is a beautiful, holy aura that seems to surround and pervade everything she says (most readers sense this aspect of her work from the very first pages); and The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary is typical of Sr. Emmerich's works in this regard. This book is filled with unusual, saintly descriptions that are not recorded in the Gospel story—descriptions that supplement and illustrate the Biblical narrative in a way that makes the actual Scripture passages truly come alive. The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich will richly reward the reader with insights he could never gain from any other source and is a book he will remember all his life.
Who Was Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich?
Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824) was a German Augustinian nun, a mystic,
stigmatist and victim soul, whose visions were copied down by Clemens Brentano
(1778-1842), a poet and prominent literary figure of that time. He had paid her
a visit in 1818 out of curiosity, and he remained at her beside till she died
in 1824, recording in notebooks her many, remarkable visions of the past,
present and future. From 1802 until her death, she bore the wounds of the Crown
of Thorns, and from 1812 the full stigmata of Our Lord, including a cross over
her heart and the wound from the lance. During the last 12 years of her life,
she could eat no food except Holy Communion, nor take any drink save water. She
remained bed-ridden during her last 12 years, during which time she actually
experienced the sufferings of Our Lord on Good Fridays and saw in vision many
of the events in Biblical history. It is from these transcribed visions that
Clemens Brentano himself compiled The Dolorous Passion, a
book that has been in print almost continually since it first appeared in 1833.
From his association with Sister Emmerich, Brentano returned whole-heartedly to
the Catholic Faith, along with his entire family. A man of extensive learning
and experience, he could nonetheless say of Anne Catherine Emmerich, "All
that I have ever beheld in art
or in life representative of piety, peace and innocence, sinks into
insignificance compared with her.” (Life, Vol. I, p. 397). Brentano's
fascinating 54-page sketch of her life is included in The Dolorous Passion. The cause for her beatification
is in process as of
Mel Gibson’s epic film captures the sacrifice of Christ
As the world enjoyed the glitz and glamour of the annual Oscars bash last weekend, the film that everyone’s talking about didn't even get a look in. On Thursday The Odeon cinema in London’s Leicester Square held a special press and invitation only screening of Mel Gibson’s controversial new film epic, The Passion of Christ. The work has already been seen in private viewings in Australia, America and in the Vatican, and reaction to it has been phenomenal. In the United States there have been howls of protest that the film is anti-semitic, whilst at the same time evangelical Christian groups have been block-booking entire cinemas.
Cardinal Pell of Sidney left a screening feeling “utterly drained” at the graphic depictions of Christ’s suffering, and others around him were weeping openly, he said. The film is Gibson magnum opus, and has been more than five years in the making. The cinemaphotography is stunning, and the fact that the dialogue is in Aramaic and Latin makes it a very un-nerving, but intensely vivid, journey into that great moment in the past.
Robert Powell it is not, but one senses that Gibson has succeeded, and that the years of frustrated filming, frantic negotiations with the Vatican, and the firestorm from the secular media have been worthwhile. The result does not make for easy viewing, as it focuses almost entirely on the terrible agonies and brutalities that Christ underwent during his last 12 hours on earth.
Gibson set out not to make an acceptable movie, but to recreate the truth; he has pumped millions of his private fortune into the production, and endured many frustrations and personal failures in the process. Like any great work of art, it was not easy to create, but the results of his obsession with detail, and his own deep Catholic faith, has produced a true epic of the big screen that really does deserve to be seen as widely as possible.