Rivers Of Light: Movie On The Passion Was Powered By Stream Of The Miraculous
By Michael H. Brown
For most, it's a miracle that the movie is even showing. As The Passion of the Christ sweeps the land this week and for weeks to come, many will point to its very existence as a stroke of grace -- one of the "rivers of light" prophesied for this year. Indeed, from an obscure effort that could not even find a distributor, that at times looked as if it would be upended by Jewish activists, the movie has exploded onto the scene as the movie event of the year.
It is the fruit of prayers everywhere from Baptist groups to Catholic traditionalists. And the result is indeed stunning. Paul Dergarabedian, the president of Exhibitor Relations, a company that tracks box office sales, told Variety that the pre-release "buzz" of The Passion rivaled that of the first Star Wars prequel, one of the top-grossing movies of all time.
But there is more to it than the obvious effects. Behind this film is a strong undercurrent of unusual coincidences and events that indicate the involvement of the supernatural. Start with the fact that Mel Gibson's own conversion was rooted in a near-death event. He didn't see a light at the end of a tunnel -- but back as a young man in Australia he felt a miraculous assistance when he could have died in a crash.
For years Gibson had the idea of The Passion in his head, but he moved on it only after a strange French woman came up to him several years ago and said, "Jesus loves you."
That started things. Gibson believes in "signs" -- he starred in a movie precisely entitled that -- and in this case the sign was to begin the movie. "There were signals like this all over the place," Gibson said in a documentary about the making of his controversial movie, which opens Wednesday.
Meanwhile, James Caviezel, who plays Christ, is quoted as saying he got an equally unusual indication six months before he auditioned for the movie when a woman told him out of the blue, "You'll be playing Jesus."
Then there is the involvement of German mystic and nun Anne Catherine Emmerich, who died in 1824, but not before leaving volumes of revelations, which were compiled by poet Clement Brentano. Gibson carries a relic of hers and came to know Emmerich in a way that in retrospect seems extraordinary.
"When Gibson returned to his faith, he acquired, from a nunnery that had closed down, a library of books, many of them quite old," noted The New Yorker last September. "He says that while he was researching The Passion one evening he reached up for a book, and Brentano's volume tumbled out of the shelf into his hands. He sat down and read it, and was flabbergasted by the vivid imagery of Emmerich's visions. 'Amazing images,' he said. 'She supplied me with stuff I never would have thought of.'"
According to another report, the book fell and actually hit Gibson in the head. Remarkable is that nearly the same thing happened a hundred years before when a scholar who was in the library of nuns similarly fell upon the same book and soon after a volume of Emmerich's revelations on the life of Mary -- which led to discovery of the Blessed Mother's actual house in Ephesus.
The movie's producer, Steve McEveety, meanwhile, has shared that the first draft of the script was finished (arrived in his hands) on September 11, 2001 -- and the final draft was completed (arrived in his hands) on September 11, 2002.
Caviezel's initials are J.C. and he was 33 when filming began. The actor says he was brought back to his faith in large part through attendance of an apparition with seer Ivan Dragicevic of Medjugorje -- the famous site in Bosnia-Hercegovina. "We talked, and later when we were praying the Rosary Ivan said Mary came in the room and I felt something wonderful happening to me," Caviezel says. "When the apparition was over, I got up and told Ivan I wanted [Mary and Jesus] in my heart."
Several months ago the actor ended up at Medjugorje -- where he showed pilgrims a rough cut of the movie. The actor noted that filming of "The Passion" began last year on the feast of Mary's Assumption, August 15, and finished on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13.
Strange lightning plagued the set of the movie. The assistant director, Jan Michelini, was dubbed "Lightning Boy" after lightning struck his umbrella during filming on a hilltop in Matera, Italy. He suffered light burns on the tips of his fingers. A few months later, a storm rolled in and Michelini, again carrying an umbrella, was standing beside star Jim Caviezel on top of a hill -- "Golgotha, with Caviezel on the Cross -- when lighting struck again. Both Caviezel and Michelini were struck this time. The main bolt hit Caviezel and one of its forks hit Michelini's umbrella. "I glanced over and see lightning coming out of Caviezel's ears," said McEveety.
"There have been a lot of unusual things happening, good things like people being healed of diseases, a couple of people have had sight and hearing restored, another guy was struck by lightning while we were filming the crucifixion scene and he just got up and walked away," noted Gibson.
Meanwhile, with time running short, composer John Debney became blocked while trying to score an appropriate theme for Mary -- a significant problem since much of the film (as in Emmerich's book) is seen through the Virgin's eyes. "Finally, I just prayed to Mary, out of desperation," says Debney. "And she answered with a lullaby that just appeared in my head complete with lyrics: 'Don't cry my little one, if you should fall, I will cradle you.' When we first put the music to the scene, both Mel and I were crying. He asked me where it came from, and I told him, from her. What an incredible gift!"
Industry experts said they have been stunned by the rapidly increasing advance sales for the film. "It is the number two selling film in our company's history [in terms of advance sales], right behind Lord of the Rings ["The Return of the King"] and momentum is actually growing," said Art Levitt, CEO of Fandango Incorporated, which sells tickets over the phone and internet. "It's a phenomenon. None of us expected it."
The miracles are likely to continue -- right there in the movie theaters.
[Resources: The Life and Revelations of Anne Catherine Emmerich, The Life of Mary, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ]
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