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Behind The Scenes, 'The Passion Of The Christ' Was Complicated And Horrifying

Given how controversial the film was (and still is), it should come as no surprise how many behind-the-scenes Passion of the Christ stories exist. What is a little more surprising is the one common theme connecting the majority of those stories: the actor playing Jesus endured a lot during production. Jim Caviezel dislocated his shoulder, Jim Caviezel got pneumonia, Jim Caviezel was struck by lightning on set - and he wasn't even the only person who did.

Then of course there's the Mel Gibson factor. Of all of Gibson's movies, The Passion of the Christ is quite easily the most controversial (even if some believe it's one of the best Jesus movies of all time despite its inaccuracies). Gibson is now synonymous with controversy, and his treatment of his star does nothing to change that image.

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  • Jim Caveizel Was Struck By Lightning On Set

    Jim Caveizel Was Struck By Lightning On Set
    Photo: The Passion of the Christ / 20th Century Fox

    What in God's name goes through someone's mind when they're playing Jesus Christ and they get struck by lightning? Considering there's a .008% chance of being struck by lightning in your life, if it happens when you're playing the Messiah in one of the most divisive movies of all time, it would be hard not to read into it just a little bit.

    In an interview with Catholic News Agency, Caviezel described the event, saying: "It was the scene of the Sermon on the Mount. I climbed the mountain, clouds had formed, and five seconds before the stroke I had felt what was going to happen. It was windy, but I couldn’t hear the wind blowing. Suddenly, I was struck by the lightning.” While Caviezel (quite reasonably) admitted to being terrified, he said he also “felt peace on the inside.”

    Gibson, however, felt nothing but confusion, asking, "What... happened to his hair?"

  • An AD Was Also Struck By Lightning. Twice.

    An AD Was Also Struck By Lightning. Twice.
    Photo: Jessie Eastland / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    Assistant director Jan 'Lightning Boy' Michelini came by his nickname honestly. While working on The Passion of the Christ, the Italian AD was struck by lightning not once, but twice, the odds of which are around one in 9 million. Producer Steve McEveety described the second incident to Entertainment Weekly, which apparently happened when Michelini and Caviezel were standing under an umbrella together. "I’m about a hundred feet away from them, when I glance over and see lightning coming out of Caviezel’s ears. Both Caviezel and Michelini got struck. The main bolt hit Caviezel and one of its forks hit Michelini’s umbrella."

    When Michelini was also carrying an umbrella the first time he was struck on set. One would hope he got the hint and no longer uses umbrellas.

  • Caviezel's Recollection Of The Lightning Strike Is Oddly More Miraculous Than Other Descriptions

    Caviezel's Recollection Of The Lightning Strike Is Oddly More Miraculous Than Other Descriptions
    Photo: The Passion of the Christ / 20th Century Fox

    What is so noteworthy about the incident involving Caviezel's lightning strike is that his description to the Catholic News Agency is incongruous with producer Steve McEveety's recollection to Entertainment Weekly. While a cynical person might think Caviezel is trying to make the event sound more miraculous, perhaps his description in this 700 Club interview clarifies things:

    "Five minutes after I got hit, [Jan Michelini], an assistant, walks over and says are you okay? And then he got hit. The difference was that they saw the bolt come down and hit [Jan]; they didn't see that when I was standing there. All I felt was this giant tremendous slap on my ears and a few seconds of a pink, red static in front of my eyes."

    Is it possible Caviezel got struck twice without realizing it? Did Caviezel stretch the truth about his Sermon on the Mount strike? Or did McEveety not see what he thought he saw? Hopefully it's the latter, but it's hard to know.

  • Caviezel Was Actually Whipped Once During Production

    During the filming of Christ’s scourging - the memorable moment when Jesus was whipped - one of the actors playing a Roman torturer missed his mark a bit. As is usually the case with whipping scenes, there was a board on Caviezel's back that was supposed to catch the blows, but after Gibson directed the whippers to try overhand, things went awry. Caviezel described it to Today:

    [The whip] just extended over the board and hit me with such a velocity that I couldn’t breathe. It’s like getting the wind knocked out of you. The stinging is so horrific that you can’t get air... I turned around and looked at the guy, and I tell you, I may be playing Jesus, but I felt like Satan at that moment. I turned to him, a couple of expletives came out of my mouth."

    What's more, it actually happened a second time, and with that strike Caviezel received a 14-inch gash across his back. It sounds like they needed a bigger board.

  • Caviezel Got Hypothermia, Which Led To Pneumonia, And A Lung Infection

    In his interview with 700 ClubCaviezel recounted what it was like to hang on the cross: 

    "It was so cold it was like knives coming through me. I had hypothermia. I don't know whether you've dealt with that, but on one day of hypothermia I was so cold I could barely get the lines out. My mouth was shaking uncontrollably. My arms and legs went numb. I was suffocating on that cross. In the mean time, you watch people have coffee and laugh. They were very indifferent about what I was going through."

    According to Today, the hypothermia gave way to pneumonia and a lung infection. The only thing more unpleasant than such upper body illnesses is the addition of upper body physical injuries. Unfortunately for Caviezel, that's exactly what happened.

  • Caviezel Dislocated His Shoulder Carrying The Cross

    Caviezel Dislocated His Shoulder Carrying The Cross
    Photo: The Passion of the Christ / 20th Century Fox

    The cross Caviezel was carrying reportedly weighed 150 lbs. He apparently separated his shoulder hefting the thing, and the scene in which it happened remained in the movie. Caviezel spoke to a number of outlets about the wide variety of pain he endured, generally appreciative of the end result as it captured what Jesus went through as accurately as possible, in his mind. Still, you've got to feel sorry for the guy, and there's a sense that he's perhaps a little bitter about the way people allowed all this actual suffering to go down during production.