How Despairing Gibson Found 'The Passion'

ByABC News

Feb. 17, 2004 -- -- At "the height of spiritual bankruptcy" more than a decade ago, abusing alcohol and drugs, the actor Mel Gibson said he once contemplated hurling himself out a window.

But instead, he turned to the Bible, which ultimately inspired him to direct his new movie, "The Passion of the Christ."

"I think I just hit my knees," Gibson told Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview on ABCNEWS' "Primetime." "I just said, 'Help.' You know? And then, I began to meditate on it, and that's in the Gospel. I read all those again. I remember reading bits of them when I was younger."

"Pain is the precursor to change, which is great," Gibson said. "That's the good news."

Gibson's renewed faith will be on display for moviegoers to see starting Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday, when "The Passion," depicting the final 12 hours of Jesus' life, debuts in theaters.

But in the months leading up to its release, the Aramaic- and Latin-language project has sparked controversy, which Gibson discussed with Sawyer on the special Monday-night edition of "Primetime."

Religious leaders and critics are debating whether the film's dramatization of Jesus' crucifixion is excessively violent and whether the depiction of the Jewish role in Jesus' death could incite anti-Semitic sentiments.

Gibson insisted on "Primetime" he is no anti-Semite, and that anti-Semitism is "un-Christian" and a sin that "goes against the tenets of my faith."

When asked who killed Jesus, Gibson said, "The big answer is, we all did. I'll be the first in the culpability stakes here."

Gibson told Sawyer he simply tried his best to interpret the Gospels in "The Passion of the Christ."

"Critics who have a problem with me don't really have a problem with me in this film," Gibson said. "They have a problem with the four Gospels. That's where their problem is."

Asked whether it was the Jews who killed Jesus, Gibson noted Jesus, "was a child of Israel, among other children of Israel. There were Jews and Romans in Israel. There were no Norwegians there. The Jewish Sanhedrin, and those who they held sway over — and the Romans — were the material agents of his demise."

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told Sawyer in remarks broadcast along with Gibson's interview that he doesn't believe Gibson is anti-Semitic. But Foxman still has concerns about "The Passion of the Christ."

"I do not believe it's an anti-Semitic movie," Foxman said. "I believe that this movie has the potential to fuel anti-Semitism, to reinforce it."

"This is his vision, his faith; he's a true believer, and I respect that," Foxman said. "But there are times that there are unintended consequences."

Gibson raised hackles recently with published statements in which he noted Holocaust victims were among many victims of World War II. He told Sawyer he doesn't mean to deny either that the Holocaust occurred or that there were millions killed.

"Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenseless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do; absolutely," he said. "It was an atrocity of monumental proportion."

Asked if the Holocaust represented a "particular kind of evil," he told Sawyer it did, but added, "Why do you need me to tell you? It's like, it's obvious. They're killed because of who and what they are. Is that not evil enough?"

Gibson said those who accuse him or his film of sparking anti-Semitism avoid the central point he had hoped to make.

"I don't want people to make it about the blame game," Gibson said. "It's about faith, hope, love and forgiveness. That's what this film is about. It's about Christ's sacrifice."

Jesus Christ "was beaten for our iniquities," Gibson said. "He was wounded for our transgressions and by his wounds we are healed. That's the point of the film. It's not about pointing the fingers."

"It's about faith, hope, love and forgiveness," he said. "It is reality for me. … I believe that. I have to … for my own sake … so I can hope, so I can live."

Gibson suggested his life was not quite as full of spirituality when he hit bottom about 13 years ago.

"I just didn't want to go on," he told Sawyer.

"Everyone's got something," he added. "I would get addicted to anything, anything at all. OK? Doesn't matter what it is … drugs, booze, anything. You name it — coffee, cigarettes, anything. All right? I'm just one of these guys who is like that. That's my flaw.

"I checked into a few places, and sorted myself out," Gibson said. "I didn't make a big noise about it. There's no point in doing that. You know? I mean, the real medal goes to my wife, who's a wonderful woman."

At his lowest, Gibson said he considered jumping out a window.

"I was looking down thinking, 'Man, this is just easier this way,' " he said. "You have to be mad, you have to be insane, to despair in that way. But that is the height of spiritual bankruptcy. There's nothing left."

The "spiritual bankruptcy" led him to reexamine Christianity, and ultimately to create "The Passion of the Christ" — "my vision … with God's help" of the final hours in the life of Jesus.

‘I Wanted it to Be Shocking’

Asked whether he considers his film the definitive depiction of the passion, Gibson said: "This is my version of what happened, according to the gospels and what I wanted to show — the aspects of it I wanted to show."

Some critics wonder if Gibson chose to portray the story too graphically.

Gibson admitted his version is "very violent," but added, "If you don't like it, don't go. … If you want to leave halfway through, go ahead."

"I wanted it to be shocking," Gibson said. "And I also wanted it to be extreme. I wanted it to push the viewer over the edge … so that they see the enormity — the enormity of that sacrifice — to see that someone could endure that and still come back with love and forgiveness, even through extreme pain and suffering and ridicule."

Foxman hopes viewers come away with that sort of message, rather than anger or bias.

"I hope that most people see it, Diane, as a passion of love," Foxman said. "Maybe whenit's all over, in a sobering manner, we'll be able to come back and look each other in the face and say, 'We have to deal with this hatred that's still out there.'"

Gibson, too, wants dialogue.

"Let's get this out on the table and talk about it," he said. "This is what the Talmud says. This is what the Gospel says. Let's talk. Let's talk. People are asking questions about things that have been buried a long time."

"I hope it inspires introspection, and I think it does," Gibson said. "I want to inspire and make people feel."

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