DVD seeks answers from the cast of The Passion of the Christ

  • April 5, 2006

{mosimage}It's not going to be the blockbuster that Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ became, but a spin-off documentary DVD is in a quiet way more interesting. The Big Question, released this month in Canada by independent Toronto filmmaker TH!NKFilm, is a gentle movie that asks very important questions.

The directors, Francesco Cabras and Alberto Molinari, have employed an intriguing method to give atmosphere to what would normally be simply a series of interviews. They have taken the cast of Gibson's movie, sat them down on the movie set in Italy that resembles first-century Jerusalem and region, and asked them questions about "God, the universe and everything."

The results are pleasantly surprising. The actors — Jim Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, Monica Bellucci, Toni Bertorelli among them — appear not as themselves but as their characters pondering life's greatest questions. The backdrop, ancient Jewish civilization, and complementary music give their discussion a depth of feeling that pushes viewers into the same frame of mind in which God seems not just nearby but all-encompassing. Even the different languages spoken and subtitles lend a sense of authenticity to it all.

The camera work adds to the effect — close-ups of faces, eyes, noses and hands bring home the common humanity of the speakers. There's even a sense of whimsy: one character is a white dog on a journey of his own, while the members of the Sanhedrin make their appearance as a group, all talking at once and incomprehensibly.

{sa B000K7VHJQ} The questions cover the gamut: the nature of God, miracles, heaven, organized religion, suffering, the role of the feminine, just to name a few topics. And the answers are unpredictable.

Unlike The Passion, this documentary uses a feather rather than a sledgehammer to make its point. It is not a Gospel story, or catechetical lesson, but a gentle exploration of what drives the human impulse to seek the divine.

For all those interviewed are pilgrims, seeking God. They do not always come to the same conclusions; most are Christians but some are Jewish, Buddhist or even atheist. However, the film's point is not to answer the questions, but ask them. What is interesting — and comforting — is how similar the desires and spiritual journeys of the actors are.

Gibson himself, Caviezel and Fr. Stephen Somerville (a Toronto priest who became a chaplain of sorts for the cast and crew of the film, celebrating daily Latin Masses for them) offer traditionally Catholic viewpoints, while others range far afield (one young cast member raised the possibility of UFOs and aliens as the source of revelation). A few just don't want to seek — "Why do you need to define God? If you are at peace with yourself, you have no need to know these things," says one actor.

This 75-minute film could spur thoughtful discussion in Bible study or at the beginning of the catechumenate for the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, setting the stage for exploring Christianity's answers to the questions posed in the film.

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