Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the release of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ," a graphically violent film about the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ.
As of midnight, Gibson’s film will be playing on 2,800 screens. The focus of intense critical onslaught since last summer, the movie has led to sold-out showings at hundreds of theatres several weeks before opening.
Gibson has said he wanted to make the "most realistic" Jesus movie. The R-rated, subtitled film has already generated intense interest among religious audiences, especially evangelical Christians, who Gibson identifies as his core audience. It has also caught the attention of some Jewish leaders who fear the portrayal of Jesus’ scourging and crucifixion in such realistic detail will spark anti-Jewish feelings.
Professors from Seattle Pacific, and professionals who have seen the film, encourage students not to be intimidated by the hype but to approach the film as a chance to learn and engage in dialogue.
"All movies have value systems — they’re political because they have something to say," said Todd Rendleman, professor of communication. "The issue is people don’t like to be told what to believe and often these movies have been guilty of making their views too clear."
Rendleman said Gibson’s film shouldn’t be held to a different standard than any other controversial movie in Hollywood.
"Religion is made up of stories and narrative and that’s what movies are," he said. "Movies are meant to help us think about things."
Professor of Theology and Dean of the School of Theology Colin Greene said that although he hasn’t seen the film, he has talked with people who have.
"People have told me they were shocked by the brutality and were forced to ask how the brutality Christ suffered affects them," he said. "What were the implications of the death of Christ and how does that understanding apply to my life?"
Rendleman said that for many people all across the cultural spectrum, it could be more than just a movie-going experience. It can also be a personal experience. God can choose how he speaks to people.
However, New Testament professor Eugene Lemcio writes in a letter to the editor of the Seattle Times that although he has not seen the film, he is disturbed by some of the emotional comments by those who have.
"Is this what makes a film successful and important — that we can all have a good cry?" he said.
Lemcio said his hope is that viewers will (re)read the Gospels to discover how restrained they are in depicting the crucifixion.
"They do not exploit these obviously emotional events. There is nothing of the clinical analysis of the "doctor looks at Jesus’ execution" genre, where lurid accounts are given of how this organ failed and how that system broke down during the trauma," he said.
"Unless we ask what the suffering and death were about," he said, "unless there is an attempt to see how the end of Jesus’ life is related to the beginning and middle, we will have denied him justice."
Until today, Gibson has mostly shown the film to restricted, often handpicked audiences, who must sign releases pledging not to divulge details of the movie.
Junior Valor Poland first heard about the film from his father, who was a part of one of the earliest audiences to partake of Gibson’s initial plans for the film in a very unique way.
Dr. Larry Poland is Chairman and CEO of Mastermedia International, a faith-based organization providing professional consulting, confidential spiritual counsel and personal support to leaders of global media from all faith and non-faith traditions in Hollywood, New York, London, Bombay and other global media centers.
Larry Poland was one of a select few who read the script before the movie was produced and was in a small-group screening with Gibson on July 10.
"He said it is very powerful; definitely moving," said Valor Poland.
While his father said the film was strong in its portrayal, what was more interesting, Valor adds, was witnessing Gibson’s passion for the story of Christ while talking personally with him.
In comments before clergy and test audiences, Gibson has said that his movie is based closely upon the four New Testament Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion, as well as the visions and mystical testimonies of two nuns, Mary Agreda of Spain (1602-1665) and Anne Catherine Emmerich of France (1774-1824).
Hollywood executives and religious leaders with knowledge of the project say that Gibson himself cannot be separated from the film. He is an Oscar-winning director whose characters often endure bloody trials of faith, such as his own portrayal of the Scottish rebel in "Braveheart," who is publicly disemboweled while lying upon a cross-like rack.
Rendleman believes this candidness contributes to Gibson’s credibility as an actor/producer.
"It’s the most fair-minded approach. Mel Gibson has let people know he’s Catholic and that he’s waited years to make it and keep that in mind," he said. "He seems to be a Christian man who affects people in positive ways — on a professional level — which is very rare."
Gibson, 48, is a traditionalist Catholic, an ultraconservative in terms of his faith. Traditionalists reject the reforms of the Vatican II council of the 1960s, which lifted prohibitions on eating meat on Fridays and, in an effort to make mass more accessible, ordered that it be said in the lay languages of congregations rather than in Latin.
Gibson has defended "Passion" as an accurate portrayal of Christ’s final hours and has rejected accusations of anti-Semitism, telling the Global Catholic Network that his film "collectively blames humanity for the death of Jesus … Now, there are no exemptions here. All right? I’m the first on the line for culpability. I did it. Christ died for all men, for all times."
But Gibson has also conceded that the controversy surrounding the film has generated the kind of free publicity that can make a blockbuster. He has called it "inadvertent," but one Hollywood executive at a major studio, who asked for anonymity, described it as "a brilliant marketing campaign."
Surveys by the market research firm Nielsen NRG suggest that the film could open in the $15 million to $30 million range — which, as Gibson and others have said, is remarkable for a picture with no-name actors speaking two "dead" languages (Aramaic and Latin) with minimal subtitles.
"Go see Mel Gibson’s film, and discuss it — not argue over it — with a Christian or Jewish friend or a Jewish believer in ‘Yeshua’ as Messiah," said Poland. "Listen and learn from the dialogue."
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Title: Stay Informed: Current Events | Author: News Staff | Section: News | Published Date: 2004-02-25 | Internal ID: 3807