Wednesday, February 25, 2004

After walking into the Carmike 12 Cinemas in Athens, Ga., I felt that "The Passion of the Christ" was a sort of "Lord of the Rings" for Christians. Here and there, I saw smudges on foreheads, bookmarked bibles under arms and people scribbling in notepads. The scribblers I pigeonholed as sharp-eyed atheists or ministers because the average moviegoer rarely documents what they are watching, and merely wades in it. Once I realized that it was Ash Wednesday, I felt at ease.

The movie, which runs two hours and covers the last 12 hours (plus one resurrection!) of Jesus' life on Earth, is a cinematically gorgeous film that reveres the Son of God and the slow-motion technique. An hour is devoted to his torture at the urging of Jews and by the hands of Romans. The theater was packed and the mood was somber. It was the most crowded cinema I've ever been in at 1:30 pm on a Wednesday.

For months, almost since its inception, people have been discussing the repercussions of putting out a movie like this, pointing fingers at the Jews and easing the blame on the Romans (Pontius Pilate specifically). For the most part, I felt it was incredibly gutsy to take ideas that have been discussed for centuries and put them into a medium that will qualify as "the truth" for millions. Not only will many Christians be so moved as to consider it jaw droppingly accurate (which is impossible to prove), many non-believers will view it as propaganda.

I have no ground to say whether I felt the film was historically accurate, so I won't. Yes, the Jews were portrayed in a bad light. But, if accounts say that they felt threatened by Jesus' influence, and did indeed nearly exhaust themselves getting him crucified, the film is dead on. In terms of storytelling, you could not find a better villain.

But was it anti-Semitic? No. If the movie portrayed Jews as a race of killers, that would be anti-Semitic. Broken down to the bare essentials, the Bible is a story. Did Jews act like that? Really? They did? Then show it. Is there evidence to the contrary? Show that.

The adage that you must not place the sins of the father on the son rings true for all groups. The majority of critics out there don't believe that the film is anti-Semitic, they just think it will evoke anti-Semitic feelings. The only way to stop that is to encourage people to be more open-minded, but in the end, that's left to the person.

It's a fine movie, although it is sometimes a bit too quick to employ the slow-motion technique. Will it usher in a new wave of Christian thought, or maybe just devotion, or will it gently fade into the "good movie" tier of films, like how "The Conversation" is good, but not as good as "The Godfather?" We'll see.

In a conversation with Peter Bart and Peter Guber, Gibson offers some insight into his views on the film. He plans on keeping it intact for the DVD (no unreleased footage or multiple angles), imposing a clause for no-commercials when it comes to network airings and maintaining a watch on the subtitle translation for foreign release. Maybe Gibson's epic is more art than capitalization, as Andy Rooney questioned on 60 Minutes.

I just hope this film doesn't make him smug in all his henceforth interviews. Like Tom Hanks after "Philadelphia." But he's gotten better. Love ya', Tom.

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