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02-27-04: Movie elicits passionate response

Daily Standard takes local priest, ministers and Jewish man to see the film


“The Passion of the Christ,” Mel Gibson’s much-ballyhooed film about the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ’s life, is emotionally wrenching for nearly anyone who watches it.
Pastors, priests and others who watched the movie with Daily Standard staff members this week said the film promises to bring new understanding to Christians about Christ’s suffering.
“Gut-wrenching would be the word I would use to describe it said Peter Calvert, the pastor at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church near Mendon. “This is going to be life-changing for many Christians.
His wife, Sallyanne Calvert, said the movie brings the agony and pain Christ suffered through to light in a way never before depicted on-screen.
“There’s no way you can read the Bible and picture it the way it is in the movie,” she said.
The Rev. Harry Cavanaugh of the Maria Stein cluster of Catholic churches was impressed with what he viewed as the accuracy of the storyline.
“Maybe it was not 100 percent accurate, but it was very, very close,” Cavanaugh said. “I’d say that Mr. Gibson represented the story very fairly. I don’t want to put an exact number on it, but it was well over 90 percent accurate.”
Cavanaugh said he missed the point on how people felt the movie could be anti-Semitic.
“Some of the Jewish community has argued the film would cause anti-Semitism,” Cavanaugh said. “That could not be picked out of this movie. The disciples were all Jewish.”
“A person would have to be cold-hearted to not be moved by this film,” Cavanaugh said. “You have to have an open mind. Its a good starting point for people to change their feeling about Christ.”
Rev. Steve Clayton of the Celina Baptist Temple quoted the movie as “especially moving.”
“Finally somebody in Hollywood did something right,” Clayton said. “I think it gave a good mental picture of how things happened and the suffering Christ endured.”
Clayton felt the part of Jesus was portrayed well, something he said is not usually done well.
“I usually won’t watch films like this,” Clayton said. “They often portray Jesus as some stupid hippy or queer. The film did a good job representing Jesus as a man.”
Jesus’ mother, Mary, was simply portrayed as a loving mother in the movie, another thing that Clayton was happy with.
“I like that they didn’t deify Mary,” Clayton said. “There are some religions that do that.”
Cavanaugh wondered what effect the movie might have on converting people to Christ.
“This movie could reaffirm and strengthen a Christian’s beliefs,” Cavanaugh said. “I hope others watching this film come with an open mind and are moved by it. Some are doubtful of Jesus. For example, some Jews are deep in their faith and it is hard to change attitudes. At the very least, I hope watching it would help improve the lives of Christians.”
It wasn’t just ministers and clergy moved by “The Passion.” Aaron and Liz Hampton of New Knoxville sought out a reporter in front of Celina Cinemas to share their thoughts.
“It was fantastic. I think it was very accurate in showing what Jesus Christ went through for us,” Liz Hampton said.
Aaron Hampton said he believes Gibson’s movie will open up a dialogue about Christianity and open some peoples eyes to Christ’s suffering.
The movie has drawn criticism by some claiming the movie includes anti-Semitic themes and unfairly portrays Jews as Christ-killers.
James Lederman a Jewish Celina resident who watched the movie this week, said he does not believe the movie includes any antisemitic material intended to inflame Jews, but said the story does appear to blame the Jewish people — not the Roman authorities — for Christ’s crucifixion.
The film is accurate based on biblical gospels, but those books of the Bible are not necessarily historically accurate, Lederman said.
“We (Jews) see the film in a different way. We see it with a knowledge and understanding of the last 1,000 years,” Lederman said.
Although his religious beliefs differ from the movie’s message, Lederman said anyone could enjoy the movie.
“I believe this film to be a sincere retelling of this age-old story, which, whether we are Christians or not, moves us with the mythic power of the tale of the hero who dies for his people,” Lederman said.
Calvert said he believes the movie depicts preordained events that neither the Jews nor Romans could stop.
“I think if people paid attention, the anti-Jewish feeling shouldn’t be there,” Calvert said.
The movie played to a single theater that was about two-thirds full for the matinee opening of the movie on Wednesday. For Wednesday evening, the two largest theaters at Celina Cinemas were sold out.
The crowd offered a mix of moviegoers; some wept openly as they watched the graphic portrayal of Christ’s suffering while others munched popcorn and snacks.
Lederman said he thought the violence might have been a bit overdone in an attempt to drive home Gibson’s point to viewers. The depiction of Christ being scourged at the pillar was especially graphic, causing many people to wince as Christ was incessantly whipped by Roman soldiers.
With the entire script written in Greek, Aramaic and Latin, people watching the movie must read subtitles to follow the dialogue.
No one seemed to mind all the reading. The lines are familiar to many Christians and the graphic violence helped tell the story with minimal dialogue, they said.
Calvert was left a little disappointed with the ending of the film, a brief visual allusion to Christ’s resurrection three days after his death. To Christians, Christ’s rising is the pinnacle of his story, but in the movie it seems almost haphazardly tacked onto the end of the film.
Several moviegoers also mentioned several flashback sequences and the wide use of slow-motion cinematography as key elements that made the movie work.


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