Passions are being stirred

Published 9:27 am Wednesday, March 3, 2004

By Staff
I haven't yet been to see The Passion of the Christ, the new film depicting the last 12 hours of Jesus' life. But I'm looking forward to seeing it, for a number of reasons. Like all Christians, I'm interested in viewing a realistic depiction of events upon which my system of religious beliefs is based. As a film enthusiast, I'm eagerly anticipating the chance to see how director Mel Gibson went about telling the story. And as a journalist, I feel called to experience this film, which is having such a profound impact on the world around me, including right here in Brewton and Escambia County.
Many feel the same way about getting out to see the film, for reasons that may or may not be similar to mine. It's evident in the number of people making plans to attend showings of the movie in groups, mainly alongside other members of the church they belong to. Some groups have bought out entire time slots at theaters, so that only they and their friends will be there during the film.
That's just locally. As everyone probably knows, crowds have rushed to theaters to see the film since its opening a week ago today. And those in the know about such things anticipate that attendance at the film's showings will remain strong. Some exit polls conducted outside theaters showing the movie show that 99 percent of those who've seen it felt positive about the experience.
There are also all sorts of figures related to dollars and cents being reported, too many to mention here even if it didn't seem a little weird to discuss money as part of a phenomenon being driven primarily by peoples' most deeply held beliefs. Suffice it to say that The Passion of the Christ is doing quite well at the box office.
In that way, it's like pretty much any other big, blockbuster film. But in practically every other way, The Passion of the Christ exists on the American and world cultural landscapes as something altogether different.
Certainly, word about the film has been spread differently. Much of the buzz about it has been created not by advertising blitzes through trailers and promotional tie-ins, but by word of mouth and the controversy surrounding its subject matter. Unlike most high-grossing films, even the truly great ones, in this case it's people's feelings about the story itself that are driving interest.
And that largely continues even now that the movie has opened. The film's official website offers a good example. There are the typical flashy graphics one would expect, but there's also a good deal more.
For instance, the reviews of the film featured on the site are not just from Ebert and Roeper-types, but also from pastors and other everyday people who've watched the film and say they've been changed by it. Throughout the site, there are links to materials to be used in church bulletins, suggestions for incorporating talks about the film into sermons and numbers to call for arranging group tours.
In contrast to, say, the Return of the King website, or countless others promoting movies, there is an unusual sense of togetherness and sharing of beliefs here, and in other places where the film is being promoted and discussed.
But perhaps the way in which this movie seems the most different from others is in the emotions it has stirred among those who've seen it, and are planning to see it.
If you can tell anything about a country by the works of art it becomes truly passionate about -- and certainly you can -- then what does America's reaction to The Passion of the Christ tell us? Nothing most of us didn't already know. Namely, that the life and teachings of Jesus are woven throughout our society, even though at times they may seem to be lost sight of. And apparently a lot of people have been hungering for a new, realistic retelling of this story which means so much to them.
Despite all that the movies have done with aliens, hobbits and all manner of outlandish fictional heroes, it may well turn out that the most widely viewed film ever made -- it's well on its way -- tells a true story most of us have been able to repeat since childhood.

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