draws huge crowds
Gibsons new and controversial film opened Wednesday
in more than 3,000 theaters.
By Bobby Ross Jr.
PLANO The people streaming out of the movie theater
looked as if theyd just attended a wake and
many said they felt as if they had.
Red eyes and muffled crying were common as Christians
and the merely curious flocked to theaters nationwide
for the Ash Wednesday opening of Mel Gibsons The
Passion of the Christ.
Its a little bit more brutal than you would
think, said a sobbing Kim Galbreath, 29, as she
left a theater in this Dallas suburb. I mean, there
were times when you felt like it was too much. But I dare
anybody not to believe after watching it.
In Los Angeles, Joseph Camerieri said Gibsons much
hyped epic about the torture and Crucifixion of Jesus
left him shocked and physically weak.
I think if youre a Christian, it will increase
your faith tenfold in what Christ has done for you,
the 39-year-old paralegal student said after a midnight
showing. If youre not a Christian, youll
probably treat others with more love.
About 50 people in the central Pennsylvania community
of Bellefonte attended a showing after midnight. Viewers
groaned as Jesus was nailed to the cross, and soft cries
could be heard during more than an hour of Jesus
torture, Crucifixion and death. In the end, as Jesus rises
from the grave, some in the audience quietly celebrated.
To me, that was the important part, said Aaron
Tucker, an English major at Penn State. Im
like, Oh, victory! Theres more to this
movie than just the violence. Its about triumph.
In New Jersey, 90-year-old Edna Oatman of Pleasantville
dressed in her Sunday best for her first visit to a movie
theater since E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial in
If you read the Bible story, you know that Jesus
died for the whole world, not just Christians, said
Oatman, who saw the film Wednesday morning. Maybe
this will get people going to church.
The Passion opened in more than 3,000 theaters
an unusually large release for a religious film
with English subtitles to translate the Latin and Aramaic
its characters speak.
Directed, produced and co-written by Gibson, the film
has received mixed reviews from critics. Some have praised
Gibsons commitment to his subject: The Oscar-winning
Braveheart director says the movie is both
an attempt to render the Gospels faithfully and a personal
vision. Others see it as excessively bloody, obsessed
with cruelty and unfair in its portrayal of Jews.
If you intellectualize this movie, the message is
one of love. But emotionally, if anyone is on the border
of hating Jews, this will push you over, said Rabbi
Bernhard H. Rosenberg, chief rabbi of Congregation Beth
El in Edison, N.J. He also teaches Holocaust studies at
With all the publicity, Mel Gibson is laughing all
the way to the bank, Rosenberg said after seeing
the film. Theaters are going to be packed, and his
pockets will be lined.
Following months of hype, curiosity about the movie seems
almost insatiable. Advance ticket sales hit $10 million,
distributor Newmarket Films reported this week
evidence of the skilled marketing campaign and word-of-mouth
buzz as the film was screened for private, often conservative
Newmarket opened the film on Ash Wednesday, the first
day of Lent, the Catholic Churchs period of penitence,
sacrifice and reflection before Easter.
Churches from coast to coast reserved entire theaters
for opening day, while the National Association of Evangelicals,
which represents more than 50 denominations with 43,000
congregations, helped sell tickets on its Web site.
In Plano, churchgoer Arch Bonnema bought out the entire
Cinemark Tinseltown 20 theater for Wednesday morning,
spending $42,000 of his own money on 6,000 tickets.
When you see the sacrifice that Jesus made, it makes
you feel like, I have to do something better with my life,
said the 50-year-old Bonnema, a lifelong Christian inspired
to act after seeing the movie.
It was powerful, stunning, said Sharla Bickley,
42, a Presbyterian from Dallas. I tried to keep
the mindset the whole time to know that it was me that
he was dying for.
Asked whether she thought the film negatively portrayed
Jews, Bickley replied, Not at all. We all killed
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation
League who saw The Passion before opening
day, said Wednesday he was still worried about reactions
to the film when it comes out in places like Argentina
and Europe, where theres been less debate about
We know the power of images, and we know the power
of a star with a reputation around the world, and this
concerns us, Foxman said.
Meanwhile, Roman Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan of New
York spoke against anti-Semitism in a column distributed
to the archdioceses 413 parishes: He gave
his life for us. No one took it from him. This is, and
has always been, Catholic doctrine.
Back in Dallas, a cadre of ministers was at the theater
to reach out to moviegoers.
Not to preach a sermon, said the Rev. Jack
Graham, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and
pastor of Prestonwood Baptist where Bonnema is a member,
but to sum up the message and meaning of the cross.
... We anticipate that there will be a tremendous outpouring
of Gods favor on this movie.
weaving through half of the Rave Motion Pictures
theater, a line for The Passion of the Christ begins
to fill the lobby with less than 30 minutes until
showtime Wednesday evening.