'The Passion' evokes emotions Movie is difficult to watch, but worth seeing

By Rozella Hardin
STAR STAFF
rhardin@starhq.com

   Emotional. Powerful. Overwhelming. Truthful.
   All of these words and more describe the Mel Gibson movie "The Passion of the Christ," which opened Wednesday at the Bonnie Kate Theater. The first showing of the movie was sold out to the congregation of Lynn Valley Baptist Church, who filled both sides of the theater. The 9 p.m. showing was also a sell-out, as movie-goers lined up two and three abreast from the street through the lobby of the theater, to await the showing.
   Leroy Policky, owner of the Bonnie Kate, said at least 28 to 30 churches are involved in local showings. "Some are small churches; some are large churches," he said as he cut advanced tickets for the shows.
   John Elliott, who came in to pick up extra tickets for his church, said Zion Baptist had purchased enough tickets to fill both sides of the theater for the 7 p.m. showing Saturday. "I need 10 more tickets for the 9 p.m. showing," he said, taking the 40 tickets already reserved for the late showing as well as the extra 10.
   Elliott, in commenting on the publicity and controversy surrounding the film, said, "If you're versed in the Scripture, you know the story. It's not the blame, it's the forgiveness," he said, dismissing the question of who killed Christ. "We all are guilty of that."
   "It's something that impacts all of us," said Policky, a Catholic, who wore black ashes on his forehead in celebration of Ash Wednesday. "It's like this. Christ is the center of our faith, if we believe in God," Policky said.
   He further explained by drawing a circle on a sheet of paper. "This is Elizabethton," he said pointing to the circle. "There are roads that lead into the city from every direction. The same is true of religions. We all may believe a little differently, but our faith leads us to Christ," he said.
   Policky said he had been swamped with calls from churches, groups and individuals wanting tickets. "The Passion of the Christ" will show for sure at the Bonnie Kate through March 26. "If the demand is still there, we will show it through the Thursday after Easter," Policky said.
   Friday, the theatre manager said it had been amazing to witness the emotions and expressions on people's faces as they departed the theatre after seeing the movie. It has an impact on people. "One young man who frequents the theatre often and is a person of few words after seeing the movie came and gave me a bear hug, and said 'thanks for bringing it here. It's awesome,'" Policky shared.
   Harold Lingerfelt, who was in a group from Immanuel Baptist Church who saw the film last Monday evening in a preview showing, said, "It is dramatic, and the suffering by Christ portrayed in the movie is beyond comprehension. The portrayal of Pilate and his wife are superb as is that of Judas. It was outstanding dramatization, and Mel Gibson did a very effective job of telling the story."
   From the beginning to the ending of the film, there is action. The language of the film is Aramic and Latin with subtitles in English.
   "The Passion of the Christ" could have been titled "The Scourging of the Christ." Jesus is beaten at his arrest in the Garden, beaten as he is taken to the court of Caiaphas, beaten enroute to the court of Pilate, scourged at length by Pilate's soldiers, and so endlessly on. One of the very first beatings leaves him with his right eye swollen shut, requiring Jim Caviezel, much of whose acting in the role of Jesus consists of soulful gazing, to make do with one soulful eye only.
   Once the Jewish mob begins chanting "yitstalev,' Jesus' trial quickly becomes a bloody melee, with Jews and Romans attacking each other and battering Jesus at the same time. When Pilate finally washes his hands and turns Jesus over, he plainly means to say to both groups: Have at him, both of you, but leave me out of it. Already, his soldiers have gone beyond his instructions by brutally prolonging Jesus' scourging. Yet now, cynically, he allows them to do with Jesus as they will.
   Nowhere in this film, surprisingly enough, is there any dramatic suggestion that "Christ died for our sins," but for Christians, the realization is there. There are, on the contrary, repeated suggestions that the divine Christ is engaged in a life-and-death battle with Satan. Rosalinda Celentano's gray-faced, hollow-eyed terrorist, speaking in a weirdly masculine voice, as if delivering a death threat in a disguised voice, is one of the most memorable performances in the film. From the Garden of Olives to the bloody end, she smiles thinly on each scene from the shadows, quietly relishing each agonizing step as Jesus goes down to what seems to be his final defeat. Her omnipresence is matched only by that of Mary, Jesus' sorrowing mother, the ruthlessness of the one matched by the tenderness of the other. Madame Satan is deceived, of course; and after Jesus' death, we see her shrieking in impotent rage at the bottom of an abyss. The moment of Jesus' apparent defeat has proven to be her downfall. Nothing remains but the understated result at the end: Jesus' resurrection, which brought a round of applause from the Wednesday night audience.
   The decision to have Mary, Mary Magdalene and the disciple John follow Jesus throughout his last hours are perhaps the most poignant. It is in their eyes and their tears that we can truly feel the agony Jesus is bearing.
   The movie, which portrays the last 12 hours of Jesus' life, is a graphic depiction of the Crucifixion. It brings the passion story to life. It's as true to the scriptures as any motion picture that has been made.
   From the very first scene to the end, the film is spellbinding, capturing the eye and the soul of those watching. There was complete silence throughout the initial showing at the Bonnie Kate, except for a sob that could be heard now and them. Many left the theater with teary eyes.
   No doubt the scenes that will stick with movie viewers are those involving Jesus' suffering. They are, in short, brutal and incredibly difficult to watch. While the visuals are horrible, the sounds are worse.
   Is the movie worth seeing? Mel Gibson has powerfully and passionately brought his vision of the passion of the Christ to life. It vividly draws viewers into Jesus' final hours in a dramatic way. They both can see it and feel it.