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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 February, 2004, 14:12 GMT
Christ film opens to controversy
The Passion of the Christ
Director Gibson has accepted the film is violent
Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion of the Christ has its nationwide US opening on Wednesday.

The film about the last 12 hours of Jesus's life has already attracted thousands of filmgoers.

In one Dallas cinema, around 6,000 tickets were donated by local resident Rick Pierce, who said the film had moved him to tears.

But before opening,it was attacked by Jewish groups as being anti-Semitic and by critics for its violence.

Gibson denies anti-Semitism and says the film highlights Christ's "huge" sacrifice.

He accepts that the film is violent but has said: "If you don't like it, don't go. If you want to leave halfway through, go ahead."

He has said he faithfully portrayed the Bible's account of Jesus' last hours, and has been supported by Christian groups.

The movie is opening at 2,800 cinemas in the US - and is released in the UK on 26 March.

Early previews left some viewers shocked but still able to praise its content.

Strengthen faith

On Wednesday in Dallas, Mr Pierce explained his emotion, saying: "It's the kind of crying knowing that somebody would do something for me, even though I didn't deserve it. It's the greatest love story there is."

The Passion of The Christ
The Passion of The Christ is released on Ash Wednesday
In Los Angeles, more than 100 people watched a midnight showing of the movie.

Student Joseph Camerieri said he was "in shock" after seeing the film.

He added: "I think if you're a Christian it will increase your faith tenfold in what Christ has done for you. If you're not a Christian, you'll probably treat others with more love."

In the central Pennsylvania community of Bellefonte, about 50 people attended a showing after midnight.

Viewers groaned as they watched more than an hour of Jesus's torture, crucifixion and death. Most then quietly celebrated when Jesus rose from the dead.

Among them was Aaron Tucker who said: "To me, that was the important part. I'm like, 'Oh, victory!' There's more to this movie than just the violence. It's about triumph."

In Plano, Arch Bonnema, a financial planner reserved an entire cinema from his own funds.

In other areas of the US, priests went to cinemas to offer support to members of the audience who wanted help after seeing the movie.

The film also opens in Australia, Canada and New Zealand on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, about three dozen Jewish demonstrators carrying placards rallied in front of a New York cinema to protest about the film.

Scholars have said it is riddled with historical errors, such as portraying Jesus with long hair.

Gibson has said he consulted scholars, theologians, priests and spiritual writers before scripting the film.

Have you seen the film? Is it a powerful work of cinema or has the controversy overshadowed the movie?

This debate is now closed but please see below for a selection of your comments. I found the film ill-conceived and empty of the love and hope the flyer had said were at its heart. While I understand the part about dying for our sins, I saw a man get tortured for much of the film surrounded by poorly developed characters speaking a dead language. I do not deny that the gospel is a story of love or hope, but this film gave such concepts little more than a second glance amongst its scenes of hate and suffering. I saw 127 minutes of religious self-flagellation.
Graeme, Melbourne, Australia

Mel Gibson made a great job. As for anti-Semitism accusation, maybe OK but very irrelevant. We are in a different era. Trying to change history would only do harm and would be a manipulation with ourselves. Really great movie.
Leandrit Mehmeti , Prishtina, Kosova

I will never be the same again. This is not a movie but a complete life-changing experience. There is no accolade or superlative that would do this film justice.
David Hipwood, Detroit, MI, USA

Congratulations, Gibson! What a masterpiece! Let me just say that The Passion of the Christ is the most powerful and effective portrayal of the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus Christ I have ever seen.
Westwood, Lisboa, Portugal

As a film, it's a qualified triumph for Gibson. And it's told in an objective and utterly absorbing way. The film is violent, yes, but slanted? He's merely telling it as it's written, regardless of its actual historical accuracy.
Ed Gibbs, Sydney, Australia

There was no real development of a story, but rather a one-sided simplistic display of Christian doctrine from the most shallow and narrow point of view imaginable. Opportunities to develop a story (for example, the contention amongst the Jews themselves, as to what Christ's fate should be,) were entirely missed. I walked away thinking what a completely shallow and bigoted moron Gibson must be. What a waste of good cinematography and make-up.
Richard Josephson, Maui, Hawaii

A very intense and moving film, yes, there was a little too much brutality and maybe a half hour off the length of film would have been better.But in my estimation it was not anti-semitic. The elders led the whole thing but the Romans were to blame. I thought the devil apparitions were a bit tacky. Also, was the young man who was with Mary supposed to be Jesus' brother?
Maura, Texas,US

The historical accuracy of this film is irrelevant. What's great about it is that Mel Gibson took a huge risk by presenting an extremely serious and important subject. And it actually has people around the world arguing and debating - when was the last time a commercial Hollywood film had this effect?
Palash R. Ghosh, New York NY

As a movie, it was powerful. As an historical document, it was not. The explicit indication that Jews are responsible for killing Jesus will further enhance anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.
Zak Johnson, New Haven, Connecticut, USA

Hats off to Mel Gibson. As violent as the movie is, it is appropriate as it accurately chronicles the last 12 hours of Jesus's life. Gibson and his scholars definitely covered all the bases in the greatest movie ever made about the greatest story ever told.
James Michael Joyce, Chicago, USA

A very powerful portrayal of a person who changed the way the world thought and influenced all our lives. It is brutal, but that's the way the world was in those days; it portrays suffering and resilience, and that's what the message of the Christ's last hours were about; it uses ancient languages to add authenticity, and the languages were transparent while the message stood out. A wonderful and timely experience -- it will impact the way we think about the Christ, and it will change lives. When compared to Hollywood violence, one wonders why there is such a fuss... and the anti-Semitism accusation? It's nonsense. Well done, Mel Gibson -- you are a man of courage.
Michael Aston, Baltimore, USA

It is a powerful piece of film making and it doesn't matter whether you believe all this or not, it is still a powerful story of sacrifice and suffering. It is incredibly graphic in some places but then again.... it was an incredibly horrific way to die and for once I feel that the violence actually has a purpose in this film rather than so many 'popular' films in the past which have shown violence for the sake of it.
Ben, USA

I thought the film was very powerful. The violence was excessive but not as bad as many critics have made it out be. I certainly found Saving Private Ryan to be more distressing. The decision to have the dialogue in 1st Century languages was a stroke of genius that gave the film a great air of realism and immediacy.
Ken Milne, Perth Australia

There is not a single shred of evidence to support that this movie truly depicts the last moments of Jesus's life.. and yet many people are acting like it was actual video and they are seeing the actual pain he suffered. We all know what is supposed to have happened, why does it take a graphic movie to really hit home to people what he might have gone through? Was being told he was nailed to a cross not good enough for them? That they had to see a Hollywood movie to truly understand? Shame really..
Duncan, Pittsburgh, USA

This is a story of fear and will intensify anti-Semitism. I was shocked. I am sure if a large share of film going audience in the US were Jews, Gibson would not have made it.
Ran Nissani, Hartford, Connecticut, US

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke
"It is bloody, violent, and deeply controversial"


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