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Much debated ‘Passion’ premiers

If audiences are able to look past the title character’s ashen, mutilated countenance, they might realize that “The Passion of The Christ,” director/producer Mel Gibson’s epic that opens today, is a story not of violence or anti-Semitism, but of perseverance, according to some local clergy.

Hollywood’s newest depiction of Jesus Christ’s final 12 hours is due to open today – Ash Wednesday, a fitting day for many locals who have plans to watch the film.

Joe Sloan, pastor of Unity in the Gold Country church in Grass Valley, said it’s important to focus on the meaning and power of resurrection of Christ rather than the graphic depiction of his death.



“He showed all that he had to go through, and through the crucifixion, that we can overcome all things,” said Sloan, who doesn’t have immediate plans to watch the film. “With his focus on God, he was able to overcome all things.”

Rabbi Matt Friedman of Congregation B’nai Harim at the Nevada County Jewish Community Center plans to attend a screening of the film today. Though Jesus isn’t a major figure in the Jewish faith, Friedman said he’s curious to see how actor James Caviezel portrays the man whom Christians consider the Messiah, during his last hours of life.




“I want to go in there with as open a mind as possible,” Friedman said.

The film has been both vilified and hailed by critics and religious groups, who at times praise producer Mel Gibson’s adherence to the Gospel in staging the production, while criticizing a perceived anti-Semitism and the movie’s turn toward graphic depiction of violence aimed at the movie’s title character.

Portraying Christ in movies and television can be a tricky proposition, Friedman said.

“What makes this different is that you have a person (Gibson) with a knowledge of movie-making, script-writing, and personal theological beliefs and resources,” he said. “Any time you take a text and make a theatrical production, it’s going to bear the interpretation of the person making the film.”

The Anti-Defamation League has come out against the film, and the Jewish-based Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles has also criticized Gibson for taking liberties with the film.

The movie has earned praise for some authentic touches, including dialogue spoken in the ancient and little-used Aramaic language.

“The positive thing about this film is, it’s causing people to think and learn,” Friedman said.

Congregations in a number of churches have purchased advance tickets to screenings beginning today. The movie opens at the Del Oro Theatre starting at 12:40 p.m., with four showings daily through Sunday, said Mike Getz, who owns the theater.

Advance buzz has Getz thinking the film could have a bigger debut than “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which opened in November.

There are still tickets available for today’s viewing of “Passion.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me if the movie played as long as ‘Lord of the Rings,'” Getz said. The third installment of the Hobbit trilogy ends its Del Oro run Tuesday.

The Rev. Timothy Nondorf of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Grass Valley said he would encourage his flock to see the film.

“Crucifixion was a very brutal punishment … it’s gory, and it’s painful. (But) the message that needs to be brought to the fore is because of this, we have salvation. The road doesn’t end at the cross. It goes through it,” he said.


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