Ash Wednesday at the Movies - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Ash Wednesday at the Movies

WASHINGTON — When I first heard that Mel Gibson was making a movie about Christ’s passion, I didn’t believe I’d ever see it. At the time, the swirl of rumors said it was to be a three-hour religious epic, in Aramaic, without subtitles. I doubted it would ever make it to video, never mind a full theatrical release.

A year-and-a-half later I found myself standing in line with at least 100 other people hoping to get into an Ash Wednesday matinee of The Passion of the Christ. Many of us bunched together for over an hour waiting for the theater manager to open the doors. Camera crews from three local television stations made appearances while we idled, stopping long enough to get a shot of the line and to ask a few old ladies why they were excited to see the movie.

As show time crept closer, some surprisingly un-Christian behavior began. A teenage couple in matching “Jesus: The Choice of a New Generation” T-shirts made out against the wall next to me without the slightest prick of self-consciousness. I gawked in spite of myself and wondered what their parents would do if they found out this was the real reason they let their kids play hooky.

There was also an awful lot of shouting near the front of the line when someone tried to cut. “It starts back there, chump!” a man shouted finally, waving his arms. When the thwarted cutter gave up and headed for the back of the line, he made sure his shoulder more than brushed into the man who called him out. So much for turning the other cheek.

Finally, the line moved forward. I bought my ticket and walked inside. A church group was hunkered down in the theater adjacent to the one in which The Passion was about to show. Later, I would hear the sarcastic bravado of Ice Cube flowing out of that room as Barbershop 2: Back in Business played, but at this point a preacher was finishing up an energetic pre-Passion sermon.

“Mel Gibson has given you an opportunity to praise God with your dollars,” one immaculately dressed young man, all smiles, told three older women in the back of the room. “When you buy a ticket to this movie, it sends a message. It is telling people, God is alive and well — and he’s still got one heck of an audience.”

HE WASN’T TEASING about the audience. The Passion is a difficult film to describe. It is as unrelenting as it is powerful. The air in the packed theater crackled with electricity, as the hype and the reality collided on the screen above us.

For all the talk of ultra-violence and gore, the film isn’t any harsher than your typical Martin Scorsese pic. But knowing where the story is going, the tragedy of what this man suffered despite his goodness and innocence — I never felt anyone in Goodfellas was being unreasonably whacked, for example — made watching it all the harder to bear.

But watch we did, the silence punctuated only with sobs from every corner of the theater. A black woman in her mid-sixties seated next to me passed tissues down our row. During the crucifixion scene she became overwhelmed and burst into loud sobs.

“It’s going to be all right,” I whispered. She calmed slowly and put her hand on mine, squeezing tightly when the nails were hammered into Jesus’ hands and feet. When the lights came up, she hugged me and said, “God bless you.”

I looked around, and saw other aisles were full of people wiping away tears, hands on each other’s shoulders or locked in embrace. And I thought to myself, This is unlike anything I have ever seen.

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