Date: 26th February 2004

Passion of the Christ hits cinemas

Mel Gibson's controversial film The Passion Of the Christ (2004) has opened in the US.

Funded and directed by Gibson, the film has received decidedly mixed reviews from critics.

Some have praised Gibson's total commitment to his subject: The Oscar-winning filmmaker says the movie is both an attempt to faithfully render the Gospels and a personal vision.

But others see it as excessively bloody, obsessed with cruelty and unfair in its portrayal of Jews.

Early reviews have bounced between extremes.

Roger Ebert of the Chicago-Sun Times expressed respect for Gibson's vision and astonishment at the level of violence, while David Denby of The New Yorkers saw "a sickening death trip" that is worsened by "some serious mischief" regarding Jews.

Imaginative additions to the Bible's spare version of events, showing Jewish guards as remarkably brutal and the high priests as cold-blooded, remain intact in the film's final version, along with the portrayal of Pontius Pilate as a reluctant executioner. These aspects are bound to perpetuate the ongoing outrage from Jewish organisations.

Anticipating such reactions, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations sent members a video to warn against anti-Semitism the movie might foster, and the possible negative psychological impact on any Jews who view it.

Without ever mentioning the film, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a 112-page booklet with texts of church teachings on relations with Judaism - and warnings about portrayals of the passion and New Testament interpretation.

Whatever the critical and official religious verdicts on the film, it seems bound to be a money-maker.

Source: Press Release