Parental Approval for an R-Rated Film
Kids like Sydney are growing up in a culture whose violence reaches into the homes -- by television and popular music -- of even the most protected. Yet even in this culture, it is hard to imagine a movie that would present more nightmare-producing characters, scenes and ideas. In addition to the unremitting, human-on-human savagery, little children turn into hideous devils. (Think Stephen King's movie "Children of the Corn," only more extreme.) Satan, disguised as a monster, jumps out from under a bridge, maggots crawl over a donkey carcass, and a tormented Judas puts a rope around his neck and hangs himself. In the midst of it all, Jesus's Father abandons him to his torturers and Mary, his mother, is unable to protect him.
All of which explains why Bonnie McAlpin, 12, says no one younger than she should see the movie.
Bonnie's mother, Nancy McAlpin, is assistant to the rector of the Falls Church, a conservative Episcopal congregation in the city of Falls Church. She got a call from her daughter Tuesday afternoon, begging permission to go to an advance screening of "The Passion" with three friends and a parent couple. McAlpin, who has not seen the movie, says she was undecided at first, then agreed because she knew the adults who were going would be available to Bonnie if she got upset.
Which she did.
"Me and my friend were sobbing so hard, we had to go out of the theater twice," Bonnie said the day after she saw it. "I kept wondering, how could so many people hate so much?"
The movie helped her understand the pain that Jesus suffered, she says, "and why we appreciate him so much."
"I think I was old enough to see it," she continues, "but I wouldn't recommend it to kids younger than 12. The Satan stuff was so scary, with the kids's faces turning into scary faces, the snake coming out of Satan's nose, the raven pecking out the thief's eyes. . . . I'm waiting for the video."
Gibson reportedly spent a lot of his own money marketing the movie in advance to evangelical Christians. His efforts paid off, not only in early box office receipts but in the hearty endorsement of leaders such as the Rev. Billy Graham, the Rev. Jerry Falwell and, of particular interest to Christian families, James Dobson, chairman of the multimedia organization Focus on the Family.
The Christian community is nowhere near unanimous, however, on the merits of the movie where children are concerned. Dobson said on a broadcast that he would not recommend the film for any child younger than 12. David Neff, editor of the magazine Christianity Today, went further, saying, "I'm a little nervous that it's being promoted as a film that everyone must see. I have my reservations about exposing younger teens to this kind of violence."
Bob Wenz, a vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said he planned to take his 13-year-old son because "I want him to appreciate four words: 'And they crucified him.' " But Don Glab, a Covenant Life member and father of four girls age 12 and younger, says his daughters won't be going any time soon.
"It's the most violent movie I've seen," he said, "and I grew up on the Jersey shore on fishing boats where blood was a daily occurrence. The R rating was deserved. If I was living in that time, I would not have brought my child to the Crucifixion."
Louise Cruz left a Herndon theater on Tuesday night comforting her 19-year-old daughter, Catherine, who later said she was very moved by the film. Cruz, who teaches Spanish at Our Lady of Good Counsel Elementary School, agreed with Glab about the R rating: "I wouldn't call it family viewing."
Since liberal believers, including Christians married to Jews, will also be seeing the movie, Annie Modesitt, a freelance designer in South Orange, N.J., was asked to review the film for the online magazine InterfaithFamily. Modesitt, raised a Methodist and married to a Jew, has no intention of letting her two children, 5 and 7, see the movie "until maybe college."
It's not the movie's alleged anti-Semitism that most gets to her. The Romans, as well as the Jews, were shown as "being really jerky," she says.
What bothers her is the success Gibson has in creating reality out of stories that were "written by men, each with their own agenda." This movie is his artistic interpretation, nothing more, she says -- Gibson drew from various versions of four different Gospels and from the writings of a German mystic. Yet gullible viewers -- and who is more gullible than a child? -- will likely take the film as historic fact.
This is precisely why St. John's College High School gave its students the opportunity to see "The Passion" accompanied by teachers, said the school's president, Brother Thomas Gerrow.
Gerrow said several students thought the movie's violence was "over the edge" but factual.
He says he told them, "This is one person's interpretation of one part of his faith.
"We knew most of our students would see the film. We wanted to help them think through their reaction, to realize there are other concepts out there as well."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Ron Coleman comforts his son after viewing "The Passion of the Christ" in Killeen, Tex.
(Steve Traynor -- Killeen Daily Herald Via AP)