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Controversial 'Passion' opens today

by Julie Perine

LIFESTYLES EDITOR

CLARKSBURG -- "The Passion of The Christ," Mel Gibson's film depicting the final 12 hours of Jesus's life, arrives at local theaters today. Local churches and youth groups have purchased tickets for bloc viewing of the controversial production which Gibson directed, produced and co-wrote.

In newly released film reviews, the emphasis has shifted from the anti-Semitism the movie may cultivate to the brutal violence of the R-rated movie, suggesting it may be unsuitable -- even traumatizing -- for young viewers.

"And the film is frightening -- not for its dogma, but for the relentlessness of its brutality," wrote Christy Lemire of The Associated Press.

"The beating and whipping and ripping of skin become so repetitive, they'll leave the audience emotionally drained and stunned," Lemire continued. " ... But the idea that children should see 'The Passion' as a learning device -- that churches are organizing screenings and theater trips for their parishioners and catechism classes -- is truly shocking. Grown-ups -- even true believers -- will have difficulty sitting through the film. Just think of the trauma it will inflict on kids."

Timothy Duncan, director of Child Evangelism Fellowship in Taylor County, said he does not recommend violent TV and movie-viewing for children and teenagers for entertainment purposes. But considering the message to be delivered in "The Passion of The Christ," Duncan said the benefits outweigh potential harmful effects.

"Compared to everything else kids are exposed to today -- video games like 'Mortal Kombat' -- tearing parts out of a body and R-rated and slasher movies these kids are seeing, at least this is teaching the kids about something that really happened, and happened for them for the wrongs they have done," Duncan said. "I think that's what Mel Gibson is trying to portray, the passion he (Christ) had for us to go through this cruel punishment."

Duncan hopes to take a group of 10- to 12-year-olds to the film. He said he feels that is the minimum age that children would be able to understand its reality.

Duncan and Joyce Day, minister of discipleship at Duff Street United Methodist Church, both said parent involvement and post-movie discussion are necessary.

"I think it needs to be handled very delicately," Day said. "I don't think it is one of those things where we can show them the movie and leave it at that."

Day said she and a group of youth members in sixth through 12th grade, as well as some parents, will be viewing the film Sunday afternoon. Written permission will be required for all members under the age of 17. After the movie, a consultation will take place.

"One thing that's going to be real important to me is to contrast this type of violence with the violence that is glorified in our movies," Day said. "This movie has a message and doesn't glorify violence. It says, 'look what humans are capable of doing' and explains why we need a Savior."

Pastor Ron Hill of Horizons Church in Lost Creek said a group of church members will attend the movie. The minimum age of participants is 13, if accompanied by an adult.

"We are following the recommendations that children 12 or under should not be taken because it is R-rated," Hill said. "That's our recommendation as well."

But Hill certainly does not condemn the film's violence.

"The reality is that the crucifixion of Christ was a violent act, but it was required in order to restore all of us to God's grace. Those were violent times," he said.

Viewing violence on a regular basis is certainly not recommended, said Martin Levin, licensed psychologist.

"Research indicates the more and the earlier individuals are exposed to violence, the more likely they will be violent themselves," he said.

But Levin said he believes the violence in Christ's life, and thus in the film, stems from practices of times past. Relaying that truth to teenagers capable of comprehension is acceptable, he said.

"But you need some kind of adult guidance, reinforcing that it's not OK to inflict physical pain just because you don't like them," he said.

As a general rule, those who should not see the film include children in their pre-teen years, Levin said.

"There are a couple of reasons for that," he said. "They are much more likely to mimic those behaviors because they don't understand them and they are much more likely to be very frightened by graphic violence."

Because children vary in age of maturity, there are exceptions to the rule, Levin said.

Children and teens dealing with abuse, divorce of parents and other situations are another exception, Duncan said.

"Those kind of kids are especially angry on the inside. They are going to respond in a much greater way and be looking for a release of anger," he said. "Those kind of kids especially do not need to be seeing this kind of movie."

Lifestyles Editor Julie Perine can be reached at 626-1439 or by e-mail at jperine@exponent-telegram.com