'Passion' draws flock of faithful, curious

Lawrence residents line up to see Gibson's Jesus film


Mike Yoder/Journal-World Photo

Jeff Hackel, Kansas University graduate, center, and Lisa Theno, KU junior, both of Lawrence, attend the 2 p.m. showing of "The Passion of the Christ" at the Southwind Twelve Theaters in Lawrence. The movie opened Wednesday.

Luann Nystrom had tears in her eyes as she walked out of the first Lawrence showing of "The Passion of the Christ."

"This is why I didn't wear any mascara," she said.

Red eyes and sobbing were common as Christians and the merely curious flocked to theaters in Lawrence and across the nation for the movie's Ash Wednesday opening.

Nystrom, 45, said the controversial, much-publicized movie about the final hours of Jesus' life evoked the same hope she felt after becoming a Christian 15 years ago.

"The movie gave me the opportunity to see what I have seen in my heart, in my mind's eye," she said.

"The Passion" opened in more than 3,000 theaters, an unusually large release for a religious film with English subtitles to translate the Latin and Aramaic its characters speak.

Also remarkable for a religious-themed movie were the opening day receipts: an estimated $15 million to $20 million. Final numbers were to be released today.

Nystrom, of Lawrence, was one of 76 people in the first showing at South Wind 12 in Lawrence.

South Wind added four morning and afternoon showings of the film because of anticipated audience interest. The theater's first showing was at 11 a.m. It opened five hours early because of a request from its corporate office, said Jon Ratzlaff, theater manager.

"On a Wednesday matinee we're probably lucky to have 86 people, Ratzlaff said. The 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. showings sold a combined 110 tickets for theaters that hold 226 people. "This is, of course, already better than average," he said.

The 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. shows sold out.

Richard Kreitzer and his wife, Winnie, of Lawrence, attended the 1:30 p.m. showing. They said they wanted to have a clearer understanding of the crucifixion of Christ.

"It's going to elevate Christianity. People are going to take another look at their life and think, 'We can do better,'" Richard Kreitzer said.

He said the different perspective of the crucifixion that the film offered was just what he was hoping for -- and was the main reason he went to see the movie.

Kreitzer cautioned others, though, about the film's graphic violence.

"I'm not sure a lot of others can handle it," he said. "People better listen to the age requirements."

Some viewers took a day's vacation to see the movie, including Marilyn Gilmore, 45, who traveled to Lawrence from her home in Garnett. She said she did not want to see the movie at first, but changed her mind after thinking about it.

"I realized as Christians we tend to focus on easy stuff, and we don't think about what it took to become Christians," Gilmore said.

For Dot Johnson, the movie was a prelude to an Ash Wednesday service later in the afternoon. The 64-year-old Lawrence woman said the movie showed Jesus as the hero he was.

"Everybody needs to see it with a Kleenex," she said.

Doug Gaumer, 37, of Lawrence, said the movie brought out emotions he did not feel very often.

"I was almost embarrassed at the capacity of men to commit such acts," Gaumer said.

Directed, produced and co-written by Mel Gibson, the film has received mixed reviews from critics. Some have praised Gibson's commitment to his subject: The Oscar-winning "Braveheart" director has said the movie is both an attempt to render the Gospels faithfully and a personal vision. Others see it as excessively bloody, obsessed with cruelty and unfair in its portrayal of Jews.

Polli Kenn, of the Kansas University Jewish student group Hillel, said no one from Hillel could comment Wednesday about the film because they had not seen it.

But after she saw it, Nystrom said she did not see any reason to think the movie was anti-Semitic.

"This isn't about what people did," she said. "It's what God did."

Journal-World wire services contributed to this report.


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