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Should children and youths see the film?

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Mel Gibson (b. 1958) is an Academy Award winning actor and director. He co-wrote, directed, co-produced, and financed the "The Passion of the Christ." The movie opened in thousands of movie theatres across North America on 2004-FEB-25 -- Ash Wednesday.

The movie has been given an "R" rating, which means that children under the age of 17 are theoretically not allowed to attend without an adult accompanying them. It received this rating because of the high level of abuse, violence, blood and gore. "Film critic Michael Medved calls the movie 'two hours of almost uninterrupted and almost unendurable pain'."

Mel Gibson recommends that the movie not be seen by persons under the age of 13.

The Seattle Times reports that some theatre managers have noticed that many children, "even very young kids" came with their parents to see "The Passion" -- more than to a typical R-rated movie. But other managers hadn't noticed an increase in young viewers.

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Opinion poll:

Access Atlanta, the web site of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution conducted a poll of its visitors. They asked "What age is appropriate to see the movie: 'The Passion of the Christ?"  Response was:

bullet 11.3% 10 and over
bullet 37.3% 13 and over
bullet 27.2% 17 and over
bullet 12.3% Any age
bullet 11.9% Adults only. (This presumably means 18 and older)

The total votes cast were 2,310, giving a margin of error of about 1.5 %. This, of course, is not a random sampling of adult's opinions. 1

This essay continues below.

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Responses of therapists and religious leaders:

bullet Rick Young, youth minister of First Baptist Church Woodstock, AL, has suggested that parents view the film themselves, and them make the decision whether to return to see the movie with thier children. He is taking two groups of middle school and high school students to see the movie. But he obtained permission from parents and guardians in advance and has taken the precaution to include parents and counselors in the group. 1
bullet Jerry Johnston, a pastor of the First Family Church in Kansas City, KS, said: "I think this movie is a wonderful teaching tool for children. Young people need to be 'spiritually arrested' by the life of Christ, and the violence in the movie is purposeful violence that will help children gain faith and feel more secure." 5
bullet Cathy Blusiewicz, a child and family psychologist, commented: "Movies are a very powerful medium. For most children, this kind of violence is not depicted in Sunday school. To read about it is one thing. When it's graphically displayed, it can cause nightmares and bring up a lot of questions." 1
bullet Bill Maier, a psychologist at the fundamentalist Christian group Focus on the Family recommends that children under the age of 12 not be permitted to see the movie. He said: "You run the risk of really traumatizing a younger child." He also recommends that parents view the movie first, before deciding whether to take their children.  1
bullet Bob Waliszewski, an entertainment specialist, also from Focus on the Family, commented: "Is it gory? Yes. Is it gruesome? Yes. Is it raw? Yes." Focus usually condemns violent movies. But Waliszewski said: " this particular case, it's worth it....This is not 'Kill Bill'-'Texas Chainsaw'-'Scream'-type violence, gratuitous violence to titillate. This is as close as we get to video footage of the one historic figure who stands above all. This leaves an indelible mark on one's spiritual dimension. I want that for my children, and it's why I recommend it for other teens." 2
bullet The Dove Foundation rates family films. Although they strongly recommend "The Passion," they have withheld the Dove seal of approval. Spokesperson Dick Rolfe told Associated Press: "There's some pretty extreme violence in the film, and parents should consider their children's maturity and ability to handle it before they invite them to come along." 1
bullet Peter van Breda, senior pastor of The Gathering Place in Bellevue, WA, strongly believes that kids should not see this movie because of the level of violence. 2
bullet TV movie critic Roger Ebert rated the movie positively, but described it as "the most violent movie I have ever seen." He believes that it should have been given an NC-17 rating which would prohibit minors from viewing the movie, even when accompanied by a parent. He wrote: "If it had been anyone other than Jesus up on that cross, I have a feeling that NC-17 would have been automatic." 2
bullet Nell Minow, author of "The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies," recommends that only adults view the movie. She noted that: "this movie is violent in an intense, graphic, personal, even intimate manner — much more powerful than other R-rated movies with cartoon-style explosions and shoot-outs." 2
bullet Norv Brown, Children's Pastor at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond WA is taking a group of their students to see the move. They have to be over the age of 14, and have the permission of a parent or guardian. 2
bullet Sharon Barham, children's director at Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, WA, suggested that parents either take their children or allow them to go in a youth group. She said that: "Both of these contexts allow for responsible adults to monitor and guide a young person's understanding. This is a good rule of thumb for families wanting to educate their youth to any world truth: war, the Holocaust, slavery, etc....Sure, we want to educate and challenge our young people to know and develop accurate world views of these events, and we want to prepare them to take responsible positions on those truths. But we also have to make a judgment call about each child's maturity level to view the nakedness of the whole truth and their ability to make critical, healthy responses to the viewing without being harmed by it." 2
bullet Cynthia Bosshart, director of faith formation at St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church in Renton, WA, recommended that parents heed the R-rating: She said: "There are other multimedia resources available for children regarding the life and death of Jesus that are educational and age-appropriate."  2
bullet Rod Gustafson, a reviewer at, said: "Just as I could understand the horrors of war prior to seeing 'Saving Private Ryan,' it's not necessary to subject yourself to one man's visual interpretation of the Bible in order to fully appreciate or be worthy of Christ's sacrifice. Your children's personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not dependent on their viewing of this or any other film. And for all the positive potential this movie holds, it may have the opposite effect on a young mind not yet ready for its visual intensity." 2

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Response of movie reviewers:

bullet Christy Lemire of the Associated Press wrote: "Gibson has said he wants his film to be shockingly graphic to show the humanity of Christ's sacrifice. 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." 3 
bullet Jami Bernard of the Daily News wrote: "No child should see this movie. Even adults are at risk. Mel Gibson’s 'The Passion of the Christ' is the most virulently anti-Semitic movie since the German propaganda films of World War Two. It is sickening, much more brutal than any 'Lethal Weapon'....[The movie] "feels like a propaganda tool rather than entertainment for a general audience....Jews are vilified, in ways both little and big, pretty much nonstop for two hours, seven minutes. Gibson cuts from the hook nose of one bad Jewish character to the hook nose of another in the ensuing scene." 3
bullet Ray Richmond, Hollywood Reporter for MSNBC News wrote: "It concerns me that parents may be taking young (or even semi-young) children to see a film that is such a full-on visual assault simply because the graphic, unsparing viciousness can be justified as holy and pious. Talk about inducing nightmares. Yet I have heard little about any damage that being subjected to such epic brutality might induce. Call me a member of the elite media if you please, but it befuddles me that a flash of a bare breast or a few misplaced naughty words can so polarize us politically while a film so wantonly sadistic, ferocious and nasty can be hailed for its accuracy, its reverence, its power." 4

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  1. Bo Emerson, "Film's gore may be too much for kids," Cox News Service, 2004-FEB, at:
  2. Stephanie Dunnewind, "Should kids see violent 'Passion'?," Seattle Times, 2004-FEB-2004, at:
  3. "Critic calls Gibson movie anti-Semitic. Also says 'No child should see this movie'," MSNBC Entertainment, 2004-FEB-24, at:
  4. Ray Richmond, " 'Passion' -- pornography for the whole family? Strip away spiritual veneer and Gibson film just plain nasty," MSNBC Entertainment, 2004-MAR-2, at:
  5. "Hard to Watch. Is The Passion too Violent for Children?," ABC News, 2004-FEB-19, at:

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 Home > World religions > Judaism > "The Passion" > here

or Home > Christianity > Personalities > Jesus > "The Passion" > here

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Copyright © 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-FEB-28
Latest update: 2004-MAY-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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