Watch One Hour With Me — In the Lobby: Waiting for Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ

At Home

What do the marketing droids think the audience that comes to see Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” will want to spend money on? What previews will I have to sit through?

I stayed home with the kids while my wife went to see an afternoon showing. Soon it will be my turn. She suggests I go early, to get a good seat. I charge up my PDA before I go.

In the Lobby

The few benches in the lobby are occupied by pods of teens on this Friday night. The line for The Passion is obvious — few boxes of popcorn or JuJubes are being consumed there. People in this line aren’t just hanging out. They look older than your typical movie crowd, though the only movies I’ve seen in theatres for years have been Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, so maybe I’m just used to seeing younger crowds. Up ahead, a kid with spiked hair and multiple ear piercings chats with a couple in their thirties; another kid has a baseball cap, but is wearing it with the brim forwards — a rare sight these days.

A table off to one side has a display sponsored by the mall’s Christian store. I can pick up a free Gospel of John if I want to know, “What is Truth?” My ticket stub is worth $8 off the soundtrack to The Passion.

The Catholic tradition has a long history of putting special devotional emphasis on the physical sufferings endured by a very human Christ. The sorrowful mysteries of the rosary and the narrative content of the Stations of the Cross are contemporary examples. In the middle ages, the faithful were encouraged to meditate upon artistic interpretations of the events leading up to the crucifixion; these devotions, which nurtured a vivid religious imagination, included narrative material that is not scriptural, such as the miraculous appearance of the image appearing on Veronica’s cloth when she wiped Christ’s face.

Still in the Lobby

While most media attention has focused on the movie’s alleged anti-semitism (a charge dismissed by Maia Morgenstern, the Jewish actress who plays Mary), I’ve been personally more interested in the way some Protestant churches are responding to what may be their first real encounter with this particular tradition in Catholic devotion.

Informed by a version of the Bible that presents a prohibition against the making of graven images as one of the Ten Commandments (the Bible doesn’t actually number the commandments individually; what is in the King James Bible a stand-alone prohibition of the making of images under any circumstances is considered by Catholics to be a continuation of the first commandment, a warning against the worship of false gods).

The Catholic theological emphasis on the Body of Christ leads to the artistic attention paid to the Crucifixion. Note to self: before posting to blog, copy and paste something here about Affective Piety.

Religious devotion which encourages the faithful to meditate deeply upon the physical and emotional sufferings of holy figures is called “affective piety.” … In their private chambers, using a picture, a statue, or spoken prayers to feed their spiritual imagination, the devout entered into the suffering of Christ, a martyr or some other holy figure with a psychological totality that we today would probably describe as a very extreme form of method acting.

Many modern Christians may be tempted to dismiss or ridicule such devotional practices, yet these same critics may have no problem with the idea of responding with powerful emotion to contemporary religious music or extemporaneous spoken prayer. Meanwhile secular culture provides many opportunities for people to cry over the imaginary troubles of soap opera characters, or to cheer or curse a televised sporting event.

— “Religious, Political, Economic and Artistic Contexts of the York Corpus Christi Play

Protestant churches emphasize the Word of God, and prefer their artwork to be more cheerful — a cross in a Protestant church represents the Resurrection – Christ is no longer on the cross. The Biblical emphasis placed upon Mary in the Passion narrative has also been an historically sore spot. I’m curious as to how Gibson will use Mary in this film.

The lobby is packed now, and the noise level suggests that whatever somberness I detected when I first got here is gone. A forward push begins — people who have been facing every which way and milling about all take a half step towards the bowtie-wearing ticket kid. But according to flashing overhead signs, all the other shows that start at 9:30 (in two minutes) are seating now , but we are asked to remain n the lobby.

Remember, everyone, the last shall be first. We wait — locked together in a kind of gel that oozes forwards.

I haven’t gotten around to cutting me hair in several months… but as I look at the shaggy manes and thick eyeglass frames on the ushers I have to wonder…. is 70s hair back?

In the Theatre

The first preview is a spoof of Caddyshack that turns out to be a American Express commercial. The audience laughs.

Next is a Coke commercial with a racecar theme.

Next is the movie chain‘scomputer-animated ?branding? intro.

At 9:45 is the touchy-feely “don’t download movies because you’ll hurt a stunt guy’s feeling” promo.

And the movie previews begin. Yawn.

The historical horse-race adventure Hidalgo.

Robert Redford as the kidnapped half of an older couple in The Clearing.

It‘s 9:51 now. Patience is a virtue, but this sucks.

Two Brothers (an animal adventure).

Miracle (the Disney movie about the US Olympics hockey team, back when the Russians were the Evil Empire).

Madison (something about boat racing in a blue-collar town).

Okay, so that‘s sports, old love in a pinch, heartwarming animal adventure, more sports, and more sports. That‘s how Hollywood is marketing to the audience for The Passion. All the promos try to be intense (really, how intense can a heartwarming movie about brotherly love in animals be?), but they appear to be marketing The Passion as an action film. Go figure.


After 27 minutes of what I didn’t pay to see, what I paid to see starts.

I wrote this on my PDA on Friday, Feb 27, but didn’t get it online until after midnight. I’ll blog about the movie itself soon…

4 thoughts on “Watch One Hour With Me — In the Lobby: Waiting for Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ

  1. MJL, thanks for your anecdote. Certainly kids see violence of all kinds, and in the right context this movie can be very instructive.

    Will, I do think Gibson has a few unusual things to say about a story that is very familiar. I think if the movie had been marketed as “The Bible’s ‘The Passion of Christ'” or “God’s ‘The Passion'”, Gibson would be attacked just the same.

    Mike, I’ll write more about it later, but I wouldn’t call it a bad movie. Since the whole movie centers around a sequence of events that may take up 10 or 20 minutes in movies that try to cover the whole life of Jesus, Gibson did have to keep topping himself. There was a point where I was resisting what he was doing, but after a while he beat me down. I didn’t think the slow-motion bothered me, but I did think the sound effects were a little too “sound-effecty”. We have relatives coming over to visit any minute now, so I can’t write any more just now.

  2. I enjoyed reading this post a lot. Empathy! In fact, I felt an “affective piety” of sorts for your suffering as you waited in that horrendous line, bearing the burden of so many commercials and previews (among which I count the Christian store salespeople in the lobby). I’m glad you had your PDA handy and I think it’s always as important to study an audience as it is the text itself, since cinema is a social text. I look forward to reading more about the film itself, which I have yet to see. (I read a review that said — all controversies aside, it’s just generally a “bad movie” which overuses slow motion and other cheap tricks of cinema to create melodrama. But I want to see it for myself.

  3. I saw a comedian tonight who had an interesting point. Notice the title:

    Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’

    Read it out loud and think about, in the first second, which part of the title comes across as most important.

  4. After debating long endless hours with my spouse about whether or not to take our children to this movie, we were still at odds when it opened. We didn’t agree on the issue until our oldest, whom you have spoken with, piped up and said,” How can you both sit in front of us disagreeing? It’s extremely obvious if you’ve picked up the Bible lately and read “any” of the Gospels, that Jesus died an excrutiating death for all of our sins! Past, present , and future.” After that comment, as Catholic parents we both agreed the entire family would see the movie. We have tickets to see it Monday afternoon. We’re pulling the children out of class for a “Religious emergency” Our youngest says the sooner the better.:-)

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