Leave your children at home

February 25, 2004|By SUSAN REIMER

IT IS MY TASK to advise parents on the suitability of the new film The Passion of the Christ for children. If you have a busy day planned, you can stop reading now.

No. It is not suitable for children.

Certainly not children under the age of 17. It has, after all, a well-deserved R rating for violence.

But I wouldn't recommended the film to anybody's children, even if they are old enough to have children of their own.

Mel Gibson's movie is about the unspeakable cruelty inflicted on a gentle prophet. Gibson says it was his intent to show the extent of the physical suffering required to cleanse humankind of sin, and he does it with a blood-soaked depiction of the last 12 hours of Jesus' life.

It was never his intention to show Jesus' reputed luminosity or his personal magnetism or to highlight his radical message of love.

He told ABC's Primetime that he wanted to push his audience "over the edge so they see the enormity of [Jesus'] sacrifice."

Any movie-goer who feels the need and has the stomach to watch the flesh-tearing martyrdom of Jesus is free to buy a ticket.

But any adult who would make that decision for a child - for the child's own good or for the good of that child's soul - is without any good sense.

This is one of the most horrifying movies I've ever seen. And the fact that there are parents out there who think it will do their children good to see it distresses me beyond words.

This is the same Jesus these Christian children came to know in the most benign Gospel stories: His birth in Bethlehem, and the stable animals that tenderly honor him. His precociousness in the temple. His generosity at the wedding at Cana. His mystical recruitment of the disciples and his patience with their thickheadedness.

And, above all, his loving doctrine.

That is the Jesus children will see scourged to a bloody pulp in Gibson's movie.

This isn't Sigourney Weaver in Alien up there on the big screen. This is the gentle, loving teacher of old Jerusalem, who said "Suffer the little children to come unto me."

Granted, the crucifixion is part of the story of Christ and these same children know that a crown of thorns was pressed into Jesus' brow and that he was nailed to a tree.

But to require them to witness Gibson's depiction of it - certainly a makeup job worthy of an Oscar - is reprehensible.

Children have no damper pedals in their brains. They have no filters. Adults may be able to say to themselves: "This is only a movie," but even teen-agers are not very good at that. This film is going to hit kids, and plenty of adults, like a hammer to the bridge of the nose.

The fact that some church group leaders are planning to fill theaters with children, having not seen the movie first themselves, appalls me.

The irony is, these are the same parents who feel they are at war with popular culture and who go to great lengths to shield their children from it. Heaven help the kids if the only other movie Mom and Dad let them see was Finding Nemo.

Whatever you believe about the divinity of the historical Jesus of Nazareth, whatever you believe about the role of the Romans or the Jews in his martyrdom, whatever you believe about salvation and eternal life, it is hard to argue with Jesus' directive that we love one another.

That's the message for the children, for all God's children. In Mel Gibson's movie, that message is washed away by all the blood.

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