The nation may rush to see Mel Gibson’s controversial “The Passion of the Christ” when it opens Wednesday — but LDS Utahns more than likely are going to stay away, according to a Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll.
Only one out of every three members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints polled will “definitely” or “probably” see the movie, a graphic and bloody depiction of the last hours of Jesus’ life. The film’s R rating was the most-cited reason for not going. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints counsels its members to avoid inappropriate entertainment and media.
That’s why Jared Starling and his wife plan to sit this one out, even though Starling says he typically likes to see movie interpretations of the life of Jesus.
But other LDS moviegoers are intrigued by what they’ve heard about the movie and plan to go anyway. “The crucifixion was gruesome. It would bother me if it wasn’t rated R, because it wouldn’t be realistic,” says Melissa M. Walker. Still others are undecided. Amy Carmen and her family don’t see R-rated movies, but she once made an exception for “Schindler’s List,” Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust drama, and may decide Gibson’s movie is worth seeing.
“The Passion of the Christ” has been criticized in some quarters as being antisemitic. But the Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll found that not one LDS, Catholic or Protestant Utahn questioned listed antisemitism as a reason for avoiding the movie.
LDS Church members dominated the poll, with 69 percent of respondents identifying themselves as such.
Seven percent or about 28 people identified themselves as Catholic, 8 percent or about 32 respondents said they are Protestant and another 8 percent said they belonged to “other” religions. Of those polled in those three groups, a majority are thinking about seeing the movie, even before it comes out on video and DVD.
Sixty-one percent of Catholics polled, and 64 percent of Protestants, said they definitely or probably will see it. Even more certain was the “other” category: 55 percent of them said they will definitely see the movie.
Dori Marshall, director of Christian education at Cottonwood Presbyterian Church, plans on seeing the movie this week. She’ll see it again later with a group of senior high students and young adults and will lead a discussion period to “debrief and interpret” the film. For centuries, Marshall says, “we have examined our faith through the lens of art in one way or another.” Gibson’s movie is a 21st century example of that exploration of the mystery of God, she says.
Among the Catholics queried, more than three-quarters who said they don’t plan on seeing the movie listed “do not go to movies” as the reason why. The film’s violence — but not its R rating — was cited by the remaining Catholics as the reason they would not see the movie. And then there are Catholics like Phil Gaitan, who says he probably won’t be buying a ticket. “It doesn’t catch my interest,” he says.
Lisa Kieda is Jewish and concerned that the movie might arouse anti-Jewish feelings but plans to see “The Passion of the Christ” all the same. “I’m neither incensed nor overly interested,” she says, but wants to see it “because it’s on everybody’s radar.” As a child growing up Jewish in Catholic Boston, she says, other children called her “Christ-killer” and threw pennies at her. “I would hate to see a resurgence of this ‘Christ-killer’ dialogue.”
All totaled, 40 percent of Utahns surveyed said they definitely or probably would see the movie, which is not bad box-office odds. On the other hand, only 25 percent of people who list their religious affiliation as “none” plan on going.
The poll queried 404 Utahns on Feb. 19; the margin of error is plus or minus 5 percent.