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As The Da Vinci Code continued to dominate book-club discussions across the country, Mel Gibson timed the release of his film The Passion of the Christ for Ash Wednesday.

Photo by Philippe Antonello

One of the most controversial and highest-grossing movies of all times, The Passion attracted congregations who reserved entire theaters, as well as individual moviegoers by the millions. By late spring, the film was expected to gross more than $400 million. Some experts predicted the final numbers would swell far beyond that mark.

Below, four Duke Divinity School faculty members share their response to the film, including two who chose not to see it.

To Risk Real Suffering

By Amy Laura Hall
Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics

I was more or less forced to watch the film The Killing Fields by my mother, but she was right.

She overheard me repeatedly trying to explain the concept “pretty” to Chang, a 12-year-old Cambodian refugee. I finally gave up and pointed to the cover of my Seventeen magazine. “That is pretty,” I told her with an exasperated smile.

Our church had sponsored a family of 13 refugees, and most of us knew nothing about the regime they had fled. My mother decided to rectify that, and a group of teenagers from our youth fellowship sat in our living room to watch bloodshed that was foreign, but terrifyingly real.

Photo By: Jeroen Brink

 Skulls from the Killing Fields in Cambodia,where the Khmer Rouge exterminated 17,000 people.

Chang and Horng and their younger brothers and sisters had run, swum and bled in that land, a mere few months prior. The medium was artificial, but the artifice echoed the nightmares of children we had come haltingly to know. The children’s capacity to speak after living through the unspeakable seemed to me then, and still seems to me now, miraculous.

Our brief association with them was a gift. A youth group that had previously prayed mostly to God about precocious alcoholism, football games, and traveling mercies now had something real to pray. God had liberated these his children out of the depths of hell in Cambodia.

I suspect that I don’t need to see The Passion. It is not that I doubt the ability of a film to evoke the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection. The Killing Fields was such an evocation. I already know that the presence of God is real, living and bloody in churches that risk proximity to real suffering. May we so risk.

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DIVINITY Online Edition :: Spring 2004 Volume 3 Number 3 Duke Divinity School