Mel Gibson’s Australian compatriots turned out in encouraging numbers for the first day of the director’s controversial film “The Passion of the Christ” on Wednesday.
“Passion” earned $640,000 from 140 prints, while New Zealand contributed $75,000 from 25 prints, according to Mark Gooder, CEO of the Australian arm of Gibson’s Icon Prods. banner.
By comparison, he noted that “The Last Samurai” tallied about $720,000 from 240 prints during its first day of Australian release on Dec. 25.
Most Australian critics appeared united in their acknowledgment of the film’s power to move, if not in their estimation of its artistic achievement.
The Daily Telegraph’s Toby Forage called “Passion” “as thought-provoking a film as you will see all year, all next year and many more thereafter,” while Sydney Morning Herald critic Paul Byrnes countered that Gibson’s literal recounting of the last 12 hours of Christ’s life “cripples the film dramatically, so that it becomes ponderous and, well, preachy.”
Critics seemed to agree that the graphic violence in “Passion” lends the film much of its power, particularly the already-notorious scenes in which Jesus is scourged mercilessly by zealous Roman soldiers, with not a flesh-ripping moment spared.
Inside Film editor David Michod found it hard sitting through what he said is arguably on certain levels “two hours of a guy being maimed and murdered,” though he acknowledged that “as a re-enactment of something that is an integral part of the culture and institutions in which we operate, it (is) a powerful piece.”
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of “Passion” is proving to be not the film’s depiction of the Jewish leaders of the time — which community leaders are playing down — but violence. In Australia, the MA rating translates as “mature accompanied,” a legally binding category in which children under 15 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. (The film is rated “R” in the United States, meaning that viewers under 17 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.)
Des Clark, director of Australia’s Office for Film and Literature Classification, said that while the censorship body found the violence in a number of scenes to be “strong,” the “cultural weight and context of the piece” assisted in helping the OFLC deliver an MA rating for the film.