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Viewers react passionately to Gibson's film

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Viewers react as they watch a special screening of "The Passion of the Christ" at a theater in El Paso, Texas, on Tuesday.

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From the Wolf Blitzer Reports staff in Washington:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Today is Ash Wednesday and the opening day of one of the most talked about films in recent memory -- Mel Gibson's controversial portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus, "The Passion of the Christ."

From Texas -- where moviegoers called it "stunning" and "really powerful," to Australia -- where one audience member "got shivers" while another called it "sickening" and "emotionally difficult," to the Vatican -- where the Pope himself had a private screening -- Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" has people talking, and the faithful flocking to theaters by the thousands.

In Plano, Texas, a Christian businessman spent $42,000 to buy out a local 20-screen movie house for back-to-back screenings of the movie beginning at dawn.

Nationwide, the film opened today on 2,500 screens amid considerable controversy.

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Among the issues, Gibson's graphic depiction of the crucifixion -- which one critic calls "a sickening death trip," and another, "the goriest story ever told."

Some moviegoers agreed.

"I thought it was gruesome and bloody," said one.

"It was extremely violent. I believe it's really sick as would be a crucifixion," said another.

Also controversial is the movie's portrayal of Jews, which is sparking concern among some that it could inflame anti-Semitism.

Gibson says he's not anti-Semitic.

"It's ludicrous," Gibson told ABC recently. "It's ludicrous to think this. I don't want to lynch any Jews. It's not what I'm about. I love them. I pray for them."

But the portrayal of Jews is troubling to some people who've protested against the film.

Scholars and now the Vatican say it was not Jews who killed Jesus.

But critics say the movie is not as definitive on that point.

Says David Sterritt, the film critic for the Christian Science Monitor, "It certainly leaves the door open for anybody who comes in already contaminated with the germs of anti-Semitism. This will feed those germs."


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