At 3:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, more than 50 people stood in line outside the Kambe Cinema in Kenai, patiently waiting to see the 4 p.m. opening of one of the most talked-about films in recent times.
"I heard it's bloody, I'm a little scared," said one woman.
"I hope it's not sold out," said another, further down the line.
"We got our tickets online already," replied a man nearby.
"I didn't even know is was starting today, but my wife told me and we just had to come," one man said. "I didn't want to miss it."
As the line grew, more and more people flooded into the Kambe parking lot, an unusual sight for a mid-week afternoon in February. The wait was made easier by the fact that a bright sun shone down, and much of the talk in line centered on the weather more than the soon-to-be-seen film.
"I hope this lasts."
"It won't, we're supposed to get snow this weekend."
Several people in the crowd sported ash smudges on their foreheads -- a sign that they'd recently attended Ash Wednesday services at the Catholic church. Others wore clothing that signified a particular interest in religious matters -- a ball cap with "God" emblazoned on it here, a T-shirt with Jesus' picture on it there -- but for the most part, the people standing in line could have been waiting for the premier of "The Lord of the Rings," "Independence Day," or any recent Hollywood blockbuster.
Those waiting Wednesday afternoon were mostly adults who appeared to be over 30, though there were a smattering of school-aged children and teenagers as well.
When the doors opened at ten minutes to 4 p.m., the grateful moviegoers rewarded the theater employee with smiles --then waited patiently as two other Kambe employees dispensed the $5 matinee tickets.
Inside the theater, talk was much the same as outside, with many people expressing their thoughts on what they'd heard from reviews of the film in the media.
"I just hope it's not too gory," someone said.
Then the lights went down, silencing the packed theater as the show began.
For 2 hours and 10 minutes, those in attendance joined thousands of others across the nation --according to media reports, "The Passion" will likely have one of the largest opening-weekend box office takes in history --watching the last moments of Jesus Christ's life story come to life on screen.
True to much of the pre-movie buzz, "The Passion" proved to be both graphic and true to the New Testament, which it is based on. The film centers on Jesus' arrest and subsequent persecution by both the Roman authorities and Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.
As Jesus' plight unfolded Wednesday, many in the audience could be heard gasping at the scenes of violence. During the crucifixion, several muffled sobs could be heard. Following the final scene, many of those who waited so patiently in line appeared unwilling to leave their seats, as many remained in place to watch as the credits rolled by.
Outside the theater, many who had just seen the film appeared visibly moved. Several still had damp eyes, and were unwilling to discuss their opinions of the film. Of those who did speak of the movie, opinions Wednesday were overwhelmingly positive.
"It brought the Bible to life," said Lonnie White, a lay minister with the Church of God in Kenai.
White said he was impressed with the historical accuracy of the film, which was filmed in Italy and features spoken dialogue in Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin.
"It was wonderful and accurate," he said.
John Evanson said he found it hard to watch the suffering of Jesus, though not because of the graphic violence, but because of the powerful nature of the message.
"To experience what Jesus actually did for me is tough," he said. "To see the sins of humanity and how evil we are, and the fact that he died willingly for our sins, that's amazing."
Evanson's wife, Sue, cautioned that parents with small children may want to think twice about bringing kids to the movie.
"As a mother, I don't think I would bring some of the younger kids," she said, though the Evansons did attend with their daughter, a senior in high school.
Another man who saw the movie Wednesday, John Phillips, noted that the violence in "The Passion," was easier to take than most of today's movies because it was of a realistic -- rather than gratuitous --nature.
"They showed it more realistic than a typical movie," he said.
The opinions expressed by White, Phillips and the Evansons was representative of the majority of those who left the theater Wednesday afternoon, who said they found the movie a strong, accurate depiction of the final hours of Jesus' life as based on the New Testament, something they were already interested in as Christians.
However, one man --who did not give his name -- said he was moved by the movie's strong religious message and was reevaluating his beliefs as a result of seeing the film.
"It was unnerving," he said. "It really makes you reconsider what you believe."
One person who thinks the movie is going to have an impact on a lot of people's lives is Lighthouse Community Church Pastor Denver Copeland. Copeland purchased 168 tickets to tonight's 7 p.m. showing --and figures that's still not enough.
"I wish I would have bought more," he said.
Copeland said he's bringing his congregation to see the movie because he thinks seeing a visual depiction of the last hours of Jesus can awaken spiritual feelings in people they never knew were there.
"I think it's going to make a big difference in people's lives," he said.
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