CHICAGO – Hailed as by some as a profoundly moving religious experience and scorned by others as a historically inaccurate, evangelical treatise, Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” has undeniably elevated ideological debate in America.

But no one has yet to answer: Is it proper etiquette, during such a movie, to visit the concession stand?

“Oh, sure. In the final analysis, it’s a film,” says Father Rev. Anthony Brankin of St. Thomas More Church. Brankin saw the film with 300 congregation members a few weeks ago.

“There’s nothing wrong (with eating during the movie), you’re not violating any codes, but the movie did create its own atmosphere,” he said. “Absolutely no one moved. No one went to the bathroom. I wouldn’t say there was any intentional etiquette … for some of us (the film) would preclude us from even thinking about popcorn.”

When Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church saw the film with 367 members of his church, he noticed some younger viewers in his row with popcorn.

“Halfway into the film, they sat set it down and never finished it. The movie really pulls you all the way into it,” he said.

“The Passion’s” impact on concession sales, says AMC spokesman Rick King, has been negligible.

“What I found out is that there has been a very slight negative impact. Certainly, there were people who were predicting a much more severe impact, but that didn’t happen,” King says. “‘The Passion’ demographic is skewing late teens and 20s and that’s our core concession-buying audience. I think a lot of people thought the audience would be older. Older moviegoers don’t generate as high a concession.”

Loews Cineplex spokesman John McCauley noticed little change at all in crowd etiquette and said, “It is playing like a regular movie with a lot of people attending it.”

“With my group, I prepped them that this wasn’t a typical movie,” says Kevin Diederich, lead pastor of Life Point Church in Naperville, Ill. “Some people from our group bought candy. In general, everyone was acting normal, like it was a typical movie.”

But concession stand metaphors abound.

“I’m not sure it moved minds and hearts,” said Tim Unsworth, writer for National Catholic Reporter. “It’s sort of a Coca-Cola kind of thing. You shake it up, you get a fizz and then it’s gone.”

(c) 2004, Chicago Tribune.

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AP-NY-03-25-04 1116EST

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