Mel Gibson told CHRISTIANITY TODAY: "I've been actually amazed at the way I would say the evangelical audience has—hands down—responded to this film more than any other Christian group." What makes it so amazing, he says, is that "the film is so Marian."

Gibson knows that Protestants don't regard Mary in the way Catholics do. And Gibson goes beyond many Catholics when he calls her "a tremendous co-redemptrix and mediatrix."

But just what is so Marian about the film? It does not treat Jesus' mother as an object of veneration, but it uses her as a witness to gospel events. Thus, Gibson shows Mary's reactions in most scenes. Beginning with the trial before Caiaphas, through the judgment before Pilate, the scourging, the procession to Calvary, until Jesus' body is removed from the cross, we see much of Jesus' agony through Mary's eyes.

Gibson's cinematic treatment of Mary is not foreign to Scripture. Older commentaries speculated that Mary was one of Luke's "eyewitnesses," which is not an unreasonable idea given the way Luke tells the infancy narratives, the way he places Mary in the upper room at Pentecost, and the attention he pays to women in general.

Gibson says, "The way the film displays [Mary] has been kind of an eye opener for evangelicals who don't usually look at that aspect. They understand the reality of a mother and a son."

And that is what I observed: After both of The Passion screenings I attended, the Protestant women talked about identifying with Mary as a mother who was watching her child suffer. From whatever point in his spirituality Gibson's treatment of Mary is springing, it is touching deeply the maternal impulse in his viewers.

David Neff is editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY and editorial vice president of Christianity Today International.