I'm not sure why nobody has provided a writeup about this film yet, so at the risk of being shot to pieces by the many groups who argue about this film, I'll provide a short review.

The film was shown without any previews, which I thought odd. Here in Australia we were given a filmed introduction to the movie by a couple of minor celebrities who basically told us that after we'd seen the film, we should "read the book". The New Testament, they said, had "changed their lives". I didn't think that was necessary. It got my experience of the film off to a bad start, seeing as I have no firm religious beliefs one way or another.

The film is a very poweful portrayal of the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus. It's subtitled - spoken in Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic throughout. It stars James Caviezel as Jesus and is directed by Mel Gibson.

The film is extremely graphic. We see Jesus punched, kicked, spat at (in the face), flogged with an array of nasty implements, beaten with sticks, and of course ultimately having a crown of thorns placed on his head before he is forced to carry the cross up the hill before he is crucified.

It's bloody and the violence is relentless. You're with Jesus every step of the way. As the suffering on-screen gets worse, you occasionally get a cut scene where you see Jesus telling his disciples that he was chosen to undergo it all and did so willingly.

I found the final stages of the film oddly moving. The supporting cast did a fantastic job. The Romans are brutal, bloodthirsy and callous. The Jews are portrayed as equally callous and bloodthirsy. There are also those who are shown as loving and compassionate. His mother, Mary, and Magdalen especially demonstrate such pure love for this man as he undergoes his ordeal that I was moved to tears a number of times.

There is much controversy about this film as I have mentioned. Any film depicting events like these will of course attract a great deal of attention. If nothing else it will make Mr Gibson (who financed a great chunk of the film himself) a whole lot of money, and give thousands of people something to argue about for the forseeable future.


mr100percent says re The Passion of the Christ: interesting fact, the actor was struck by lightning while shooting a scene on the cross. Actually, i think it happened more than once. He joked in an interview that perhaps God didn't like that take

nterrobang says re The Passion of the Christ : re struck by lightning: it happened twice. Other neat tidbits are that the actor playing Jesus has the initals JC, and I've heard he was 33 during the shooting of the film. Also, the hands that hammer the nails into Jesus' hands are those of Mel Gibson himself. Finally, Monica Bellucci is still a fox.

Cast information taken from imdb.com

What I heard and what I saw

This isn't a review.  I've read bits and pieces about this film over the last year, and followed its controversial gestation.  I've marveled at the power that this ancient story still holds over our modern world. I've felt a personal connection with the film precisely because I'm not a Christian, and have never been graced with religious faith.  Not having it has engendered a lifelong curiosity in it.  How, I've often wondered, can one believe so profoundly in something that is so discordant with the flow of daily experience?  I'm sort of a faith-groupie, a wannabe believer, but like a reluctant virgin, I'm unwilling to give it up for anything less than true love. And that has never come. I pester the faithful for insights on how they "do it," how they juggle the contradictions of putatively handing the keys over to a higher power whilst they compete for resources in a competitive secular world.  I've been exposed to religion, it just never took hold in me and allowed that extra-rational leap of faith.  I admire the faithful, perhaps I'm even a little jealous of them, but I'm not one of them.

So that's why I felt compelled to journey out alone, into the frosty New England night, and see Mel Gibson's magnum opus on the last hours of Jesus Christ. This isn't a review because, lacking religious faith, I don't have the sensory apparatus to parse the nuances properly.  Like a eunuch reviewing a porno flick, I'm a seeker, not a believer and so the best I can offer are my impressions. This is what it felt like to an agnostic immersed for the evening in the central mythos of Christianity.    

Full house

The Falmouth Cinema Six had two showings of the film last night, and the young lady at the ticket booth said that both performances were nearly full.  I arrived late and slipped into a seat near the back.  This was, admittedly, a minor bit of cowardice in that my habit is generally to sit a little too close for the comfort of my companions, the better to immerse myself in the film. In this case, self-preservation got the upper hand, and I'll admit to a fleeting thought that it would be easier to slip out from the back rows if I couldn't take it.  

I was disappointed to see the typical stream of snack bar ads, movie trivia quizzes and upcoming movie trailers preceding The Passion.  I'd read that many theaters were foregoing these distractions in deference to the presumed gravity of the event.  I couldn't detect any discernable demographic in the audience.  Perhaps it was a little older crowd than usual, but there were teenagers with their parents and even a toddler or two (what the hell were those parents thinking?)  I wish I knew what percentage of the crowd was among the faithful but nobody was wearing nametags.


The film begins in an eerie glade, a thin long haired man wandering distractedly among the fog and shadows.  The camera pans to the handsome visage of James Caviezel as Jesus, and immediately sets off a low level cynicism alarm: was Jesus a white guy?  The reviewer William Rivers Pitt addressed this topic persuasively in a recent review1:

"The earliest renditions of Jesus, painted by the first Christians called Essenes in the catacombs of Rome, depict a person with brown skin. During the time of Roman Emperor Justinian II, a gold coin featuring an image of Jesus was minted. This coin, which today can be seen in the British Museum, depicts a man with demonstrably non-white features and tightly curled hair. Finally, there is the Book of Revelations, which bears out the crafting of the Essenes and the Roman coin-makers by describing Jesus as having hair like wool, feet the color of burnt brass, and who resembled jasper and sardine stones. Jasper and sardine stones are both brown, as is burnt brass."

One is left little time to ponder this paradox as the scene shifts dramatically to Judas in the company of Caiaphas and the Jewish priests of the Sanhedrin maneuvering for Christ's execution.  The dialog is in Aramaic and a dialect of Latin, both of which are surprisingly pleasant on the ears.  In particular the pronunciation of Jesus as "Yeah-Sue-Ahh" feels very right. The subtitles aren't distracting, perhaps because unlike French or German, very few would presume to watch this movie without them. The priest's negotiation with Judas is soon concluded and a languorous slow motion shot follows the mythic 30 pieces of silver through the air towards the world's most famous traitor. The depiction of the Jews in The Passion of the Christ has been widely condemned as anti-Semitic, but I didn't find it overtly so.  Remember, I'm a non-believer, and lacking the advantage of faith, I find an inordinately universal preponderance of bad behavior among the higher echelons of most all religions, be they Muslim clerics inciting suicide bombers, pedophile priests or swindling televangelists.  Caiaphas and his ornately clad cronies seem very contemporary in both their cynical pomposity and their frantic desire to repress all dissent

Unlike Jesus Christ Superstar, that attempts to delve into the troubled motivations of Judas, he is depicted here as a one-dimensional man, a whinging cur who betrays his master without any apparent forethought and almost immediately regrets it.  I'm not a biblical scholar, but it doesn't take much insight to infer that Judas was compelled to betray Jesus.  Whether this compulsion was forced upon him by a determined God, or was a result of a universal flaw in the spirit of man is a question of some import, and Gibson declines to address it here.

Blood and Guts

We leave the hapless Judas groveling on the floor for his silver and the scene shifts back to the Mount of Olives where Jesus and his disciples are wandering in the gloom.  Jesus detaches himself from the group and utters the first of many historic lines, 

"Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done."

And so it begins.  The music ramps up into a martial thrum and the stomp and clink of Roman soldiers announces forcefully that the preliminaries are over. The story from here on out is one of almost unrelenting graphic violence.  From the moment the soldiers first lay their hands on Jesus, to his last breath on the cross at Golgotha, the film presents us with an almost forensic examination of the brutal torture and death of a human being.  

It's hard to watch without flinching, but all hyperbole aside, some scenes from Fight Club are equivalent.  Raging Bull, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs also come to mind as ready examples.  Worse yet, horrible atrocities of torture and murder occur with mind numbing regularity in real life.  Saddam & his wretched sons tortured, raped and murdered with impunity.  Young girls are abducted and sold into a growing sexual slavery market. Piles of the amputated limbs of children create a horrifying spectacle in Sierra Leone.  Our world provides abundant examples of heinous evil and the uniqueness of The Passion of the Christ is primarily that it forces us to watch it.

The Fourteen Stations

After the first ten minutes or so of bearing witness to Christ's torture, you've either decided to leave the theater, or settled in for a long and painful ride. I found myself becoming oddly dispassionate.  The biggest surprise about The Passion is how weirdly normal the story begins to feel as it plays out. The Roman soldiers are sadistic thugs, but that's about what you'd expect from uneducated soldiers posted for years to a distant foreign outpost. Caiaphas and the other Jewish priests act like the corrupt small town politicians they are, Pontius Pilate (played convincingly by Hristo Naumov Shopov) is a beleaguered Roman bureaucrat who wants the whole problem to go away.  And, the mob is just like any mob, crazed, incendiary and out for blood. Jesus suffers his torments resolutely, but then again, he has little choice. It all makes perfect sense

Astute observers will recognize that the bulk of the film is organized around the Via Dolorosa or The Fourteen Stations of the Cross2.  Each station is a specific event in the Crucifixion and the movie flows between them with a ritual inexorability that I presume mirrors the devout Catholic "walking the Stations," on Good Friday.  

  1. Jesus is condemned by Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin
  2. Jesus Accepts His Cross
  3. Jesus falls the first time
  4. Jesus meets Mary
  5. Simon is enlisted to help Jesus carry His Cross
  6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
  7. Jesus falls the second time
  8. Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls the third time
  10. Jesus is stripped of His garments
  11. Jesus is nailed to the Cross
  12. Jesus dies on the Cross
  13. Jesus is placed in Mary's arms
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb

Right up to the moment that Jesus releases his last breath I felt a deep connection with the film; an anger at the tormentors, and an admiration for the grace with which Jesus bears his trials.  Then, in a bizarre moment, we cut to a scene of the Devil who, exasperated at having been unsuccessful in tempting Jesus, writhes in his defeat.  The camera pulls away from this odd scene and the entire world appears to morph in a cheezy Photoshop water droplet filter. There's a blurp and suddenly everything is different.  The battle hardened soldiers are running around in circles wringing their hands and crying. Earthquakes split open huge chasms in the temples and swallow screaming extras into the maw of Hell. We see the devil thwarted and quaking in his lair.  Thunder and wind rip over the hill at Golgotha and the carefully constructed edifice of realism that has been building for the last hour and twenty minutes is hopelessly shattered.

For a brief moment you almost think there's a new ending in store and the good guy wins this time. But, no, Jesus is dead and the earthquake simmers down and it's back to business as usual.  We've had the Faith moment and moved on into a pompous B-grade natural disaster movie.  The elusive extra-rational ascendance into rock steady spiritual faith as expressed by Mel Gibson.  The transition is artless and crude and left me thoroughly pissed off. My impression was that the instant Gibson strayed off the well trodden path he stumbled and fell into a hopeless gummy miasma of kitsch.  

The passion of the Christ is a work of art in the most authentic sense: a deep reflection of its creator's soul. But it is ultimately an abject failure. Mel Gibson has constructed an admirable platform from which to deepen our understanding of Christian faith, but once he looks beyond the wall, he finds he has nothing to add.  Faith is still a featureless wall, a blank slate that he adorns with a few clichés that hang forlorn and miserable.  We suffer along with Jesus through the Stations of the Cross, but when the moment of truth comes nigh, the film loses its way and leaves us desolate.  

The final scene depicts a completely healed and freshly coiffed Jesus rising from his slab to the drone of martial music. The implication is that he's headed off to war but rather than feeling consoled, I felt cheated. 


This isn't a review, it's an exhortation: please go see this film and write an excellent and insightful review of it.  Help a lost faithless wretch like me to better understand.



I'd like to make it perfectly clear that none of the above is consciously intended to offend.  I truly do have a deep respect for those whose lives are graced with faith. It has been a lifelong quest of mine to understand it. That desire, more than anything else, has driven this commentary.

Resources & Notes

1 William Rivers Pitt's Review: www.truthout.org/docs_04/022704A.shtml

2 The Stations of the Cross website: www.14stationsofthecross.com/html/links.html

From the New York Times:

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 29 — "The Passion of the Christ," Mel Gibson's new film about the Crucifixion, continued its strong box-office run over the weekend. It took in an estimated $76.2 million over Friday, Saturday and Sunday, for a total of $117.5 million since it opened Wednesday.

That is the second-highest five-day total ever for a Wednesday opening, behind only "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," which made $124.1 million in its first five days in December. "Passion" had the highest opening-day ticket sales of any February film in Hollywood history.



shyHyena says re The Passion of the Christ: This is good, sir, though my overall take is different. A note on the end bits: it may be overdone, but it's largely not original: sun darkened, massive earthquake, veil in front of the Most Holy Place torn in half.

/msg shyhyenaThanks for clarifying. Any specific scripture refs we should note?

Matthew 27:45+, Mark 15:33+, Luke 23:44+. Oddly, John, perhaps the spookiest gospel, doesn't mention any such wierdness. Devil sightings are all Gibson. (Although the 40 days in the wilderness tempted by the Devil story says that Satan departed "until a more opportune time"...)


I'm wading in here not because I want to cause a row (so back in your seats, polemicists), but because all of the above writeups have gingerly paid homage to the fact that there is controversy around this film, and accusations of anti-Semitism connected with it, but no one actually said what the problem is supposed to be. Seeing as vague allusions and misunderstandings between Christians and Jews have a history of ending in big rows of the kill-them-all variety, I thought some elucidation was in order.

The whole problem hinges on two ancient theological concepts: the deicide and the blood curse. The first is the idea that the Jews are directly responsible for the killing - the murder, in essence - of Christ, and the second that they freely took the responsibility upon themselves and all their descendants through the ages, the whole "His blood be on us and on our children!" business. As everybody no doubt knows, these have been at the heart of centuries of persecution, most violently by the Spanish Inquisition (whom, of course, nobody expects) during the 15th century, who tried to do away with all the Jews of the newly Catholicised Spain first by forced conversion and then by wholesale exile.

It's important to understand that the inclusion of these two concepts in the film is objectionable not in and as of itself, but because they are inherently controversial. It is not political correctness that should have stayed Gibson's hand, but a serious examination of religious realities.

There are, for those of you who may not know, four Gospels - these are the four books who describe the life, teachings and death of Christ. They were written by four very different people at different times after the death of Christ and are not internally consistent or committed to a single narrative. Much historical and theological ink has been spilt examining and reconciling these differences, and the Church at different times took different parts of each one to be superior in Truth to the others. Therefore Mel Gibson had a choice of four different stories to tell - and only one of them, Matthew's, mentions the deicide and quotes the blood curse. It's worthwhile to mention at this stage that in other narrative choices to do with the movie he was by no means a slave to Matthew in general.

From a purely societal perspective, this puts Gibson's motives in a strange light. Why, one wishes to ask, do you give one quarter of your source material precedence in this one matter, when you could have forborne to include it and still been 75% scripturally correct? In particular, why antagonize and offend people when you could avoid so doing, unquestionably without compromising your religious integrity? It can only be seen as pandering - a strong word, I know - to the prejudices of the people whom Gibson sees as his target audience, together with strengthening the narrative by providing a picture book villain for the piece; very much the use to which medieval and renaissance Christianity put the Jews, arguably unnecessary in this more sophisticated age.

But there is a deeper and more troubling problem with this selective use of the text, and that comes not from subjective contemporary mores but direct from the Church itself. To explain, first off we need to mention that Mel Gibson is a Catholic, not a Protestant. And Catholics are not scripturalists. To them, by definition, the Church's interpretation of the Scripture is the only truth. If you have seen Kevin Smith's wonderful movie Dogma you know all about why the Church is always right. (For an example of what it is to be a scripturalist, look at the Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers; they see no mention of churches in the Bible, in fact Jesus speaks explicitly against constricting worship in this centrally controlled way: so their places of worship are called Meeting Houses. Neither do they recognize to the authority of priests, something which Jesus was also known to object to. For the Catholic Church, however, this is all strict heresy, textual support or no. Churches there will be, and in churches good Catholics therefore worship.)

In 1962 the Catholic church had a big get together known as Vatican II. At this Council, many points of doctrine were discussed in depth, and several important ones were adjusted to a more modern interpretation. Most relevantly to this discussion, their documents state the following:

"...what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today."


"...Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation."


"...the Church [...] decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone."

In other words, They Didn't Do It.

We can argue till we're blue in the face about the motives behind this declaration, talk about the political motivations behind it, the residual guilt about the Holocaust etc. etc. None of this should have mattered to Mel Gibson. He is a staunch Catholic and as such should have followed the decisions of Vatican II as divine law: that is, in effect, what they are (if you're a Catholic, that is).

Again, the reaction to the producer's actions in this light draw nothing so much as bewilderment from me. Argue as much as we might, there is a very robust basis for saying that Mel Gibson contravened his own dearly held religious precepts just to portray the murderers of Christ in a traditionalist light. Coupled with the political problems he could not have but foreseen, his decision to structure the movie in the ways that he did are strange at least.

To finish where I began, and forestall heated argument, please understand that I am not accusing Mel Gibson of anti-Semitism, nor am I calling for the castigation of this movie on political grounds. He made it largely with his own money, and it's his right to do with that as he pleases. It's just that I am wary of leaving vague allusions to the anger this movie has raised in some Jewish thinkers and audiences dangling loose, afraid as I am of their being portrayed as an attempt to stifle free speech or discredit Christianity. Much has and is being said about the way some mysterious, faceless "Jewish Lobby" supposedly has a stranglehold on American culture and politics. By all means, let this film exist and thrive as a contravention of such frankly silly paranoia.


I've had no less than 25 messages telling me that Mel Gibson is in fact a member of a sub-group of Catholics who reject Vatican II. I must say I find the notion of "breakaway" Catholics a bit problematic - the whole idea of Catholicism as it has been explained to me by my resident Jesuit is that the Church is divinely inspired with truth and therefore dissent is literally impossible...

Still, I suppose it does shed light on my theory inasmuch as Gibson probably does not see himself as in conflict with his faith (although he is still in conflict with doctrine) when he portrays the responsibility of the Jews for the murder of Christ.

It also helps towards providing an answer to the main question about his own beliefs and feelings on the subject: if he rejects the Church's pronouncement that the Jews are not to be blamed fo the death of Christ in his life as well as in this film, that means that that is what he actually believes. In this light he can be said to have intended that the film should be interperted accordingly. To put it all less diplomatically, he casts blame on the Jews, and he wants his audience to come away with the same feeling. Which is a bit disturbing, to me at least.

Damn. And I used to be such a fan.


Something has just occured to me that has not occured before. According to everything I've been told, there are two ways we can look at the passion: either it's God willingly sacrificing his only son for love of his creation, or Jesus willingly sacrificing hiself for compassion and love of mankind. Either one of these great gestures would be at least tarnished, if not nullified, if a true "villain of the piece" could be credibly identified - for what is the value of a forced sacrifice?

Viewed in this light the Matthew/Gibson take on the subject seems to me to be not only un-Christian but rather childlish; some kind of glitch in their spiritual psychology prevents them from fully accepting that the terrible suffering of Christ is what God wanted to happen - he had deliberately set up his only son to undergo this dreadful pain, humiliation and sufferring. Not pretty. Up there with the Holocaust on the list of things to shake your faith, and so any rational person can be excused turning away from such a view. However faith is not rational; if you can get your head around the Trinity, you should be able to get your head around the Passion.

I'm not sure where Catholics stand on the whole subject of Grace, but I'm pretty sure that they too believe Christ suffered and died for our sins - all of us - so the part where he does it willingly is surely very central. To blame the Jews (or for that matter the much more likely culprit the Romans) is simply to sideline the whole crux of the Passion.

Am I wrong? Am I talking bollocks? Informed Christian friends, please advise...

I don't mean to be contrary to anyone here but...

I thought the movie did a great job of presenting (just about) everything accurately. The movie covers the last few days of Jesus from the garden of Gethsemane to His resurrection three days after His death. The sets and costumes of this piece are very accurate. Some interpretation is done in showing Satan throughout the movie, but this is done very tastefully and does not distract from the focus of the film. The only thing I didn't understand in this film was one appearance of Satan during the scourging (yes, they used thin lithe sticks and the cat of nine tails). During this scene Satan is shown holding what appears to be a slightly deformed child. I'm not sure at all what this is supposed to represent.

In all fairness I don't think anyone younger than about 14-16 should see this film. It is very graphic. It does depict the violence against Jesus very accurately.

The statement in Matthew about the Jews bringing blood down upon themselves is not even subtitled. I doubt many skin heads or others that would use this information to further their own anti-Semitic agenda even know the language this phrase was spoken in. Also, it's in every copy of the Bible available, so it's not like it's anything new.

The important thing here in respect to anti-Semitism is that people will read into a movie whatever they see. This is related to the Haitian objection to Grand Theft Auto and school violence is caused by video game violence. While I agree that there are some things that should not be published, just because something can be twisted to fuel anti-Semitism doesn't mean that it's anti-Semite.

A better way to put it is this:

(a)The real reason the religious leaders conspired to kill Jesus was because they despised Him. They despised Him because He was doing their job far better.1

(b)The religious leaders responsible for Jesus' death were Jews, but Jesus was also a Jew.

If you say that (a) occurred because of (b) then you are an anti-semite. Both (a) and (b) are logically independent statements, so they do not depend on one another. Any one ethnic or political group would have done the same thing if they had been in the position of power the religious leaders were in.

No where in this movie is it even suggested that the culture or ethnicity of the people surrounding Jesus had anything to do with why He was killed. I seriously think that the rabble surrounding anti-Semitism in the press about this movie was caused by some moron who hadn't seen the movie or even talked with those responsible. It's similar to attempting to discuss abortion or some other objectionable material. Most people choose not to educate themselves and immediately just make a conclusion based on "feeling".

I seriously doubt that Mel Gibson had it in his heart to "go after" the Jews with this movie. There are many passages in the Old Testament that foretell the coming of Christ and the reaction that the Jews would have. While its something that I'm sure all of us are ashamed of, it was completely necessary for God's plan to redeem all of us. If it weren't for the crucifixion of Jesus we poor gentiles would have no access whatsoever to God.

Another thing to note is that Mel Gibson belongs to a particular sect of Catholicism that rejects the findings of the Vatican II council meeting. So as far as absolving the Jews of their responsibility in Christ's death, Mr. Gibson has done nothing wrong within his own beliefs. I think his portrayal of the Jews involvement in his death was 100% accurate. The Sanhedrin were hard pressed to get rid of Jesus because his teachings, however accurate they were (and they're 100%), were threatening to their position of power. Nothing more than typical human greed and jealousy to see here.

In all fairness I have no association with the Catholic church, nor do I hold many of the beliefs in high regard. That being said, The Passion of the Christ is a wonderful movie, in both its accurate portrayal and its cinematic presentation. One slight problem that I had with this movie was its presentation of the events that occur when Jesus dies. I was dissatisfied with the presentation of the ripping of the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. I believe that this ripping is symbolic of how Jesus gave each of us individual access to God. This is in conflict with the Catholic beliefs however, so I believe it was minimized. The historical accounts of the curtain say it was something on the order of 20 feet by 60 feet. This is a truly massive curtain, but it is not represented that way in the movie.

Another note about the darkness that envelopes the world and the earthquakes that occur when Jesus dies: These events are actually independently verifiable in historic documents from that time period. So, however sensational it may seem. It really did happen.

For more info on historical documents see:


I will add more documents when I can do more research.

As a note:
Several people (amnesiac, iambic, mirv)have /msg'ed me that the baby mentioned above might represent the anti-Christ. This makes sense to me, but I still wonder why it was included. What does it add to the film?

1mirv says: regarding Caiphas' intent: Gibson didn't show it, but John 11 :50 gives a good picture of Caiphas' intent, written by someone who probably knew him well (John 18 :15).
Caiphas was afraid of what the Romans would do if Jesus or his followers started a revolt, and quite rightly: the two major Judaean revolts (in 70 and 135) led to the devastation and destruction of the entire province.

If you read the passage in John 11 all the the way down to verse 54 you see that Caiphas was trying to motivate people to see things his way. In verse 53 you see that they "plotted to take His life" and in verse 54 you see that Jesus left because of this. I still hold that the reason Caiphas was so concerned was that he wished to retain his position(he was greedy). Verse 48 would seem to support this becuase they say "...everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." (emphasis added)

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