The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Once again in anticipation of seeing Martin Scorsese’s latest film The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) I caught this controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) based not biblical texts but the book by Nikos Kazantzakis which Scorsese was given years before he was finally allowed to make the film, made on a shoe string budget and released in advance due to the publicity it was receiving. Throughout the film I had to remind myself this is not based on the bible, where most people gain an understand if the last days of Jesus Christ, something even then is fuzzy after leaving primary school nearly 15 years ago.
Putting that all aside I did enjoy this take on the events leading up to his sacrifice on the cross. It feels more than Christ’s (Willem Dafoe) final days. Meeting him in adulthood, a carpenter making crucifixes for the Roman Empire who occupy Israel, a man conflicted and tortured by the voices inside him. And in contact with Judas (Harvey Keitel) who pity’s him for working to kill his fellow-man. He is indeed not the man who we would find in the New Testament. Instead he is a very modern man complete with his own set of troubles to deal with. adding flesh to the bones of a man who can only be found in one source (coming from an atheist for those who maybe reading this and may take offence. I have never read the bible so my knowledge is limited to my education and personal experiences) This new side to the son of God maybe seen as more engaging to the non-Christian who may read the Kazantzakis text. On finding this flawed man who is disillusioned who is unaware of his higher purpose wants to find peace within himself which leads him to the his child hood friend Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey) who is a prostitute (I can see how Christians took offence there) to beg for her forgiveness, something she wont easily give him after spending a day in her company, looking on with the rest of the men who came.
However when he seeks more spiritual help he starts to become the man and the son of God that Christians love starts to surface more. It’s this time there that he discovers his own powers, needing then to return where he begins to spread the word of god, first as love at a stoning. One of the first violent scenes, which again were criticised which I feel unjust as this period in history was violent under Roman rule. Also being a Scorsese film violence is more or less a given. The inclusion of violence is to say, it happened, you can not deny that so why hide a stoning or a killing. We also meet up again with Judas who was sent to kill Jesus, who before was willing to give himself up without a fight. Something that Judas will not accept lightly. When he is told that Jesus maybe the messiah a change of heart and an air trust between them forms. A bond that wont easily be broken.
This really the beginning of the Jesus that we know, from the New Testament, all crammed into this film, having his own revelations in adult hood, unaware of his higher purpose for the Jews. We see all manner of miracles, they are simple tricks of the camera, made on a small budget, which reflects the period, nothing of great spectacle, we see the miracles performed with clever editing, nothing really happens before your eyes, except Jesus taking out his own heart which was disturbing to watch. We also see the growth of his following and disciples who follow him over the rest of the film.
His message changes over the course of the film, which doesn’t go unnoticed by his disciples who questions his motivations. Starting out as love for one another to violence in a chapel. Another reason for controversy which I can understand, always taking the characters back to the original text, which never really deviates from love. However being a modern source material and take on the original, new ideas will emerge. These maybe modern interpretations of actions found in the original.
The build-up to the inevitable crucifixion takes its time, and rightly so, those scenes are tough to watch. Yet the last act is the most confusing, considering I kept reminding myself this was from the Bible. When an angel removes Jesus from the cross, away from the pain and ultimately his destiny, which again could easily cause controversy. Cast as a blonde British girl (Juliette Caton) who stays with him to the end of his natural life. But not before we hear the word of Jesus being spoken by the man who was healed from blindness talks of how Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross. The idea that a version of the truth has become fact and far more important than the truth, now distorted in our and Jesus view as the film progressed.
Maybe this is what Kazantzakis‘s text is trying to say that even with the gospel truth another version may come out of that and become more powerful. We must be aware of what we read and understand, questioning all the time to be aware of what is truth and lies. Scorsese has understood this, giving us his version of another truth. Being catholic himself this is big chance to take which for the most part pays off, we have another version, modern for its time. With the twist at the end, we know the real truth and the fiction, an important element of the film. As long as the main ideals and beliefs of the faith are in-tact then isn’t there truth in the end?
- #70: The Last Temptation of Christ (criterioncollection.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Battle Between Spirit and Flesh: Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (kubrickontheguillotine.com)
- A Theological Critique of Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (stephenlawson.wordpress.com)
- Episode 107: The Last Temptation of Christ (projection-booth.blogspot.co.uk)
- Jesus’ Portrayal in Film and The Last Temptation of Christ (reelantagonist.wordpress.com)
- The Last Temptation of Christ (eightiesmovies.wordpress.com)
- Last Temptation of Christ (1988) (biblefilms.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) (benswithen.blogspot.co.uk)