Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Last Temptation of Christ (The Criterion Collection) (1988)

The Last Temptation of ChristFirst of all, this area is SUPPOSED to be for reviews of this movie, not dire warnings of damnation if one watches it. It is JUST a movie....something tells me Jesus and his believers can survive it. Please don't turn this forum into a religious debate.

I think anyone who purchases this DVD edition of the film should definitely go back and listen to the director/actor/screenwriter commentary included with the film. In it, Marty and the screenwriter explain why they used the actors they did, and why they used today's vernacular. They had the characters speak this way so that the viewer is more aware that the players in the New Testament WERE human, just like us. Marty believed that the stilted English of the King James Court, with its "thou's" and "ye's" (and having absolutely NO relation to the way people spoke at the time) serves to distance modern viewers from the pain and doubt that both Jesus has his followers underwent.

Marty also was desperate to counter the prevalent depiction of Jesus in film that has him 100% "divine", with a golden light shining behind his head, with the divine little smile and the gentle words. He wanted to use the idea in the Bible that Jesus was also fully human, subject to both physical AND mental anguish. The latter is the point that Gibson missed in his film. Anyone who has ever lost a child or had to make an agonizing decision knows that mental anguish can be as painful as any physical torment. This movie is about the true temptation Jesus underwent, to deny God and run away from his destiny. All of us can identify with that.

I find this Jesus far more compelling than the Jesus I grew up with in Sunday school. This Jesus is not perfect. He hurts and has soubts and depressions like I do. And yet he gives his body and mind to God in the end.

While the film is not as authentic as the upcoming "The Passion of the Christ" (where Aramaic is used), it was much more realistic and gritty than previous film portrayals. What really adds to the drama of the film is the soundtrack by Peter Gabriel.

Having received 12 years of Catholic school education, culminating when this film was released, I was amused to read the incredible outpouring of emotions by narrow-minded Christians against this film, both at the time is was released and in the reviews. To me, a sure-fire sign of narrow-mindedness is their utter inability to appreciate art for what it is and the fact (evident from their reviews) that they have not even seen the movie. My faith was not so weak as to refuse to entertain artistic explorations and alternative viewpoints.

Although not wholly based on the scriptures, the theme of this film IS based more upon the very nature of Jesus Christ himself. That is, the film and the book both attempt to dramatically explore the contradictions associated with the dual identity of Jesus as both God and man a schitzophrenic combination indeed.


In this film, Jesus as man resists God's call, at age 30, to take up his role as spiritual savior. Jesus-as-man IS tempted by his own thoughts and doubts (manifested by Satan), the last temptation occuring in a stupor as he hangs dying on the cross the opportunity of becoming all man. This post-death illusion sequence, where Jesus goes on to marry Mary Magdeline and see the dire consequences of such a course of action, covers the last 3rd or so of the film. What is most interesting is the confrontation between Jesus and Paul, the latter of whom is the most signficant evangelical Christian of all time which turns out to be an express of the argument that the idea of Jesus Christ as savior may have been more important (at least politically) that the historical facts. In any case, for those who find this sequence blasphemous, they need to remember that it is a DREAM. (e.g., The crowds are still cheering at the cross as he is taken down by a lovely little girl.) In the end, Jesus triumphs over the evil of human frailty to assume his position in Christian beliefs.

Other interesting factors include the expanded role of Judas (played here by Harvey Kietel), as Jesus' true right-hand man. In an interesting twist, Judas is at least as interested in political revolution as a spiritual one, and Jesus manipulates Judas' anger and convinces him to turn Jesus in for persecution.

In any case, I give it a firm thumbs up. Too bad that this is too expensive for any casual observer to pick it up on DVD, though.

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The deep spiritual feelings that this movie makes me harbor have changed the way I see the world forever. I can almost feel the pains that Jesus must have went through on the cross physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Even though this account of Jesus' life is fictional, the viewer can see and feel the true sacrifice that Jesus made by giving His life on the cross and the struggle it took to get there. Although this movie is condemned by many (most of whom didn't even see it), my personal relationship with God was strengthened by it, and I'm sure I'm not alone. Willem DaFoe was strong, passionate, and yet vulnerable as the Son of God, and Harvey Keitel was masterful in his portrayal of a very believable Judas who helped Jesus in ways many never realized possible (fictional of course). The soundtrack by Peter Gabriel is haunting and moving, and is just one more reason that makes this Scorsese film a true work of art. Though it is not the greatest movie ever made, it is a great movie just by the way it makes you think and feel. I love to watch this movie around Christmas and especially Easter because it always brings me closer to God through Christ. All I have to do is think about this movie and it makes my heart warm, and all the cares of the world are made that much lighter. The role of Satan in this movie really hits home with how tricky he can be, and I think it gives me just another weapon in my own struggle between good and evil spirit and flesh. You must remember that this is not the true story of Jesus Christ... this story is symbolic of our own personal struggles to become more Christ-like. Christ never faultered in His destiny... but we have, and we will.

Read Best Reviews of The Last Temptation of Christ (The Criterion Collection) (1988) Here

This film has stayed with me for 10 years, and I grow fonder of it with repeated viewings. My tastes are broad I will happily sit down and watch the cheapest genre flick and the subtlest arthouse... so while I can see that this film can be picked apart on an intellectual level, I also feel that film should be "felt". Even if you forget the beautiful performances (so human!), the incredible narrative, poetic direction, great music that grabs hold of your gut and drags you down into it -what you're left with is amazing. I am not a religous man, yet this film touches me very deeply from the moodswinging jesus curled up on the shore hearing footsteps to the triumphant jesus joyous on the cross... what part of being alive does this film not talk about? What modern mainstream film has trod paths so high and low? Take this film for what it is -a celebration of man, not a condemnation of christ.

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Scorsese's "Last Temptation" is a great and challenging film. This is NOT some salacious, blasphemous movie! Quite the opposite, this is a serious, very spiritial examination of the great sacrifice that Jesus made. In fact, if detractors of this film(most of whom have never even seen this or are seriously misinformed)would take a look they would see a highly original, reverent film that presents a very personal view of Jesus and the sacrifice he made for us. Martin Scorsese is probably our finest filmmaker. His very best work has always tackled "Catholic" themes. Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull are all brilliant examinations of sin, guilt, and redemption. So it's no wonder Scorsese chose to adapt Kazantakis' book. Last Temptation ranks as one of his VERY best films, right up there with the aforemntioned films if not of a piece with them. This is one of Scorese's most personal films (then again, all his films are, Scorese being the most personal of American fimmakers). We are taught that Jesus was the Son of God and the Son of man. If he is both, then Jesus was subject to the same pain, guilt, and temptations that we all have. Scorese presents most of the major events of Jesus' life: the Sermon on the Mount(a GREAT scene), the passion in the desert, the Last Supper, ect. Through this all Jesus continually questions why he must suffer, why must he be the One with this "burden". Willem Dafoe is incredible in this most difficult role. The final 40 minutes of this film are absolutely powerful when Jesus is on the cross and in absolute agony he is presented with one final temptation. This is the scene that most people question or are offended by. The scene is fascinating, not offensive, and presented by Scorsese in a very careful and tasteful fashion. I dont want to reveal what occurs, that's for you to discover. Let's just say, that Jesus rejects this temptation presented to him and resumes his place on the Cross and fulfills his destiny. The way Scorsese presents the events in the film, makes this final scene all the more powerful. Scorsese really shows us the sacrifice Jesus made for us, he shows us what Jesus gave up for us and how much he really loved us to do this for us. This doesnt sound blasphemous to me at all. Ironically, this is probably the most "devout" religious film Ive ever scene. Technically, the film is brillant. Scorsese really does'nt know how to make a boring shot. The camera work is incredible! Peter Gabriel's music is astonishing, the acting is GREAT (esp. Dafoe, Hershey, and yes Keitel's rather eccentric performance) This is a great film, please give it a chance.

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