Crossing the Line – The Last Temptation of ChristPosted: July 4, 2008
Time to look at a film made by a Catholic (Martin Scorsese) about Jesus that pissed off every God fearing man woman and child on earth, or near enough. “The Last Temptation of Christ” was made in 1988 and based on a book by Nikos Kazantzakis, and is the closest you’ll see in this column of a review of “Passion of the Christ”.
Tagline: The life of Jesus Christ, his journey through life as he faces the temptations that all humans face during their lives, and his final temptation upon the cross.
Synopsis: You know that basic story of Jesus, let’s not waste time on that. A few things that Last Temptation supposes: That Jesus had made crosses for the Roman crucifixions of Jews; that Mary Magdalene was a whore; that Judas was Jesus’ best friend and a militant Jewish freedom fighter; that Jesus was confused and occasionally terrified of God’s actions in his life; that Jewish freedom fighters killed Lazarus to remove any evidence of Jesus’ powers; that Pontius Pilate was David Bowie; that Jesus asked Judas to betray him because it was God’s will. The movie attempts to reconcile the discrepancies in tone of the various stories of God, some of which are violent and some of which are all forgiving and loving. The film’s ending, which sparked the most controversy, has an angel (Satan in disguise!) appearing and allowing Jesus to escape crucifixion. He then goes on to live a normal life first with Mary, then with two other women he met in his ministry, bearing many children with them and dying an old and happy man. On his death bed some of his disciples appeal to him and Judas shows him that the angel is Satan, Jesus realizes it’s a trap (!) and returns to die on the cross. Fade to white.
Interesting Fact: On October 22, 1988, a French Catholic fundamentalist group launched molotov cocktails inside the Parisian Saint Michel movie theater to protest against the film. This attack injured thirteen people, four of whom were severely burned.
Objectionable material: Nudity, Crucifixion, Blaspheme, Depictions of Jesus kissing a man, depictions of Jesus as a polygamist, depictions of Jesus as a white guy, depictions of Jesus questioning God, depictions of Jesus having children, depictions of Jesus not dying for anyone’s sins, misogyny, murder, some of that good old time religion
Disturbing Quote: “I created the truth out of what people needed and what they believed. If I have to crucify you to save the world, then I’ll crucify you.”
Screaming Girl: So I figure I really don’t have to write a summary about the Last Temptation of Christ seeing as how it is pretty much the most famous story in history. Basically Jesus realizes he’s the son of God, preaches to people, performs some miracles, gets killed and then gets tempted by the devil. I’m going to point out that the devil is played by a little British girl which is exactly how I’ve always pictured the devil looking.
When I was a kid and had to learn about all of this in CCD I always fell asleep. I was betting that I would get a really good nap out of this movie but to my surprise I didn’t sleep. I stayed up the whole time. I was wary about watching this movie knowing my past track record but the thought of Willem Dafoe as Jesus and Harvey Kietel as Judas promised a good time. From what I can remember it was a decent movie, they got the story right and there were some really cool trippy parts. However, the movie was extremely long and we really didn’t get to the temptation part until the last half hour which only made me confused and frustrated.
I’ll say it was a good movie. Everyone should see it at some point just so you can take what you want from it. They made Jesus more human in this movie than he was in the Passion of the Christ or any Rankin/Bass movie. I appreciated that because lately people seem to be forgetting that the whole point was for him to be human. It was well acted and no one got castrated from what I remember so that was great. I probably wouldn’t watch it again but I am glad that I’ve seen it.
Mind Fuckability Scale Rating: This ain’t your grandma’s Jesus.
PsychoLarry: The Bible was written over the course of a few thousand years by a huge number of authors, some speaking entirely different languages living under extremely repressive regimes. The gospels themselves were written at least 60 years after the death of Christ by four different authors. Then there are the endless translations and rewrites that have followed since publishing began. Shockingly this has lead to a very uneven tone and conflicting message. I’m not going to get too deep into the various problems a literal reading of the Bible brings up, though I’m not going to grant divine authorship either. What I will say is that of all the Christian films I’ve seen, and all the Christian texts I’ve read, “The Last Temptation of Christ” does the best job of any of them of reconciling the varied and seemingly conflicting messages of rebellion and peace that Jesus is purported to have preached.
This is a Scorsese film, so you know you’re going to get superb acting and fantastic imagery. William Dafoe and Harvey Keitel play their respective roles of Savior and reluctant betrayer perfectly, with a really stunningly effective relationship developing. The film also does an excellent job of making Jesus more than just a cipher for every good quality we want in ourselves, and instead turning him into a real human being, which is half the point of the New Testament. I have read the Bible cover to cover more than once, and taken copious notes, and the film draws in all the various elements of the Gospels in a way that is really fascinating, if you can get over the fact that the film is slooooow. The idea that Palm Sunday and the assault on the money changers in the Temple brought Jerusalem to the brink of open rebellion against Rome is a really compelling idea for instance.
As far as controversial? I guess some people don’t like the idea that Jesus didn’t really know what he was doing, and that God just spoke through him? Or that he did want to have sex and have kids? Or that he didn’t want to be crucified? Sure there are some unconventional ideas about Jesus presented in the film, but from the jist of the protests that I’ve read up on, none of them really touch on the only part of the movie that could actually be considered blaspheme. When Jesus is on his little paradise fantasy with blonde girl Satan he sees Paul nee Saul preaching the gospel of the Resurrection. Paul is confronted and essentially says that Christianity is based as much in made up ideas as in fact, and that he is willing to fabricate any ‘truth’ that he feels the people need in order to make them happy. This is, I thought, and incredible summing up of much of the dogma of modern Christianity, and pretty blasphemous as well.
Outside of that message, the film is a good movie that has a lot of Bible stuff in it. It’s slow, and it may not be the Jesus you’re used to, but it’s a decent film. Christians should probably loosen up, seriously.
MBRFT: I should first say that I’ve read neither of the books this film is based on (one being Kazantzakis’ titular novel and the other, a sleeper hit called “The Bible”), but I feel like I got the gist of them. That being said, the only discernible reason why this film made it into our controversial film list is because it pissed off a lot of eager-to-be-offended Christians, so I’ll address my review specifically to them.
“Come on! Are you kidding me? This is the film that you believe will send its creators into eternal damnation? Why don’t you revisit some of the films we’ve already covered in this column and really put this into perspective? Here you have a fairly faithful adaptation of biblical stories directed by a devout Catholic. Considering the majority of low-brow films spewing out of Hollywood every week, you should be applauding any film that actually assumes that Christ exists. And you even get an extremely moving and human portrayal of Jesus. Sure, he has his doubts, but he comes around in the end. This whole damn religion is supposed to be based on choice. The choices you make determine your placement in the afterlife (at least that’s what I’ve gathered from those delightful cartoon vegetables on Saturday mornings), so why is it so mind-blowing that Jesus would be confronted with a choice? Do you really prefer the gruesome “Passion of the Christ” version of Jesus who has no doubts and instead takes beating after beating like Jake LaMotta?”
Honestly, if I knew for a fact that eternal salvation and a plush throne atop heaven awaited me, then I would probably take a couple days on the cross as well. It’s easy to sacrifice your life if you know for sure it’s gonna pay off ten-fold down the line. Scorsese and Kazantzakis’ Jesus is instead confronted with his own doubts and inadequacies. He’s unsure of himself, but he trusts his faith at the end and takes one for the team instead of marrying Magdalene and fathering children (and yet he still can’t prevent the success of Dan Brown novels).
I can’t wait until next week when we resume with truly controversial films. And keep an eye open for our “Bad Lieutenant” column for some true blasphemy.
– Time for some good old fashioned female empowerment talk! Next week we’ll look at a movie about the fear of every pubescent boy in existence. The film? “Teeth”.