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The Last Temptation Of Christ

The Last Temptation Of Christ

By Patrick Samuel • April 19th, 2014
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Universal Pictures

Original release: August 12th, 1988
Running time: 164 mins

Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Paul Schrader, Martin Scorsese, Nikos Kazantzakis (novel)

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, Harry Dean Stanton, David Bowie

The Last Temptation Of Christ

“God loves me. I know he loves me. I want him to stop.” ~ Jesus

As a child growing up and attending Catholic school, I was probably a little more inquisitive than my fellow classmates. I got into trouble a lot for asking too many questions my teachers were unable to answer, and as a result, spent quite some recesses writing my apologies for my flagrant insolence several times over. It didn’t help. They could make me write it how many times they wanted, but they could never make me mean it. As I got older my questions grew more incessant. I looked to books, movies, art and music to teach me what my teachers couldn’t.

That’s when The Last Temptation of Christ came to my attention. It departed from commonly held Christian beliefs to tell the story of a man torn in all directions; between body, mind, heart and soul. I was riveted, as was Scorsese when he first read Kazantzakis novel.

“Although I’d heard about Kazantzakis’s book when I was a student at NYU, it was Barbara Hershey and David Carradine who gave it to me when we’d finished Boxcar Bertha in 1972. At that time there was an incredible feeling of spirituality in America, and we thought that making a film of it would help to bring about change. It took me a number of years to read it – I liked it so much I didn’t want to finish it!” ¹

It begins by showing us Jesus’ life as a carpenter in Roman-occupied Judea. He builds crosses the Romans use to crucify Jews but is tormented with feelings that God has a purpose for him. Yet he’s filled with self loathing and doubt, and questions if these feelings have any real basis or whether he’s just insane. He even wonders if he is possessed or being tricked by the Devil. Judas Iscariot (Harvey Keitel) arrives, with orders from a group working against the Romans and their collaborators, to kill him but he too comes to believe God has a plan for Jesus.

The Last Temptation Of Christ

As Jesus begins preaching his message of love, his following grows. He is also drawn to Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey), a Jewish prostitute, but decides to follow what he believes to be his calling, rather than to stay with her. He goes on to cure the sick, perform baptisms, raise the dead and turn water into wine; all leading up to his eventual arrest at the Garden of Gethsemane and eventual crucifixion. Scorsese goes on to tell us why he found this conflicted representation of Christ so appealing.

“I found the representation of Christ, stressing the human side of His nature without denying that He is God, the most accessible to me. His divine side doesn’t fully comprehend what the human side has to do; how He has to transform Himself and eventually become the sacrifice on the cross – Christ the man only learn about this a little at a time.” ¹

In one the most controversial sequences, which led to cries of outrage and calling for the film to be banned and boycotted, Jesus succumbs to the temptation of a normal human existence in a vision on the cross before finally accepting God’s plan for him. It was reading about this scene in particular that made interested in watching the film and reading the book, everyone seemed so upset by it and in my memory (I was only 10 at the time!), it was similar to the public and media outrage we saw with Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.

Film critic Roger Ebert reflects on the controversy surround The Last Temptation of Christ.

The Last Temptation Of Christ

“It must have driven Scorsese crazy to read many similar reviews, in which critics appointed themselves arbiters of the manhood or godliness of Jesus Christ, and scarcely mentioned the direction, the writing, the acting, the images, or Peter Gabriel’s harsh, mournful music. Or perhaps Scorsese understood. It is useful to remember the temper of the time. The film was the target of a firestorm of wrath from the Christian right, who accused Scorsese of blasphemy and worse. It had earlier been pulled from the MGM production schedule after the United Artist theatre chain flat-out refused to book it. After Universal reactivated the project, at a much smaller budget, Scorsese was targeted by death threats and the jeremiads of TV evangelists.” ²

  • ¹ Christie, I., Thompson, D. (2003) Scorsese on Scorsese, Faber and Faber
  • ² Ebert , R. (2008) Scorsese by Ebert, University of Chicago Press

The cinematography captures the sparse, barren landscape just as beautifully as it does the bustling daily life in Jerusalem while Peter Gabriel’s impeccable score does away with the traditional hymns and chorals in favour of something more percussive, tribal and at times painfully haunting. It works well in evoking the sense of torment, bewilderment, anxiety and trials that await Jesus.

The Last Temptation of Christ is really and truly an exceptional film. It doesn’t, as the film’s many protestors would like to tell you, turn the Gospels upside down, nor is it blasphemous, but it’s certainly thought provoking and offers a rarely explored angle on a life we all think we know so well, but cannot begin to comprehend the complexities of, not just in a religious context, but political, historical and universal one as well.

The Last Temptation Of Christ

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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