Original release: August 12th, cheap 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
“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.
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.
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.
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 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 founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .