The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

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Jesus knows best!
Jesus knows best!

Twitter Plot Summary: The life of Jesus Christ, as hypothesised by Martin Scorsese and Nikos Kazantzakis.

Five Point Summary:

1. Ginger Judas! Collaborator Jesus!
2. Sermon on the Mount. Certainly less impressive than expected.
3. Resurrection of Lazarus.
4. All the stuff you (might) have read in the Bible.
5. The Last Temptation. Sadly, it’s not a Cornetto.

Films with an overtly religious angle are an inherently contentious issue. There are always going to be huge numbers of people who take umbrage at the mere idea without ever actually watching it; there are those who watch it and still call for a ban because it doesn’t match your own beliefs to the letter, or you just simply disagree with it. If this happened to every film, nobody would watch anything, ever. It’s as if those with extreme religious views can’t hold or maintain a logical outlook. Seriously, it’s madness.

One such film to receive this certain level of fundamentalist ire is The Last Temptation of Christ. This is the life of Jesus Christ as seen through the eyes of Martin Scorsese, via the original novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. Here Jesus is conflicted, not sure of what path he is to follow. He has had relations with women (The Shock! The Horror!), and rues about his many scenes, whether imagined or real. Willem Dafoe is suitably placed as Jesus, although again perhaps a controversial one given that he went on to play Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin in Spider-Man…

One aspect that draws either praise or ridicule is Harvey Keitel’s portrayal of Judas, here painted as the most ardent of Jesus’ followers after being sent to kill him for collaborating with the Romans. Keitel’s Judas is a ginger shouting machine, to the point where he doesn’t seem to have an off switch. He’s the one part of the entire production that doesn’t sit right. It’s like Mr White from Reservoir Dogs has been sent back in time and he’s had an Incredible Hulk-style reaction to the event. Maybe that’s why he’s such an angry man? Either way, he’s certainly not the villain as frequently seen in other interpretations of the Gospels, indeed he’s forced to betray Jesus by the man himself. After a brief meeting with Ziggy Stardust… sorry – Pontius Pilate – Jesus is crucified.

"Hello Jesus. I'm David Bowie."
“Hello Jesus. I’m David Bowie.”

This all leads into the second half of the film, and the part that the title refers to – namely, the last temptation placed in front of Christ as he slowly dies on the cross. As last temptations go, it’s decidedly insidious and the biggest target for controversy – he is shown a possible future where he is let down from the cross, marries Mary Magdalene (initially at least), lives a long life and has lots of children.

It goes without saying that The Last Temptation will offend a certain portion of the audience, most likely for blasphemy or something along those lines. My opinion? Well, I don’t put much stock in religion, but I like to think myself enlightened enough to consider that there are many possibilities regarding the life of Jesus, and this is just one of those possibilities. As a film it’s flawed but the central character of Jesus is an intriguing one, and a character who is constantly doubting his own motives is an inherently complex and interesting person to watch. For those of you who have strongly held religious beliefs and consider the film to be blasphemous or something along those lines – just don’t watch it. Simple enough.

With that said, I think that anybody who takes issue with the fact that, here at least, Jesus is portrayed in a less than flattering light, is clearly missing the point. The fact that he is as human as the rest of us, Messiah or not, whilst bringing him down to “our” level, surely also elevates us up to “his” level? Isn’t that at least part of the core point behind the crucifixion story, after all? Whatever your opinion on this matter – the film’s not bad.

Score: 3.5/5

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