The Last Temptation of Christ
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Films about Jesus tend, for all their possible individual cinematic strengths or weaknesses, to preach to the converted. It is mostly a given that in a film about Jesus the "truths" of Christian faith must be accepted before you can appreciate what happens on the screen. "Passion of the Christ" is the ultimate example: an act of faith more than an entertaining or thoughtful piece of cinema. "Last Temptation of Christ" is very different. The similarity between both films ends at the controversy preceding their release. The film shows us a tortured and uncertain man, Jesus, prone to visions and hallucinations, a carpenter who lives a hard life in Nazareth (he builds crosses and sees "messihas" die frequently, and his childhood friend Mary Magdaleine is a prostitute). Already this smells more of artistic license than gospel quotes, but it also rings truer and more brutally in keeping with the time than what is briefly summed up in the Good Book. The tense struggle between Israelite terrorists (including Judas) and Roman conquerors provides a violent background for this harsh environment. Out of this, Jesus comes to interpret his voices as the call of God and is ushered on by Judas, who sees in him not the son of God but a future independent leader for Israel. The misunderstanding between the two men is a wonderful contrast to their bizarre but strong friendship. As he gathers followers and takes on the role of Messia, he finally confronts roman power and, of his own will, is betrayed and crucified. On the cross, before finally giving himself completely to his cause, he reflects upon what a normal life might have been like... Never has an embodiment of Jesus been so human or a film about him being so deliciously ambiguous. The wonder is that if you approach it with a slightly open mind,you will find it solid and appealing to your views: as a Christian, it can give a new dimension to The Son of God, hence greater weight to his sacrifice. If you aren't a believer, it is a good portrayal of a gentle but weak mind sinking slowly into insanity, but through his conviction inspiring others. As a film, there are many reasons why this should be recommended viewing despite some flaws (Brooklyn accents and a blond Jesus): Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel are an excellent screen duo and embody their respective characters with conviction and sincerity, instead of being completely subdued by the role and religious reverence (as is the case in most Jesus films, especially "Passion"), an unexpectedly good performance is given by a multi-layered Pilate, played by David Bowie. The direction is concise, tasteful and elegant without being intrusive and Scorsese handles the more delicate scenes (the miracles) with a certain subtlety absent from most films on the same subject. The oft-mentioned score by Peter Gabriel is perfect. Paul Schrader's screenplay probably deserves slightly more credit than any else's contribution, for keeping a fair balance between the legendary and the more rational and historical aspects of the story. All in all, this film should not be dismissed as wildly indulgent to either side in the eternal believer/atheist debate, but thoughtfully approached by all. Because in the end, what matters is its qualities as a movie, and they are, to say the least, significant!
Directors: Martin Scorsese, Nikos Kazantzakis, Paul Schrader,
Production: Universal Pictures, Cineplex Odeon Films
The carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth, tormented by the temptations of demons, the guilt of making crosses for the Romans, pity for men and the world, and the constant call of God, sets out to find what God wills for Him. But as His mission nears fulfillment, He must face the greatest temptation; the normal life of a good man. Based, not on the Gospels, but on Nikos Kazantzakis' novel of the same name.