The Last Temptation of Christ (film)

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The Last Temptation of Christ
Black thorns against a blood red background.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Produced by Barbara De Fina
Harry Ulfland
Screenplay by Paul Schrader
Martin Scorsese (Uncredited)
Jay Cocks (Uncredited)
Based on The Last Temptation of Christ 
by Nikos Kazantzakis
Starring Willem Dafoe
Harvey Keitel
Barbara Hershey
Harry Dean Stanton
David Bowie
Music by Peter Gabriel
Cinematography Michael Ballhaus
Edited by Thelma Schoonmaker
Production
company
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • August 12, 1988 (1988-08-12)
Running time 164 minutes
Country United States
Canada
Language English
Budget $7 million
Box office $8,373,585

The Last Temptation of Christ is a 1988 drama film directed by Martin Scorsese. It is a film adaptation of the controversial 1953 novel of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis. It stars Willem Dafoe as Jesus Christ, Harvey Keitel as Judas Iscariot, Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene, David Bowie as Pontius Pilate, and Harry Dean Stanton as Paul. The film was shot entirely in Morocco.

Like the novel, the film depicts the life of Jesus Christ and his struggle with various forms of temptation including fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust. This results in the book and film depicting Christ being tempted by imagining himself engaged in sexual activities, a notion that has caused outrage from some Christians. The movie includes a disclaimer explaining that it departs from the commonly accepted Biblical portrayal of Jesus' life, and is not based on the Gospels.

Scorsese received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, and Hershey's performance as Mary Magdalene earned her a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress nomination, while Keitel's performance as Judas Iscariot earned him a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor nomination.

Plot[edit]

The film begins with a man whispering in despair, "The feeling begins. Very tender, very loving. Then the pain starts. Claws slip underneath the skin and tear their way up. Just before they reach my eyes, they dig in. And I remember. First I fasted for three months. I even whipped myself before I went to sleep. At first it worked. Then the pain came back. And the voices. They call me by the name: Jesus." Jesus of Nazareth (Willem Dafoe) is a carpenter in Roman-occupied Judea, torn between his own desires and his knowledge that God has a plan for him. This conflict results in self-loathing, and he collaborates with the Romans to crucify Jewish rebels.

Judas Iscariot (Harvey Keitel), originally a fanatic sent to kill Jesus for collaboration, instead suspects that Jesus is the Messiah and asks him to lead a liberation war against the Romans. Jesus replies that his message is love of mankind; whereupon Judas joins Jesus in his ministry, but threatens to kill him if he strays from the purpose of rebellion. Jesus also has an undisclosed prior relationship with Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey), a Jewish prostitute, who asks Jesus to stay with her, a request that he considers before leaving for a monastic community. Jesus later saves Mary from a mob gathered to stone her for prostitution and working on the sabbath. Jesus compels the mob to spare her life, asking "Who here has never sinned?", with Jesus offering two stones.[1] Later, Jesus preaches to the crowd using many of the parables from the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus acquires disciples, but remains uncertain of his role. He visits John the Baptist, who baptizes Jesus, and that night the two discuss their differing theologies and political views. John believes that one must first gain freedom from the Romans to achieve their end, while Jesus maintains that love is more important and people should tend to matters of the spirit. Jesus then goes into the desert to test God's connection to himself, where he is tempted by Satan as a cobra, a lion, and a pillar of flame (voiced by Barbara Hershey, Harvey Keitel, and Leo Marks), but resists each of these and instead envisions himself with an axe, being instructed by John the Baptist in answer to Jesus' dilemma of whether to choose the path of love (symbolized by the heart) or the path of violence (represented by the axe). Jesus returns from the desert to the home of Martha and Mary of Bethany (both sisters of Lazarus), who restore him to health and attempt to persuade him that the way to please God is to have a home, a marriage, and children. Jesus then appears to his waiting disciples to tear out his own heart and invites them to follow him. With newfound confidence he restores sight to a blind man, changes water into wine, and raises Lazarus (Tomas Arana) from the dead.

Eventually his ministry reaches Jerusalem, where Jesus performs the Cleansing of the Temple and leads a small army to capture the temple by force, but halts on the steps to await a sign from God for what he must do next. He begins bleeding from his hands, which he recognizes as a sign that he must die on the cross to bring salvation to mankind. Confiding in Judas, he persuades the latter to give him to the Romans, despite Judas' inclination otherwise. Jesus convenes his disciples for Passover seder, later known as the Last Supper; whereupon Judas leads a contingent of soldiers to arrest Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, identifying him with a kiss. In the struggle to defend his master, Peter (Victor Argo) cuts off the ear of Malchus; whereupon Jesus reattaches it and turns himself over to the soldiers. Pontius Pilate (David Bowie) confronts Jesus and tells him that he must be put to death because he represents a threat to the Roman Empire. Jesus is subsequently flogged and a crown of thorns is placed on his head. He is then crucified.

While on the cross, Jesus converses with a young girl who claims to be his guardian angel (played by Juliette Caton). She tells him that while he is the Son of God, he is not the Messiah, and that God is pleased with him, and wants him to be happy. She brings him down off the cross and, invisible to others, takes him to Mary Magdalene, whom he then marries. They are soon expecting a child and living an idyllic life; but Mary abruptly dies, and Jesus is consoled by his angel; next he takes Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, for his wives. He starts a family with them, having many children, and lives his life in peace. Jesus is then seen as an older man who encounters the apostle Paul preaching about the Messiah and tries to tell Paul that he is the man about whom Paul has been preaching. Paul (who in this film has slain the resurrected Lazarus) repudiates him, saying that even if Jesus had not died on the cross, his message was the truth, and nothing would stop him from proclaiming that. Jesus debates him, claiming that salvation cannot be founded on lies.

Near the end of his life, an elderly Jesus calls upon his former disciples to his deathbed. Peter, Nathaniel, and a scarred John visit their master as Jerusalem is in the throes of rebellion; whereupon Judas comes last and reveals that the youthful angel who released Jesus from the crucifixion is in fact Satan. Crawling back through the burning city of Jerusalem, Jesus reaches the site of his crucifixion and begs God to let him fulfill his purpose and to "let him be God's son."

Jesus then finds himself once more on the cross, having overcome the "last temptation" of escaping death, being married and raising a family, and the ensuing disaster that would have consequently encompassed mankind. Naked and bloody, Jesus cries out in ecstasy as he dies, "It is accomplished!", and the screen flickers to white.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Martin Scorsese had wanted to make a film version of Jesus' life since childhood. Scorsese optioned the novel The Last Temptation in the late 1970s, and he gave it to Paul Schrader to adapt. The Last Temptation was originally to be Scorsese's follow-up to The King of Comedy; production was slated to begin in 1983 for Paramount, with a budget of about $14 million and shot on location in Israel. The original cast included Aidan Quinn as Jesus, Sting as Pontius Pilate, Ray Davies as Judas Iscariot,[2] and Vanity as Mary Magdalene. Management at Paramount and its parent company, Gulf+Western grew uneasy due to the ballooning budget for the picture and protest letters received from religious groups. The project went into turnaround and was finally canceled in December 1983. Scorsese went on to make After Hours instead.

In 1986, Universal Studios became interested in the project. Scorsese offered to shoot the film in 58 days for $7 million, and Universal greenlighted the production. Critic and screenwriter Jay Cocks worked with Scorsese to revise Schrader's script. Aidan Quinn passed on the role of Jesus, and Scorsese recast Willem Dafoe in the part. Sting also passed on the role of Pilate, with the role being recast with David Bowie. Principal photography began in October 1987. The location shoot in Morocco (a first for Scorsese) was difficult, and the difficulties were compounded by the hurried schedule. "We worked in a state of emergency," Scorsese recalled. Scenes had to be improvised and worked out on the set with little deliberation, leading Scorsese to develop a minimalist aesthetic for the film. Shooting wrapped by December 25, 1987.

Music[edit]

The film's musical soundtrack, composed by Peter Gabriel, received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Original Score - Motion Picture in 1988 and was released on CD with the title Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ, which won a Grammy in 1990 for Best New Age Album. The film's score itself helped to popularize world music. Gabriel subsequently compiled an album called Passion - Sources, including additional material by various musicians that inspired him in composing the soundtrack, or which he sampled for the soundtrack.

Release[edit]

The film opened on August 12, 1988.[3] The film was later screened as a part of the Venice International Film Festival on September 7, 1988.[4] In response to the film's acceptance as a part of the film festival's lineup, director Franco Zeffirelli removed his film Young Toscanini from the program.[5]

Attack on Saint Michel theater, Paris[edit]

On October 22, 1988, a French Christian fundamentalist group launched Molotov cocktails inside the Parisian Saint Michel movie theater while it was showing the film. This attack injured thirteen people, four of whom were severely burned.[6][7] The Saint Michel theater was heavily damaged,[7] and reopened three years later after restoration. Following the attack, a representative of the film's distributor, United International Pictures, said, "The opponents of the film have largely won. They have massacred the film's success, and they have scared the public." Jack Lang, France's Minister of Culture, went to the St.-Michel theater after the fire, and said, "Freedom of speech is threatened, and we must not be intimidated by such acts."[7] The Archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, said "One doesn't have the right to shock the sensibilities of millions of people for whom Jesus is more important than their father or mother."[7] After the fire he condemned the attack, saying, "You don't behave as Christians but as enemies of Christ. From the Christian point of view, one doesn't defend Christ with arms. Christ himself forbade it."[7] The leader of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a self-described Christian group that had promised to stop the film from being shown, said, "We will not hesitate to go to prison if it is necessary."[7]

The attack was subsequently blamed on a Christian fundamentalist group linked to Bernard Antony, a representative of the far-right Front National to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and the excommunicated followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.[6] Lefebvre had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church on July 2, 1988. Similar attacks against theatres included graffiti, setting off tear-gas canisters and stink bombs, and assaulting filmgoers.[6] At least nine people believed to be members of the Christian fundamentalist group were arrested.[6] Rene Remond, a historian, said of the Christian far-right, "It is the toughest component of the National Front and it is motivated more by religion than by politics. It has a coherent political philosophy that has not changed for 200 years: it is the rejection of the revolution, of the republic and of modernism."[6]

Controversy[edit]

The Last Temptation of Christ's eponymous final sequence depicts the crucified Jesus—tempted by what turns out to be Satan in the form of a beautiful, androgynous child—experiencing a dream or alternative reality where he comes down from the cross, marries Mary Magdalene (and later Mary and Martha), and lives out his life as a full mortal man. He learns on his deathbed that he was deceived by Satan and begs God to let him "be [God's] son," at which point he finds himself once again on the cross. At other points in the film, Jesus is depicted as building crosses for the Romans, being tormented by the voice of God, and lamenting the many sins he believes he has committed.

Because of these departures from the gospel narratives—and especially a brief scene wherein Jesus and Mary Magdalene consummate their marriage—several Christian fundamentalist groups organized vocal protests and boycotts of the film prior to and upon its release. One protest, organized by a religious Californian radio station, gathered 600 protesters to picket the headquarters of Universal Studios' parent company MCA;[8] one of the protestors dressed as MCA's Chairman Lew Wasserman and pretended to drive nails through Jesus' hands into a wooden cross.[3] Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ offered to buy the film's negative from Universal in order to destroy it.[8] The protests were effective in convincing several theater chains not to screen the film;[8] one of those chains, General Cinemas, later apologized to Scorsese for doing so.[3]

In some countries, including Turkey, Mexico, Chile, and Argentina, the film was banned or censored for several years. As of July 2010, the movie continues to be banned in the Philippines and Singapore.[9]

Home media[edit]

Although Last Temptation was released on VHS and Laserdisc, many video rental stores, including the then-dominant Blockbuster Video, declined to carry it for rental as a result of the film's controversial reception.[10] In 1997, the Criterion Collection issued a special edition of Last Temptation on Laserdisc, which Criterion re-issued on DVD in 2000 and on Blu-ray disc in Region A in March 2012.[11]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

The film has been positively supported by film critics and some religious leaders. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 83% of 48 film critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7.3 out of 10.[12] Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 80 based on 18 reviews.[13]

In his review of the film, Roger Ebert, who gave the film four out of four stars, writes that Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader "paid Christ the compliment of taking him and his message seriously, and they have made a film that does not turn him into a garish, emasculated image from a religious postcard. Here he is flesh and blood, struggling, questioning, asking himself and his father which is the right way, and finally, after great suffering, earning the right to say, on the cross, 'It is accomplished.'"[14] Ebert later included the film in his list of "Great Movies".[15]

Writers at NNDB claim that "Paul Schrader's screenplay and Willem Dafoe's performance made perhaps the most honestly Christ-like portrayal of Jesus ever filmed."[16]

Christian film critic Steven D. Greydanus has condemned the film, writing, "Poisonous morally and spiritually, it is also worthless as art or entertainment, at least on any theory of art as an object of appreciation. As an artifact of technical achievement, it may be well made; but as a film, it is devoid of redeeming merit."[17] A review associated with Catholic News Service claims that Last Temptation "fails because of artistic inadequacy rather than anti-religious bias."[18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The Last Temptation of Christ - clip - Jesus defends Mary". Youtube. 7 September 2007. Retrieved 19 December 2011. 
  2. ^ Revealed in an interview with Mark Lawson on Front Row, BBC Radio 4, 23 September 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Kelly, M. (1991). Martin Scorsese: A Journey. New York, Thunder's Mouth Press.
  4. ^ "Venice Festival Screens Scorsese's 'Last Temptation'". Los Angeles Times. 9 September 1988. Retrieved 9 December 2012. 
  5. ^ "Zeffirelli Protests 'Temptation of Christ'". The New York Times. 3 August 1988. Retrieved 9 December 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d e James M. Markham (1988-11-09). "Religious War Ignites Anew in France". New York Times. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Steven Greenhouse (1988-10-25). "Police Suspect Arson In Fire at Paris Theater". New York Times. 
  8. ^ a b c WGBH. "Culture Shock Flashpoints: Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ". Public Broadcasting Systems. Retrieved 20 April 2012. 
  9. ^ Certification page at the Internet Movie Database
  10. ^ Martin Scorsese, et al. (1997). The Last Temptation of Christ [audio commentary] (Laserdisc/DVD/Blu-ray Disc). New York: The Criterion Collection. 
  11. ^ Katz, Josh (December 15, 2011). "Criterion Blu-ray in March: Scorsese, Kalatozov, Hegedus & Pennebaker, Baker, Lean (Updated)". Blu-ray.com. Retrieved February 17, 2013. 
  12. ^ "The Last Temptation of Christ". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  13. ^ "The Last Temptation of Christ". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 10 December 2012. 
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger (7 January 1998). "The Last Temptation of Christ". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 11 December 2012. 
  15. ^ Great Movies Roger Ebert
  16. ^ Martin Scorsese Biography
  17. ^ "The Last Temptation of Christ: An Essay in Film Criticism and Faith". Decentfilms.com. Retrieved 2013-06-10. 
  18. ^ "USCCB - (Film and Broadcasting) - Last Temptation of Christ, The". Old.usccb.org. Retrieved 2013-06-10. 

External links[edit]