Saturday, March 6, 2010

Review: The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988)

Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ is based on the controversial 1960 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, a fictional alternative retelling of the story of Jesus Christ that portrays Jesus as being humanly subject to temptation, and strays from the events depicted in the Bible. Jesus is played beautifully by Willem Dafoe. Self-proclaiming himself the son of God, commanding a disciple following and ignoring violent claims he was a magician, he seeks to reassure the world's faith in God by fulfilling his destiny of crucifixion and resurrection.
Harvey Keitel takes the role of Judas, the man believed to have betrayed Jesus, but interestingly it is suggested that Jesus commanded Judas to complete such a betrayal in assurance that Jesus was condemned to death on the cross. Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey) is presented as a prostitute and the film hints at a romantic past between her and Jesus. The emotional energy is at times overwhelming for the viewer. Dafoe exerts such passion in his portrayal, and the man's struggle with his inner demons is at time heartbreaking. The sets are stunning and the camera energetic (spectre-like, following and judging Jesus). The final temptation when Jesus is nailed to the cross and nearing death understandably would have caused controversy amongst faithful Christians on its original release. Christ is tempted by what he believes to be an Angel sent by his father to live the life of a normal man, to be a husband (to Mary Magdalene) and a father. We briefly see Jesus and Mary engaged in sex and ultimately bear and raise a child. Jesus grows old and withered, before he is visited by his disciples. Judas reveals the films final twist by claiming that the Angel was in fact Satan himself. Jesus had strayed from his appointed path and abandoned his duty to be crucified as the salvation to mankind, favoring a peaceful death. Judas stresses this as an act of cowardice, leading to a passionate forgiveness of God! The film concludes with Jesus 'accomplishing' his rejection to temptation and dying, bloodied and beaten, on the cross! At 160 minutes, it is tough to stomach this film, and not being a religious man, many of the themes and references did not resonate as they possibly could have. But, from a cinematic point-of-view this is a rewarding experience and another masterpiece from Mr Scorsese.

My Rating: 4 Stars

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