The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) Martin Scorsese

 

Paul Schrader adapts Nikos Kazantakis’ powerful novel about the life of Christ (portrayed powerfully by Willem Dafoe) comes to life under the sure hand of Martin Scorsese, bringing the Christian character to life in a way unseen on the screen before this.

Raising questions not only about the concept of Christ, as well as his teachings, it also brings in to the realm pf possibility that Christ faced his last temptation on the cross, with the dream of a simple life as a good man, with a family and love.

Featuring a score by Peter Gabriel, and an all star supporting cast, including Harvey Keitel as Judas (and his relationship/friendship with Christ in this film is a powerful thing), Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene, David Bowie as Pontius Pilate and Harry Dean Stanton as Saul/Paul, Dafoe’s Christ hears voices calling him to work, to follow the call he has been given. Not sure he wants it, he undertakes the mission set before him anyway, gathering his apostles, ¬†preaching, performing miracles; but not all people believe him, and its not always peaceful, as the beliefs he shares clashes with those held by those in power, be it government or church.

Judas follows him from the beginning, and the discussions between the two characters are deep, and symbolic of the true heart of Christianity.

It’s a stunningly beautiful film, and its portrayal of Christ as a real person, with some doubts, but still doing what he must, is much more believable, and allows for great understanding, than the presentation of him as some form of super-being that didn’t make mistakes, that didn’t feel.

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The fact that he knows what is in store for him, and chooses to do it anyway is a much more powerful sign of belief and divinity than a perfect being simply going through the motions.

There are familiar moments lifted from the gospels, and, the gritty reality that Scorsese creates in the film makes all of them, even the seemingly impossible, more acceptable, and more believable.

The Last Temptation of Christ is in fact a passionate film, arguing for the tenets of Christianity, but by presenting Christ in a way that people were not used to, they refused to accept it. The film generated a huge amount of controversy, especially from those who did not see it, calling it blasphemous.

Dafoe is nothing short of amazing, turning in an incredible performance, that is in turns strong and vulnerable, and Scorsese, an undeniable master brings the times, and the characters to stunning life.

A beautiful, and moving film that examines the duality of one man, his divinity and his humanity, as well as his sacrifice. And while I, myself, may not be a Christian, I can appreciate the story, and the message, and I think this one has it.

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