The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
January 13, 2023 7:23 AM - Subscribe

Jesus (Willem Dafoe), a humble Judean carpenter beginning to see that he is the son of God, is drawn into revolutionary action against the Roman occupiers by Judas (Harvey Keitel) -- despite his protestations that love, not violence, is the path to salvation. The burden of being the savior of mankind torments Jesus throughout his life, leading him to doubt. As he is put to death on the cross, Jesus is tempted by visions of an ordinary life married to Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey).

Also starring Harry Dean Stanton, David Bowie, Steve Shill, Verna Bloom, Paul Greco, Roberts Blossom, Barry Miller, Gary Basaraba, Irvin Kershner, Victor Argo, Michael Been, John Lurie.

Directed by Martin Scorsese. Written by Paul Schrader with uncredited rewrites from Scorsese and Jay Cocks, it is an adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' controversial 1955 novel of the same name. Music by Peter Gabriel.

82% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Currently available for digital rental in the US. JustWatch listing.
posted by DirtyOldTown (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
The hubbub at the time was that this was sacrilegious. The good news is: it's not. The less good news is: the pacing is somewhere between "languid" and "somewhat boring."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:47 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


At the time this came out, I read the book, and was getting ready to see the movie as well. But - I ended up postponing seeing it for an unusual reason....

...The soundtrack. I'd picked up Peter Gabriel's soundtrack album first; after listening to it I put off seeing the film for another ten years or so, simply because I didn't want the pictures I'd been generating in my own head to be replaced by the film.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:18 AM on January 13 [5 favorites]


The protests against this film were pretty major, including the firebombing of a cinema in Paris; I would be very interested to see if there was a significant overlap between the people who hated the very idea of this movie (I'll assume that most of them didn't actually watch it) and those who loved The Passion of the Christ, which one recent Twitter commenter described as "one of the most vilely antisemitic films made since Goebbels lost control of the German movie industry."(There's a sequel in the works, which would be the Acts of the Apostles, I guess?) Apparently the sticking point for a lot of fundamentalists was the idea of Jesus having a sex life in the course of becoming a boring family man. By contrast, the following year's Jesus of Montreal didn't seem to get any protests at all, despite the film's assumption that its ideas were controversial; as one reviewer put it, "Hasn’t Canada, in the past 20 years, ever seen a single touring company of Jesus Christ, Superstar?"

So, yeah, not one of my favorite Scorsese films, but had some great bits in it, and some people who may have seemed like stunt casting (Stanton, Bowie) but actually were great in their parts.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:33 AM on January 13


Nobody could have watched the Sermon on the Mount scene and called this film sacrilegious. I could recite the Beatitudes since childhood but that was the first time I really got them.

(Okay, I could recite them from memory since Life of Brian but my point stands.)
posted by whuppy at 8:54 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


One of my favorite movie soundtracks. It was playing in the background the first time I ever consumed psychadelics. Absolutely perfect.
posted by hoodrich at 8:57 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


I would be very interested to see if there was a significant overlap between the people who hated the very idea of this movie (I'll assume that most of them didn't actually watch it) and those who loved The Passion of the Christ, which one recent Twitter commenter described as "one of the most vilely antisemitic films made since Goebbels lost control of the German movie industry."[...] Apparently the sticking point for a lot of fundamentalists was the idea of Jesus having a sex life in the course of becoming a boring family man.

I was raised Catholic instead of Fundamentalist, but I can still speak to this a bit...

There's a couple things going on here. You're right that many of the film's opponents didn't see it, and were indeed going by hearsay. And you're right that the idea of Jesus having a sex life was what freaked a lot of people out. But there's actually two different sub-sets of complainants there.

Group A are the people who didn't know much about the film except for the existence of those scenes - "this movie shows Jesus Our Lord And Saviour having sex??? HOW DARE THEY!" These people most likely did not know that those scenes were actually part of a vision Jesus is tempted with during the Crucifixion; there is a whole sequence where an Angel-like figure comes to Jesus and says that "God doesn't want you to die, just say the word and you can go be a normal guy having a normal life and that's the end of it." And then there's a fakeout sequence where it looks like Jesus agrees to that, goes through a whole normal life - first marrying Mary Magdelene and then marrying another woman when she dies, raising a family and yadda yadda. Some of the other apostles try to keep Jesus' thing going for a while, but mostly Jesus stays out of it. The angel is hanging around this whole time.

And then it gets to a scene where Jesus is on His deathbed as an old man and Jerusalem is going to shit and Judas comes to read him the riot act, and Judas points out that this angel who's been hanging around has been Satan the whole time. Jesus-on-his-deathbed recants His wish to be "normal" - and suddenly he's back on the cross, and that's how you find out that the whole sequence you just saw was Satan trying to show Him "see how great a normal life would be", but Jesus has just rejected that and that's when He dies and the film ends.

That sequence is what the title "The Last Temptation Of Christ" is referring to in the first place - Satan tempting Jesus with the opportunity to quit the whole Messiah thing and go be a normal dude; and the film ends with Jesus resisting that temptation. However, some people just cherrypicked those scenes and gossiped about them out of context - not making it clear that those scenes were basically imaginary. So that got a lot of people het up. (It also didn't help that somehow an earlier draft of the script got circulated, in which Jesus said some kinda salacious stuff.)

So that's Group A - the people who didn't know that those scenes were meant to be imaginary. But then you have Group B - the people who did know about that, but still really didn't like it. Some people really have a problem with the thought of Jesus having any human qualities or impulses; desire, sadness, anger, selfishness, pettiness, etc. Jesus is supposed to be better than that, they think. We're the ones who do things like have temper tantrums against hypocritical money-changers or get kinda into it when someone hot washes our feet; but not Jesus, He's supposed to be above our base humanity somehow.

And so for Group B, the film was a reminder that Jesus had a human side as well as a divine one. He had moments of anger, and doubt, and confusion, and fear. He probably sat around with the Apostles telling fart jokes now and then. And so He very, very understandably would have at least briefly considered it if Satan had appeared at the Crucifixion and said "you know, buddy, I can make all of this go away...."

But for Scorcese, the power of the story is that even despite all of that, Jesus somehow still dug down deep and said "Nope, this mission I'm on is more important." Group B find that moment of temptation challenging; for many other Christians, though, it's the entire damn point of Jesus' story overall.

This is heady theological stuff, though, so it's not surprising that a lot of people took a more simplistic view of the film and went straight to "they showed Jesus having sex, ew".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:46 AM on January 13 [13 favorites]


Nobody could have watched the Sermon on the Mount scene and called this film sacrilegious.

Oh my Sweet Summer Child. Let me introduce you to ... most American Christians.
posted by Saxon Kane at 2:12 PM on January 13 [6 favorites]


I love Scorsese and all, but I would just like to say that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did this story with Superman in 1985, and not only is it way better, but Batman and Wonder Woman are in it.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:27 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]


There's a couple things going on here. You're right that many of the film's opponents didn't see it, and were indeed going by hearsay.

Heresy hearsay, if you will.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:55 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]


Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons did this story with Superman in 1985, and not only is it way better, but Batman and Wonder Woman are in it.

The flip side of that: The X-Files episode Amor Fati not only was inspired by this, it flat-out rips off some shots from Scorcese's film. David Duchovny co-wrote the episode with Chris Carter; I was still a huge fan but this was when I was starting to suspect that fame was going to Duchovny's head a bit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:04 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]


Oh my Sweet Summer Child. Let me introduce you to ... most American Christians.
I know. It breaks my heart and sets what precious little remains of my faith on fire with rage that so-called Christians bounce off of the most Jesusy part of the Gospels.
posted by whuppy at 9:23 AM on January 14


I didn't realize the title was this on the nose, but the temptation in the movie parallels the Temptation of Christ when Satan tempted Jesus in the desert. (Which has a parallel with Mara testing Buddha.)
posted by kirkaracha at 11:45 AM on January 14


so-called Christians bounce off of the most Jesusy part of the Gospels

I'm reminded of a line from another movie that that was wrongly called blasphemous by people who hadn't seen it:
You people don't celebrate your faith; you mourn it.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:47 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]


It breaks my heart and sets what precious little remains of my faith on fire with rage that so-called Christians bounce off of the most Jesusy part of the Gospels.

I hope my joke/comment didn't come off as flippant or insulting. I'm not Christian (or any religion), but I like to think of myself as someone who tries to follow the humane wisdom found throughout the Bible -- the solidarity with the poor and oppressed found throughout both Testaments and encapsulated in the words of Jesus. I too find myself furious about people who loudly proclaim their "faith" as justification for hurting others, so I can only imagine the frustration felt by those like yourself who actually try to live their beliefs only to see your faith hijacked by racists and criminals and generally hateful people.

To me, a movie like Last Temptation of Christ is so much more true to the message of the Gospels and the experience of what authentic faith should be than self-congratulatory horseshit like God's Not Dead. Belief in any religion should be about challenging the individual to be a better person and making a better world, not some superficial veneer that makes people feel better about being selfish assholes.
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:05 PM on January 15 [3 favorites]


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