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THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST
Jesus Christ is a name that has been said by billions upon billions of people throughout the centuries. He is a symbol of love and peace, the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins and opened the gates of heaven. His name has been said in prayer, blasphemy, and in some cases, unknowingly (how many of us have screamed his name out of frustration, fear, joy, anger, and without even realizing it?). Jesus is an image of holiness and mercy, and because of that he has been praised as being a man who never doubted his position in life, or in the afterlife. In the bible, he preaches to the people, even as a young boy. As a man, he attracted large amounts of people to listen to him pass on the word of God, as he claimed to be the Son of God. He was, and will forever be believed as someone who had devout faith. But with Martin Scorseseís highly controversial film, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis and adapted for the screen by Paul Schrader (TAXI DRIVER, THE MOSQUITO COAST), this story shows that what if Jesus hadnít died on the crosses for our sins? What if he fulfilled the temptations of every man and woman who ever walked the earth? Sex, a family, a home, a life, children. What if Jesus wasnít as flawless as the bible makes him out to be? What if he could have been seduced by the devil in the form of God? In the form of love and hope? What if in doing so, he turned his back unknowingly on God, and experienced his own fears and doubts?
Iím not going to write a plot synopsis for the film, I donít think that would encourage anyone to see the film. Either youíll see it because youíre interested in its What if? questions. Or youíll be repulsed by the notion that Jesus would be displayed as such a being and pass on the film, bashing it as many of the church fanatics had bashed it when it was first released. There are several memorable scenes, a few of which include the meeting between Jesus and John the Baptist, who Jesus seeks out to see if he truly is the real messiah. When Jesus travels into the desert to await the voice of God (Beware, God is not alone out there), and is seduced by Satan in the form of a snake, a lion and a pillar of fire. The scene when Jesus returns from the desert and greets his disciples. And there is of course the highly discussed crucifixion scene, in which Satan, in the guise of a little girl, seduces Jesus to turn his back on his promise to open the gates of heaven, and die for the sins of a man (and what would have happened if he had done so).
Itís sad, and a little bit frightening, that the church fanatics would get into such an uproar over the film. The movie isnít insulting Jesus but is in favor of him. This story could help people relate to him even more, as his conflict with his own inner demons and his personal duel with himself makes him all the more human, and we can recognize him as a human being. This movie would probably have more of an influence of people who are doubtful of their faith then all of those God fearing nuts who think that passing out a pamphlets will give relief to those who seek their own answers in life. Many of them would have you fear God because you are unsure of his existence. This movie shows itís all right to have doubts and concerns, and ask questions. And what better way to deliver that message then through the image of Jesus.
Now, I confess that I am an atheist, and do not believe in God or heaven. I donít have anything against those who do, and am thankful that such a symbol has the power to bring out the best in people. I admire those who do have divine, but I am not one of those people. Perhaps the movie has a lesser effect on me because of that, but if is ever proven that Jesus had existed and was the Son of God, then I would hope that he would like the Jesus depicted in this film. A man who expressed anger and confusion. A human being.
Martin Scorseseís direction is taut, and is matched by the powerful and haunting score by Peter Gabriel. Scorsese and Schrader have not made a film that patronizes the audience, or puts on a Hollywood show for them (think BEN-HUR). They have created a genuine and compelling film that has the power to speak to the audience, instead of for the audience. Scorsese was nominated for his direction, and this is unfortauntely the only thing the film was nominated for. William Dafoeís performance as Jesus is extraordinary, and Harvey Keitel (who plays Judas Iscariot, a loyal follower of Jesus but ultimately betrays him to the Romans), does an exquisite job. Barbara Hershey, and brief performances by David Bowie (as Pontius Pilate), and Harry Dean Stanton (in a dual role as Saul, the one who kills Lazarus. And Paul, who is seen before the end of the film and explains that even if Jesus has risen or not, he is still a figure that supposedly as the power to bring out the best in people).
A film experience that should not be passed over. Donít listen to all the rubbish by the demented Christians who despise the film without even seeing it (Universal was even approached to sell the film so it could be destroyed, long before the film was even released). It is an intriguing film and an original experience.
My Grade: A