Jesus Christ struggles to accept his divinity as he desires a life
free of God's control, but ultimately accepts his fate as the Messiah.
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Paul Schrader
Starring Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey,
Harry Dean Stanton, Verna Bloom, Victor Argo, Andre Gregory
Based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis
Oscar Nominations - Best Director
For two thousand years, Jesus Christ has been one of the most controversial figures in human history. Was he man? Was he God? Millions have died for asking these questions, and more people are slaughtered or saved in his name every day. Obviously, making a film about his life is tricky business. You've got to have a healthy balance of narrative and religion, or else you'll alienate everybody who was the slightest interest in it. Scorsese found that middle ground amidst a sea of death threats and studio hesitation, delivering a poignant depiction of Jesus as a man who believed he had a mission sent from on high. And maybe he did believe that, if he existed at all. We'll probably never know.
Willem Dafoe excels as Jesus of Nazareth, which has gotta be one of the toughest roles an actor can get. How do you step into the shoes of the Lord? Well, Dafoe pulled it off, playing him more as an eccentric cult leader than anything else. Sort of the Jim Jones of his day and age. And it works. The weirdest part of the film is seeing Harvey Keitel as Judas, but all I see is Keitel (with his New York accent) randomly insulting and slapping the piss out of Jesus Christ from time to time. But I digress. I appreciated how Paul Schrader modified the language of the bible to fit a modern narrative, making the characters and the film overall more relatable. That helped keep it simple.
The Last Temptation of Christ is twenty minutes shy of three hours, and like most films, it doesn't need to be. The whole final act of Jesus imagining what his life would've been like had he not been the Messiah was intriguing, but ultimately unnecessary. But the lead-up to what we all know is coming is done with reverence and grace. At the very least, Jesus was a man with a message of peace who sought to better the world for everyone. Regardless of faith or lack thereof, that's something we can all appreciate.