The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna
This movie was received
with a lot of negative vibes. Generally, people only object to
artistic license when it concerns recent historical figures, like
Kennedy and Nixon. This is why Oliver Stone gets into so much trouble.
On the other hand, people will tolerate any kind of distortion of
historical figures from distant times.
Most of the time.
are exceptions. Christ is one of them.
For every individual, Christ has a personal meaning, and that often involves beliefs held steadfast from childhood, and/or beliefs that involve faith and trust in the people who instilled the beliefs in us. Therefore, when somebody else shows us his own personal interpretation, and that interpretation is unusual and in conflict with our own, we react with our emotions. That's why this movie was so controversial.
I don't think it is possible to argue that it is not a deeply
spiritual story. The eponymous book, by the famed Greek author Nikos
Kazantzakis ("Zorba the Greek") is one of my 10 favorite
books and, in my opinion, probably one of
the 10 or so truly great literary achievements of the 20th century, on
a literary level with the best of Joyce and Nabokov, and perhaps
greater in some respects than either, because Joyce and Nabokov are
the masters of language, but Kazantzakis is the master of the spirit. With this book, he asks a simple question - what would life have been
like for Christ - real life, now - if he had been both man and God,
and his human side needed time to understand the responsibilities of
his divine side and the will of the Father. Wouldn't Satan's
temptations, for example, prey upon the weaknesses of a human side
with human needs and limitations and the ever-troublesome free will?
Assuming Judas was a real man and not just a melodramatic Snidely
Whiplash cartoon bad guy, what would have motivated Judas to betray
his master? Just money? Nah, has to be something much deeper than
It is a simple story, beautifully told. Not at all iconoclastic, just a deeply-realized personal vision that takes Christ's duality of nature completely seriously and tries to understand it. "Mystical" might be the right word.
Roger Ebert wrote a beautiful sentence about this movie, both accurate and sublimely worded, and I can't hope to better it. "The film has offended those whose ideas of God and man it does not reflect. But then, so did Jesus."
Martin Scorsese directed, and he just tried to keep himself out of the way and let Kazantzakis' story unfold accurately. He did tons of research to make sure that he got the visuals and all elements of the time period exactly right. For example, he approached The Last Supper with the same seriousness that Kazantzakis took toward homoousia. He assumed it really happened, and therefore portrayed it as it actually would have looked, not as it was painted in the Renaissance (a beautiful visual). He hired the best actors he could find, and he put it all together beautifully.
Is the film really a great masterpiece, as some have argued? I don't know. Scorsese did a magnificent job, but I think the story is too internal to translate to a perfect movie. The book is more of a theological argument than a story, sometimes presenting all sides of the argument in the form of character voices. Deep spirituality makes a good backdrop for a book, since a book can be our companion for days, but doesn't necessarily make an ideal setting for a great movie, a medium which has only two hours of our lives to make its impact.
It's a very good movie, an important movie, no question about it, but one with limited appeal. I really admire this film, but it's really not much to my taste, and judging from the general reactions to it, not much to the mass taste either.
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