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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 24.32%
Average: 5.41%
Pretty Bad: 4.05%
Total Crap: 13.51%

4 reviews, 50 user ratings

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Last Temptation of Christ, The
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Its greatness is inseparable from its goofy bits."
5 stars

Enough, I think, was written about the controversy over 'The Last Temptation of Christ' when it opened thirty years ago. If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather skip all that, except to say that the outrage showed a thunderous lack of understanding of context and of literary inquiry.

The movie, and its source novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, imagined a Christ confronted on the cross by an angel (Satan) who offers him escape into the life of a normal man, a life with wives and children and, yes, lovemaking. Christ’s agonized mind turns this possibility over at length — the possibility of simple human contentment — until finally he realizes and embraces his literally God-given role, and finds himself back on the cross, radiantly happy as he passes from life into legend.

Last Temptation is director Martin Scorsese’s act of cinematic worship, the movie he had hungered to make since boyhood. Of course, most of his films have that stream of Catholic blood and guilt running through them. Again and again in Scorsese’s work we see men (he has never, with a couple of exceptions, been interested enough in women to put them front and center) sinning yet yearning for redemption, or at least respect or peace or a point at which they can rest assured that “it is accomplished,” whatever it may be. The movie is imperfect — its colloquial dialogue and casting of homely urban types and musicians (hey, John Lurie! hello, Victor Argo!) as the apostles bring it, at times, perilously close to camp. But it doesn’t need to be perfect.

Much of the movie’s soul can be traced to the long and many disputatious talks between Jesus (Willem Dafoe) and Judas (Harvey Keitel). Dafoe seems to be experiencing the same insecurity and fear playing Jesus as Jesus himself feels — Dafoe and Jesus both have to grow into their roles. Keitel, for his part, approaches Judas with the same spiritual anguish he brought to The Piano and Bad Lieutenant. In this telling, Judas is merely the guy who has to embrace his intolerable role, the betrayer, so that God’s plan for Jesus can proceed. Late in the film, when the elderly former friends meet again in Jesus’ mortal bedroom, Keitel makes us feel the betrayal Judas feels — he has betrayed his master as ordered, only to see that act of love rendered meaningless when Jesus chooses the life of a man. We first see these two together when Judas is chastising Jesus the carpenter for building crosses for the Romans. Here is a Jesus in need of redemption.

Dafoe and Keitel, and also Barbara Hershey (who gave the book to Scorsese in the first place) as the Magdalene, get to run the gamut of inflamed, wounded emotion. The rest of the cast, eclectic to say the least, sometimes falters in the face of the moment’s importance — some of them, we gather, like the late Call frontman Michael Been, are there out of their own Christian passion. And then David Bowie swans into the picture as Pontius Pilate, unimpressed with what Pilate clearly sees as (sigh) yet another Jewish troublemaker, and the conception and almost comically perfect casting transcend camp (even with Pilate’s deathless, amazing line “We have a space for you up on Golgotha”) and achieve a kind of show-biz nirvana. Bowie takes his few minutes of the film away from Jesus and Scorsese and suavely tucks them in his pocket.

The filmmaking here, though rushed and on the cheap, is a hot stew of influences; Peter Gabriel’s sometimes alarming world-music score, Michael Ballhaus’ savagely unadorned photography of a dusty and near-uninhabitable land, Thelma Schoonmaker’s gliding and intuitive editing — all of it coalesces into a cinematic essay about the violence and chaos, and also the vitality and urgency, of worldly life, the solace Jesus must renounce — the heat and hard dirt floors, the cool fleshly comforts. This renunciation would be meaningless if it were too easy and did not come freighted with self-doubt and conflicting desires. Scorsese manages to make us feel what pulls Jesus towards normality, what he has to give up.

We do not see the resurrection; instead, at the climax, the very celluloid itself seems to rupture, shudder, flare into a blood-red death. How else would a director equally indebted to Christ and cinema end such an inquiry?

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originally posted: 08/21/18 11:30:29
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User Comments

12/26/20 dupadoit total crap 1 stars
6/25/12 bryan the passion of the christ is far more better than this piece of shit 1 stars
3/24/11 Jeff Wilder Excellent film. Far better than Mel Gibson's atrocious film. 5 stars
12/21/09 Loki I think the most controversial part of the film was when Jesus talked to Paul. Best movie! 5 stars
10/22/09 art MEL GIBSON"S PASSION OF THE CHRIST much BETTER than this BLASPHEMY! 1 stars
6/27/09 Joe Smaltz Pretty sad for Scorsese. gave up in the middle, should have earlier! 1 stars
6/11/09 art sacrilegious!,mel gibson"s "passion of the christ"<million times better. 1 stars
1/31/09 hardfact strange film 4 stars
6/08/08 John Patricio great film. I dont understand the controversy 4 stars
6/01/08 dupadoit so stupid 1 stars
10/14/07 Wendell O. Maness I don't believe in God anyway and this movie was lame 2 stars
6/20/07 Bitchflaps Dafoe and Keitel are great, but the "Grand Inquisitor" scene with Paul was lazy plagiarism 3 stars
6/27/06 Michael Parkes An absolutely amazing movie. Spritually, far more effective than Gibson's "Passion..." 5 stars
3/18/06 Rever what Jake said 5 stars
8/11/05 Jake Powerful. Better than Mel Gibson's Movie and one haunting film. 5 stars
4/15/05 Veronika Boyd This movie makes me want to change my status from Agnostic to Christian. 5 stars
3/21/05 Gray kicks the crap out of pasions 5 stars
2/26/05 keith withington Powerful film. Anything but blasphemous as final scene highlights. 5 stars
1/27/05 MyGreenBed Put this baby on when you're in need of sleep, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz 2 stars
10/27/04 Carolyn Metz powerful, but too gory 4 stars
10/25/04 UMER not upto the usual standards of scorsese 3 stars
3/27/04 Boris Morales great film, awesome soundtrack, beautiful photography 5 stars
3/20/04 Con Kangas Brilliant 5 stars
12/29/03 Agent Sands Great filmmaking, & actually really respectful towards Christianity. 5 stars
12/20/03 David Jones Very Powerful Film 5 stars
11/28/03 john replaces one Christ myth with another but effective 5 stars
4/19/03 Ubu the Ripper Not even worth the effort to type a comment. 1 stars
11/24/02 Charles Tatum It's based on a novel, NOT THE BIBLE 5 stars
9/15/02 Bastard Child of Mother Teresa What the fuck? Y'all know this one sucks! 1 stars
8/19/02 artemishia willem dafoe is AMAZING! this film is the best 5 stars
12/02/01 travis r. sorensen scorsese should have won best director. really makes you think. 5 stars
10/30/01 andrea reid only people that know the truth about Jesus should watch this film, because it is wrong 4 stars
8/09/01 E-Funk Interesting...controversial...and a great soundtrack. 4 stars
7/25/01 Koscher very spiritually moving...right on 5 stars
6/11/01 SlipNSlide what's with you and "revisionist"? how very evangelistic of you. 5 stars
5/15/01 R.W. Welch Not very convincing revisonist bio, so-so acting. 3 stars
5/01/01 JW Brilliant 5 stars
4/18/01 Movie Hound Video As a Christian I was not offended. It's just a movie 4 stars
2/21/01 Rocket Boy Average, well-acted, occasionally interesting. 3 stars
2/03/01 b.t. A personal triumph for America's greatest living director. Dafoe is astonishing as Jesus. 5 stars
12/10/00 Bradley Herring Pure cinema. Scorsese has accomplished perfection, protestors be damned. 5 stars
11/28/00 Cristopher Revilla Weird movie, i guess it kinda challenged my religious scruples, see it if your open minded 5 stars
11/13/00 Larry I am much more inspired by a Jesus I can relate to, rather than a see-all God figure. 5 stars
10/14/00 comeasur #1 on my all time list.Spiritually enriching.Empathize with all Jesus lived and died for. 5 stars
6/19/00 Ray Marvellous. Obviously a huge emotional and intellectual commitment from director and cast. 5 stars
4/30/00 Melchoir This movie is a wonderful, brilliant look at the life of Jesus. 5 stars
2/10/00 Kevin Delaney If you're insulted by this movie, you are a simpleton 5 stars
1/21/00 Leah I was insulted by the way Jesus was portrayed. He was God, without sin. 2 stars
12/14/99 Karahde Khan Almost every great director has made a dud. Scorsese is no exception. Crucify this bore. 1 stars
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  23-Sep-1988 (R)



Directed by
  Martin Scorsese

Written by
  Paul Schrader

  Willem Dafoe
  Harvey Keitel
  Barbara Hershey
  Verna Bloom
  Paul Greco
  Steve Shill

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