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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)


All that I take away is that Jesus, plain and simply, knew how to charm the ladies. That is all.

I don’t think that I’m jumping too far by assuming that just about all of us know the story of Jesus Christ, the son of God, right? Well, if you need some reminding because you skipped CCD or were like me, and just cheated your way through Theology class in high school, then here’s a short synopsis for ya: Here is the story of Jesus Christ (Willem Dafoe). He’s the son of the almighty God that only he, and few other loyal and dedicated followers believe in, however, daddy’s been on his nerves a bit as of late. Not only does God keep pushing his son to do things he doesn’t really want to do, like going out in the world, saving people’s lives and preaching the gospel, but he’s ruining practically any bit of social, or personal life the guy could, or would want to have. But, being that Jesus’ daddy is in fact, the almighty Lord himself, he decides that it’s best he listen, get out there in the world, start speaking his mind, letting people know what’s up and ruffle a few feathers, if at all possible. Jesus does in fact, do that, and pays the ultimate price for doing so. However, there’s a small twist here that dodges away from what the Gospel would have you believe as “truth”.

Because see: When you’re working with Marty Scorsese, you’re working with a guy who doesn’t play by the rules, no matter how set-in-stone or followed those rules may be.

You can't tell me you wouldn't want to hang with that guy!?!?

You can’t tell me you wouldn’t want to hang with that guy!?!?

But you got to chalk it up to Marty’s willingness to take something like this head-on, as controversial as it may have been. Sure, Marty was, is, and never will be a stranger to controversy, but taking on the story of Jesus, our savior, and making a movie about him where he not only is painted as a human, but even has “temptations”, is just downright blasphemous. Of course, not in my eyes though. Many heavy-duty Christians would have you believe that anything that differs from their script of Christ’s life is not only false, but downright evil and should be broken in two, before it causes any more damage to the fragile, God-worshiping minds of our youth.

As you can probably tell, I’m clearly not a huge believer in my faith, despite going to Catholic school for all 12 years of my general-education, but that’s not what matters here. What does matter here is that Marty Scorsese, a guy we all know and love for painting some harsh, violent and brutal pics about the rusty, ragged streets of New York City, for one reason or another, decided it was his time to go in full-on “Christ mode” and start giving us the story of the Bible. Although, as he notes early-on, Marty does not adapt this story from the Gospel so many Christians hold so near and dear to their hearts; rather, Marty adapts the novel that this is based-off of and gives us what some might definitely say is a “humane-approach” to the story of Jesus Christ, and what we may have known him as.

Sure, this is downright despicable in the eyes of the Christians to paint Jesus, our lord and savior as anything else as a man who was more than willing to do and listen to whatever his powerful daddy told him to do, but when you take into context what Scorsese is really doing with this well-known story and “character”, then you wonder why they bitched and complained at all. Surely they couldn’t have not watched a film and got pissed-off about it because the words “temptation” and “Christ” were featured in the same sentence, right?

I mean, they definitely had to have seen this movie, therefore justifying their angry thoughts and complaints about its material, right?

They wouldn’t just jump to conclusions and automatically think that the said “temptations” that the title was referring to was those of the known-prostitute Mary Magdalene, now would they?

Anyway, I think you all know what I’m doing here, and I promise you, I’ll stop my snarky ways sooner than later, but think about it: Had most of those Christians who were originally upset with this movie being made and released to the general-public, actually decided to shell-out some gold and give this movie a watch, they would have probably been happy, since it doesn’t do much to either offend them, nor tell them that they are wrong in their thought-process of believing that Jesus Christ, God and all of that stuff is real and did in fact happen (snarkiness hasn’t ended yet, sorry). Because what Scorsese does here, is that he shows us that Jesus, despite being pushed and pulled this way and that by his daddy and everybody else in his life, really just wanted to break free, live a life, get a job, have a family, tap some fine ladies’ behinds and be like everybody else around him, while also still maintaining his title as “The Son of Christ”. In all honesty, I don’t find anything wrong or even “sacrilegious” about that, do you?

And that’s exactly why Scorsese’s movie works as well as it does; it goes through the tale as old as time that we know of Jesus Christ, and gives us a chance to see just exactly who he was a person, rather than what he was, as a symbol for religion. And though it may have been extremely odd that somebody who is so attuned to gangsters getting their heads popped-off as Scorsese is, to do a movie about Jesus Christ, when looking into the subject-matter, it actually isn’t. Like most of Scorsese’s characters, Christ goes through problems like guilt, repression, evil confusion, temptation and coming to terms with his own identity, and just figuring out who the hell he is. It’s exactly what all of us feel as humans, on a day-to-day basis, and it’s what makes Jesus Christ, in here, seem like such a real person that we could have cracked a few cold ones and shot the shit with, and even dare to ask that girl at the end of the bar’s number.

Okay, maybe he’s not that cool, but he’s pretty damn human, dammit!

"You remind me of a man I once knew. His name was Ziggy, and he played guitar."

“You remind me of a man I once knew. His name was Ziggy, and he played guitar.”

But while the whole “humane-element” surrounding Jesus Christ and practically everybody else around him works for them in believing them as people, the performances don’t do much to help out. Which, yes, is a total surprise considering the amount of talent on-display here, however, I feel like it’s not entirely all their faults. What separates this flick from most of the same skin, is the use of its anachronistic dialogue, where just about everybody here, speaks and acts like you or I would today in the present-day. Yeah, it makes it easier for those to understand just who is saying what, for what reason and to whom, but it makes everybody here seem like they just showed-up for dress-rehearsal, went over some of their lines and had no idea that Marty would be rolling the camera as they spoke in their natural, modern-dialect. At first, it’s a bit weird, but after awhile, it becomes totally distracting.

Instead, what ultimately happens is that we mostly just see Willem Dafoe playing and dressing-up as a Jesus-like figure, although doing a very good job at doing so; Harvey Keitel who isn’t even hiding his New York accent as the ultimate betrayer of the big JC, Judas, who has more homoerotic undertones added to him than I ever caught notice of in Vacation Bible School; Harry Dean Stanton gets to be, as usual, lovely to see show-up as Saul, even though his character is barely given much, or any time to develop at all; and randomly, David Bowie shows up as Pontius Pilate, making Jesus feel like a huge, steaming pile of shit, while walking-off and, more than likely, continuing his large, extravagant party of sex, grapes and togas.

The only one out of this whole bunch that really seems to be on their A-game and totally attuned to what Scorsese has given her is Barbara Hershey, playing the very grimy, very sexual Mary Magdalene that Jesus takes a liking to, if only because he wants her to make her feel better about herself (yeah, right!). She seems to be the only one who finds a way to mix the modern-day sound of her voice, to the old way in which people would have talked back then, without ever seeming like she’s stretching too hard. Not that anybody else does either (or in the case of Keitel, not at all), but she actually felt like the only one who could have lived, breathed, banged and been around during that period.

At the end of the day though, I think where Scorsese really hits his mark with this feature is that he ends it all on a positive, uplifting note. I won’t dare spoil it here, but when you see it, you’ll wonder just exactly why those devoted Christians were so pissed in the first place.

Oh wait, I know why: Because they’re Christians! End of snarkiness, I swear!

Consensus: Though the idea of a movie devoted solely to Jesus Christ and his humane-like ways, may be a sore-spot for some more faith-based viewers out there, for the rest of us, the Last Temptation of Christ ends up being an honest, wonderful and insightful look at the life Jesus himself may have wanted to live, had he been real, or, had he been real, would have liked to do when his daddy wasn’t looking or pushing him.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

The end. Or so we think......

The end. Or so we think……

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBCollider

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23 responses to “The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

  1. happycrisisblog February 27, 2014 at 5:06 am

    The book is fantastic! good review.

  2. cinematicjunkie February 27, 2014 at 10:23 am

    Good review. I’ve never gotten around to watching this, I will do some day. I remember my mum (who is a devout catholic) used to rant about ‘blasphemous’ films such as this film and Life of Brian, even though she had never seen either of them. That seems to be an issue, many people protesting about a film they have never seen before!

    • CMrok93 February 28, 2014 at 3:41 pm

      That’s my problem with people. If you have a belief, then stick to it. But don’t start talking bad and being against something that you haven’t experienced or even seen.

  3. whitdenton98 February 27, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    Been wanting to watch this for a while because I’m a huge Scorsese fan, so it’s good to hear this is any good. Plus, who can turn down Willem Dafoe as Jesus? Good review Dan.

  4. Dan Heaton February 27, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    I also went to 12 years of Catholic school and don’t consider myself religious now at all. What interests me is that Scorsese actually make a movie that confirms Jesus as a true hero. Where’s the difficulty if he didn’t face temptation? By making the challenges of being human so difficult, it only makes the ultimate victory even more convincing. That’s the way I see it, at least. I’m pretty certain few people that actually watched the whole movie were ready to protest it. Nice job.

    • CMrok93 February 28, 2014 at 3:44 pm

      Thanks! Yeah, I don’t get the point in revolting against this movie, despite not seeing it, but I guess some people can just tell when something is evil. Although, I do feel like this is very far from that.

  5. Russel DDK February 27, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Terrific Review Dan. You nailed the true essence of the film, especially in your consensus. Most Catholics I know, including my family, abhor the film, firstly because they are too intolerant and secondly due to their lack of understanding of art and cinema. I strongly feel that you need a nuanced comprehension and deeper knowledge of cinema to properly understand complex films like this.

  6. Writer Loves Movies February 27, 2014 at 5:21 pm

    Interesting review. Controversy aside, it sounds like this one stands up as a film in its own right. I might have to check it one out.

  7. Wendell February 27, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    I’ve been telling myself for years that I’m going to watch this and still haven’t gotten to it. Glad to hear that it’s actually pretty good. Might have to get on it pretty soon.

  8. Niall McArdle February 27, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    yes, the book is excellent. the film is great. the review is spot-on! cheers. niall

  9. Three Rows Back February 27, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    What a film. And Harvey Keitel as Judas is an inspired casting choice!

  10. Anna (Film Grimoire) February 28, 2014 at 12:48 am

    Willem Dafoe as Jesus? I’m in. Can’t believe I’ve never seen this one, sounds amazing. Great review Dan!

  11. imbrettscott February 28, 2014 at 6:25 am

    I just watched this a couple weeks back and was pretty impressed. You know, since willem dafoe and marty scorsese NEVER make good films.

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