The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

last temptation of christ poster 1988 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Interesting idea

Some miscasting, long

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Last Temptation of Christ

Studio: Universal Pictures/Cineplex Odeon Films/Ufland Productions

Genre(s): Drama

Release Date(s): May 26, 1988 (Turkey)/August 12, 1988 (US)

MPAA Rating: R

last temptation of christ jesus judas willem dafoe harvey keitel

Jesus has mood swings

Christ is a leader; Christ is a myth; Christ is a man.  Jesus of Nazareth (Willem Dafoe) has been plagued by voices from childhood.  Though he tries to fight it by working with the Romans, he has been told that he has a larger and more important path.  With his friend Judas (Harvey Keitel), Jesus is about to take that path to fulfill those prophesies and death is imminent…unless God changes his mind and offers him salvation.

Directed by Martin Scorsese, The Last Temptation of Christ is a Biblical drama.  The film adapts the controversial 1955 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis and was itself met with protests, demonstrations, and boycotts.  The film was released to mostly positive reviews but low box-office returns and earned Martin Scorsese an Academy Award nomination for Best Director while Harvey Keitel received a Razzie nomination for Worst Supporting Actor.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #70).

last temptation of christ jesus desert lion devil willem dafoe

Good thing we got this line between us

I can remember when the whole Last Temptation of Christ controversy was raging.  I remember the video of protesters etc…and even as a kid that made me want to see it more.  When I finally did see the film, I thought… “That’s it?”.  With the book and the film, the controversy in many ways is more “powerful” than some of the texts.

The reason that the film has power is that it feels like Jesus has been given a freedom of choice.  He faces temptation and makes the “right” choice by dying for the sins of humanity.  He gives up a good and happy life with children and a family to be a martyr.  Much of the controversy also surrounds his the teachings in the film.  Jesus makes crosses for Romans for crucifixions at the beginning of the film as a way to fight his destiny.  He comes to accept it throughout the film as he modifies his message and views and faces doubt (which was showed in the Bible).  Judas is also more of a scapegoat and accessory to Jesus’s plans…while it doesn’t necessarily follow the scripture, it humanizes the character.

last temptation of christ guardian angel devil juliette caton willem dafoe crucifixion

The Temptation…

The casting is also a bit odd.  It casts the typical “white” Jesus, but Dafoe does the best he can as Jesus rages and tries to decide his fate.  The film can’t decide if it wants to be authentic or not by having the characters keep their accents and this is particularly distracting with Harvey Keitel’s Judas.  Barbara Hershey is strong as Mary Magdalene and David Bowie is a good choice for Pontius Pilate (but you could also his star status could be a distraction).  Harry Dean Stanton plays Saul/Paul of Tarsus who doesn’t believe Jesus’s message but helps him see his path.

The movie looks rather good (though I still argue that actors from the region speaking the language would be more interesting).  The movie was filmed in Morocco and it does have a really distinct look to it (especially considering Scorsese’s normal city locations).

The Last Temptation of Christ is a thinking movie.  Is it better to have an untouchable symbol or a symbol who is human and confused?  I prefer the latter because of the “free choice” aspect.  Much of the whole crux of the Bible is choosing the “good” path because it is good instead of being forced into it by hopes of salvation.  The movie I guess could offend some but not being particularly religious, it doesn’t really bother me.  The temptation is just that…a temptation that is passed by for the greater good.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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