Jesus, a humble Judean carpenter beginning to see that he is the son of God, is drawn into revolutionary action against the Roman occupiers by Judas — despite his protestations that love, not violence, is the path to salvation. The burden of being the savior of mankind torments Jesus throughout his life, leading him to doubt. As he is put to death on the cross, Jesus is tempted by visions of an ordinary life married to Mary Magdalene.
Director Martin Scorsese’s profound adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel was confronted and condemned with charges of blasphemy for its concluding “last temptation” sequence and for its portrayal of a very-human Jesus Christ figure (Willem Dafoe). The film attracted protests and boycotts from religious groups even before it reached the theatres, although Scorsese received a Best Director nomination, and the film clearly offered a disclaimer about its origins:
“This film is not based upon the Gospels, but upon this fictional exploration of the eternal spiritual conflict.”
The major controversy concerned the ‘last temptation’ visionary/hallucinatory sequence in which a very human and suffering Jesus (Willem Dafoe) was tempted by Satan (portrayed as a young androgynous guardian angel (Juliette Caton)) as he hung naked during crucifixion on the cross (while uttering: “Father! Why have You forsaken me?”). He was offered an idyllic vision or dream by the angel, who claimed he had “done enough” after being tested by a pleased and merciful God. [Jesus’ choice to follow Satan implied that he was a flawed, frail, questioning, tormented and self-doubting man who was uncertain of the path he should follow.] His crown of thorns was removed, as well as the spikes through his feet and wrists. He was given life and led away from an empty cross while he asked doubtfully: “I don’t have to be sacrificed?…I’m not the Messiah.” Onlookers at Golgotha didn’t seem to notice his departure.
The vision included a normal earthly existence and mortal happiness, including the blasphemous idea of a sexual relationship with a woman. He was immediately married to tattooed prostitute Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey), who was earlier seen entertaining various clients in a brothel where Jesus had spoken with her and asked her for forgiveness. [She offered herself to him: “Here’s my body. Save it. Save it,” but he declined to be enticed by her before leaving for the desert.] Now married to him, she cleansed his bloody wounds as he laid naked in her arms, and then, in a non-exploitative sequence, Jesus made tender, physical love with her as she entreated: “We could have a child.”
After she became pregnant, she appeared partially naked when at full-term pregnancy. When she abruptly died one day, the angel told him that Mary, Lazarus’ sister, would serve as “Magdalene with a different face” and she was carrying his son.
Ultimately, however, after discussions with the apostle Paul (Harry Dean Stanton) and another intervention with Judas Iscariot (Harvey Keitel), he returned to the cross and its suffering for humanity’s sake with his triumphant dying words: “It is accomplished.”
Director: Martin Scorsese
Tags: Barbara Hershey, Barry Miller, David Bowie, Free movies 1988, Harry Dean Stanton, Harvey Keitel, Paul Greco, Roberts Blossom, Steve Shill, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Last Temptation of Christ Online, Verna Bloom, Willem Dafoe