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Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) - a very controversial film directed by Martin Scorsese starring Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel

Religious issues tend to be very controversial, and if it concerns the founder of a religion, any depiction that deviates from the well-accepted view can provoke a number of feelings. And so it was with this movie, The Last Temptation of Christ (released in 1988), that sought to depict some events and theories that are not part of accepted Christian lore. For example, if a movie seeks to portray that Christ was not the son of God, or had a relationship with a woman and had a child, or did not die on the Christ, there can be a huge backlash. And so it was with this movie, which remains banned in some Christian dominated countries, and also provoked a backlash that was far more severe than the studio and the director (Martin Scorsese) expected. In recent years, there has been some acceptance of the movie's portrayal of Jesus as one who confronts all the human weaknesses and overcomes for his vision; the movie sought to explore all the sentiments that would have driver such a person. In the end, the movie did not too well at the box office.
Scorsese had been looking to make a movie on the life of Jesus for many years, and had taken the film rights of the 1960 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, even getting a screenplay for the movie ready by the late 70's by Paul Schrader, and production was even planned in 1983 with Paramount as the studio. But by late 1983, the project was cancelled by the studio, and then Universal Studio took up the project again in 1986 with photography starting in 1987. The movie was entirely shot in the African country of Morocco.

The movie has many concepts that do not gel with standard Christian philosophy, such as the concept of Jesus making crosses used by the Romans to kill Jewish prisoners by crucifying them, by portraying Judas as a far more complex and positive character (obsessed with ensuring a revolution by the Jews against the Romans rather than the betrayer he is positioned in standard Christian philosophy).
The movie starts out with the internal conflict in Jesus, who realizes that God has some plan for him, but that he is also human. When he starts to make the crosses for the Roman army, he is branded a traitor by Jewish revolutionaries. Judas is sent to kill him, but he waits and watches Jesus's message about love, and joins his ministry. Jesus starts preaching to people, saving the life of Mary (a prostitute) from a mob. Jesus is still working his way through what his aim in life is, and starts attracting disciples. Satan tries to sway Jesus 3 times, but each time Jesus refuses to get swayed. More events happen in the life of Jesus, but which convince him that the path of violence is not for him. He has asked Judas to get the temple guards to take him away, which happens after the Last Supper.
And then Jesus is put on the cross by the Romans since he is deemed a security to their current rule; and then the most controversial part of the movie. He is convinced by an Angel (actually Satan) that he is not the Son of God, and he should lead a normal life; where he meets Mary, makes love to her and then has a family. In the end, he is found by Judas near his death, who calls him a traitor, and that the angel was actually Satan. Jesus goes back to the cross, and then it is revealed that all this was a dream, and dies on the cross.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) -  a very controversial film directed by Martin Scorsese starring Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel

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