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Film: The Last Temptation of Christ

This is the 1988 film by Martin Scorsese, based on the 1953 novel of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis (Gesundheit). Starring Willem Dafoe as Jesus, what follows is a fairly loose reinterpretation of the Biblical story of Jesus' life and Crucifixion (sorry, the film's long enough without him coming back).

As stated earlier, the film/novel depart substantially from the Bible's account of Jesus' life. First to come to mind is that Jesus, while still capable of miracle working, is a deeply flawed human being, with the same weaknesses and vulnerabilities as everyone else. Secondly, Judas isn't that bad of a guy. Instead of outright betraying Jesus, he's practically forced into it by the man himself. Finally, Jesus wanted to have kids.

Yes, you heard right, spoiler readers: in what's probably the major reason this film was protested so heavily when it was released, The Last Temptation of Christ is simply the opportunity for Jesus to have a normal life. This caused nothing but consternation from the religious groups, as this nicely describes. The really weird thing is that the Bible mentions Jesus was "tested in every way." While the text does not explicitly mention sexual temptations, he must have endured them, or else he would not have been tested in every way. The implication that Jesus built crosses for the Romans to crucify people on and a few theologically wonky lines (like Jesus wanting God to stop loving him and later calling fear his god) might have also caused a few to protest as well.

The film won Scorsese a nomination for best director, but he'd have to wait about 20 years before The Departed would finally give it to him.


This film provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil/Punch Clock Villain: The way Pontius Pilate is depicted
  • All Just a Dream, Daydream Surprise, Lotus-Eater Machine, The Final Temptation: Take your pick, it's all there.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: The story provides one to the Bible, in tandem with ExternalRetCons.
  • Beat Still, My Heart: Yeah, it's kinda crazy.
  • Biblical Times
  • Big Bad: Satan, represented here as a pillar of Hellfire and as the angelic little girl
  • Break Them by Talking: Mature, un-crucified Jesus confronts Paul over his preaching, and is shut down right quick:
    Paul: You see, you don't know how much people need God. You don't know how happy He can make them. He can make them happy to do anything. Make them happy to die, and they'll die, all for the sake of Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus of Nazareth. The Son of God. The Messiah. Not you. Not for your sake. [beat] You know, I'm glad I met you. Because now I can forget all about you. My Jesus is much more important and much more powerful.
    • Then again, that speech occurs during the titular Last Temptation.
  • Came Back Wrong: Lazarus, if to a less severe extent than usual for this trope.
  • Celibate Hero: Subverted. Then double subverted.
  • Censor Decoy: An unintentional example. People got all up in arms over the fact that the movie included a brief sex scene between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but ignored the part of the movie that was actually sacrilegious: the film's portrayal of Judas as a man who only betrayed Jesus because he was following orders.
    • According to Paul Schrader, who had a PHD in theology, the film's release was a replay of the Arian controversy from early Christianity. He argued that in the original context of the Bible, visual representation of Jesus was itself blasphemous and that the history of Christian art patronized by the Church was no less blasphemous From a Certain Point of View than their film, which at least had the benefit of honesty.
  • The Chosen One
  • Cowboy Bebop at His Computer: The film's trailer was intentionally misleading, causing the trope listed below.
  • Creepy Child: Don't worry, it's only Satan.
  • Deconstruction: A highly intellectually driven look at not only the life of Jesus but the way's he's depicted in art and movies. And averting Christianity is Catholic with its source novel written by a Greek Orthodox and co-screenwriter Paul Schrader being a Dutch Calvinist(with a PHD in theology), joining Scorsese as the Catholic.
    • One thing which Scorsese pointed out in interviews and the book Scorsese On Scorsese is that the Crucifixion has been Entertainingly Wrong all through history, with the nails driven through the palms which in fact would not have hinged the body on the cross. Scorsese cited latest archaeological research as grounds to put the nails through Christ's wrists, just as the Romans did it.
    • The musical score by Peter Gabriel, a Genre-Busting effort that created World Music was an attempt to create music similar to what could have been played in Israel of that time, with some Anachronism Stew thrown in for good measure, generally taking Jesus from the European High Culture trappings of Classical religious music which developed centuries later and in a land and continent and culture far removed from First Century Israel.
    • Scorsese also deconstructs Jesus Was Way Cool, pointing out that if Jesus was so charismatic then there wouldn't have been such hatred or controversy provoked by him in the first place. He shows Jesus as a King of the Homeless attracting lepers, prostitutes and other outcasts who the establishment would regard as weirdos with Willem Dafoe's Jesus getting Adaptational Angst Upgrade rather than a Messianic Archetype we see. The movie also deconstructs Christian attitudes to sexuality, by foregrounding the conflict between "Fully Human and Fully Divine". Also The Last Temptation is the first work in Western Art to depict women with Jesus at The Last Supper.
    • The movie in general takes the opposite stand to the Hollywood Epic Movie giving Jesus a Film Noir narration, using a variety of American accents (because as pointed out in the quote below, they were no less realistic than the BBC or the old English of the King James Bible used in earlier adaptations) and in showing Jerusalem and the Bible Lands as a dirty, oppressed Wretched Hive that it was under Roman occupation and also suggested in the Bible itself, and showing the poor who gravitated to Jesus with as little glamour or affect as possible.
    • The point of these departures from traditional iconography was because Scorsese believed that Jesus' ideas and messages were still radical and important to the world, and he wanted to place it in a more alien and unfamiliar context so that people would understand it fresh without the preconceptions and pomp and piety.
  • Devil in Disguise: The "angel" who appears to Jesus upon the cross.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Mary Magdalene usually wears decorated barefoot sandals.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Jesus rejects Satan's illusion, is immediately brought back to the cross, where he cries out "It is accomplished!" in utter triumph, having fulfilled his Father's plan.
  • The Film of the Book
  • Foregone Conclusion: Duh.
  • Foreshadowing: The first scene in the movie is Jesus making a cross, carrying it, then watching someone get crucified.
  • God Is Flawed: Played with, the point of the the novel is to examine Christ as both entirely God and entirely Human. He is shown as being subjected to many of fears and temptations that humans are. In the end, however, he makes every decision the Christ of The Bible chooses to make.
  • Go Out with a Smile
  • Inner Monologue: Jesus does this quite a bit.
  • Jesus Was Crazy: The film begins with Jesus portrayed as a paranoid schizophrenic who starts preaching because he hears voices in his head. Jesus is first shown working as a carpenter building crosses for the Romans and rambling on about how he wants to crucify all the messiahs. The story goes through many plot-twists, and the psychiatric perspective grows obsolete after a while - but Jesus being crazy in one way or another remains the only constant throughout the movie. And trying to live a decent life turns out to be the craziest thing of them all.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: All of the actors, but Harvey Keitel got the most crap for it. This was a deliberate artistic decision by Scorsese who wanted to subvert the usual cliches of the Epic Movie.
    "I mean, basically, they say, okay, this is a defense, in a way. We don't have to get too emotionally involved because this happened a long time ago and people spoke funny. We said no, this man talks like you, talks like me, some guy has a Brooklyn accent, another guy has a Canadian accent... where does it say that everybody in ancient Judea spoke by listening to the BBC?"
    • Scorsese stated that at one point he even considered doing the film in Aramaic much like Mel Gibson did later but that he ultimately refused because he wanted his film to be seen by a general audience rather than academics and intellectuals, the other reason was that Aramaic was a dead language with all pronunciations lost to time and it wouldn't help the actors one bit.
  • Oh Crap: JESUS has one, when he resurrects Lazarus. Not even HE thought he'd be able to do it, and when he does, his quiet little "God Help Me" shows just how overwhelmed he is by his own power.
  • The Queen's Latin: Subverted, except for David Bowie as Pontius Pilate, but then he is Roman.
  • Refusal of the Call
  • Stylistic Suck: The stilted and rambling preaching of Paul of Tarsus. According to historical accounts, Saul/Paul was very bad at public speaking, which is why he's most remembered for his letters.
  • Temporal Paradox: Averted. The alternate future Jesus is shown still depicts Paul preaching the resurrection of Jesus and thus ensuring the proliferation of Christianity with or without Jesus' help.
  • Truth in Television: For all the controversy surrounding the movie, one definite accurate aspect is that Dafoe's physical appearance as Jesus is actually far closer than the more traditional Western depiction. note 
  • Voice of the Legion: Naturally, by Legion's boss, who gets to speak in quite a few voices throughout the film in addition to having this special effect.
  • Windmill Crusader: Jesus is portrayed as the insane kind of Windmill Crusader. This is played straight for most of the movie; he even gets cured of his messiah complex and gets to live a normal life.
    • In the Twist Ending, however, Judas accuses Jesus of betraying him by not going through with dying on the cross as they had previously agreed. Jesus’ guardian angel is then revealed to be the devil, who had tricked him into believing that he’s not the messiah. Thus, it turns out that it was No Mere Windmill after all.
    • In the same movie, Saul is briefly portrayed as the misguided kind of Windmill Crusader. However, he is quickly shown as a Straw Hypocrite who simply doesn’t care if the gospel he preaches is true or not. Of course, this Saul is part of the vision shown by the Devil as part of the titular temptation, so YMMV.
  • Windmill Political: Saul, see Windmill Crusader above.


The Color of MoneyCreator/Martin ScorseseGoodfellas
Last Tango in ParisRoger Ebert Great Movies ListLast Year at Marienbad
The Last Slumber PartyFilms of the 1980sMac and Me
Last Tango in ParisCreator/The Criterion CollectionThe Last Wave

alternative title(s): The Last Temptation Of Christ
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