Movie: The Last Temptation of Christ
Release Date: August 12, 1988
Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, Harry Dean Stanton, David Bowie.
Tag Lines: “A startling vision…an extraordinary story.”
Relevance: By August of 1988, I only had one thing on my mind, my senior year of high school. As soon as the forthcoming Labor Day holiday was over, I would officially be entering my final year of Catholic torture. I was excited for hanging out with friends, cruising through my easy schedule (I worked hard my first three years so that I could enjoy my last. Totally worth it.) and starting rehearsals for the school’s musical of which I had the lead role. Life was good.
Because of that focus on me, me, me, I paid little attention to the brouhaha that was happening around a little film called ‘The Last Temptation of Christ.’ The movie was being lambasted by the religion of my family and although I knew what was happening, I couldn’t really be bothered with it. By that time in my life, religion was just something I did, it wasn’t something that I practiced or believed in full on anymore. Those days were long behind me. Yes, I still went to church, sang in various groups and choirs and went through the motions, but my love and fervor I once had for Catholicism was a thing of the past.
My reaction to the criticism of the film was a simple “eye roll.” One of my issues (and I have many) with the Catholic Church was their constant complaints and protests about anyone and anything that challenged their faith. Honestly, I always saw that as a weakness. Boycotts, terrorist attacks and death threats which all happened surrounding the release of the film were not only going against everything they taught, but showed that their faith was not as strong as they proselytized every Sunday. Another example of this happened again in my Senior year when Madonna released her “Like A Prayer” video in March of 1989. Boy, the Catholics really lost their shit about that one and once again garnered a well perfected eye roll from me.
Although both strict Catholics (my mom more than my dad, at least at that time), my parents never once got caught up with any of that nonsense. They always taught me if you don’t like something, don’t listen to it or don’t watch it. End of topic. They were not at all into boycotts and censorship of any kind and simply didn’t engage in any of that sort of behavior. So neither of them even flinched when I brought ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ home as a rental when it was available, either late 1998 or early 1999. By that time, I really wanted to see it. I had always loved the story of Jesus. I mean, believe if it is fiction or not, it is a great story. Drama, intrigue, deception, murder, it really is a fantastic tale. I was also curious about the whole “blasphemy” aspect of it as well. So, I watched.
I remember the movie being long (almost three hours), but I was completely intrigued the entire time. It was beautifully directed and filmed and I loved the portrayals of the characters I knew so well from all of my years attending Catholic school. It was simply an entertaining movie. It basically told Jesus’ adult life story up to and including the crucifixion. The last part of the film, his last temptation, was the part that really got those Catholics’ panties in a bunch. But I really didn’t understand why there was such a controversy. The film, like its adapted novel, projected a possible encounter Jesus may have had with the devil to try and convince him not to go through with the crucifixion. But he doesn’t go for it. He dies. Mission accomplished. My reaction after the film was “Huh.” I was really expecting something very provocative and immoral. What I got was a very well done interpretation of a story.
Needless to say, the film became one of my favorites after watching it and I made sure I told everyone about it, especially Catholics. Yes, I am a person that likes to poke the bear and stir the pot and I loved the reactions I would get. Some people didn’t care, others told me I was going to hell. My response to that (one that I still use to this day) was “Good. It will be warm there and all of my friends are going there.”
‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ wasn’t the first nor the last time Catholics were outraged over art. That list is long and seems to be never ending. If only they listened to my parents and just let things go. Or imagine if they would be as outraged over something like, hmmm, I don’t know, priests molesting children? That would be something, right? Despite my ex religion’s views on this film, it remained very popular with me and I have watched it many times and will always defend it as a glorious piece of art.
Today’s Thoughts: ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ is the third and final film directed by Martin Scorsese to appear on my list of most influential movies of all time (see 348. Goodfellas and 339. Taxi Driver for the other two). He is a brilliant filmmaker and has a super impressive resume, but for me this is his crème de la crème.
I probably have not watched the film in over twenty years or so and was interested to see if the film would still hold up in my eyes as a work of art. The answer, simply put, is yes. The cinematography alone is worth the viewing but grouped with its direction and acting by both Willem Dafoe and Barbara Hershey it is a film that should be studied. It is gorgeous. Even if you are one that may be offended by its subject matter, you can’t take away its beauty.
One of the other elements I love about this film is its musical score. Written by Peter Gabriel, it is haunting and as much as the film is visually stunning, the music is aurally stunning. Its Middle Eastern vibe and sounds are mesmerizing and flowingly beautiful. I listened to his album “Passion” a lot after originally watching the film and feel like I need to revisit it again today. Madonna used the film’s music as an influence for her reinterpretation of “Like A Virgin” during 1990’s “Blond Ambition Tour.” It is one of my all time favorite versions of that song and a performance that again outraged Catholics. What’s not to love about that?
‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ is a brilliant film (and if it weren’t for leg positions and tricky camera work, almost a “penis film” as well). It is also one that I highly recommend. I dare anyone that avoided it due to their religious beliefs, give into the sin. You might find that it is not as “horrific” as once boasted. If you watch it and still feel it is blasphemous, just go to confessions and get absolved.
“It is accomplished!”
Awards: Academy Award for Best Director, Martin Scorsese (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture, Barbara Hershey (nomination), Golden Globe for Best Original Score – Motion Picture, Peter Gabriel (nomination), Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Director, Martin Scorsese (nomination), National Board of Review Award for Top Ten Films (winner).
Ways to Watch: YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon Prime, Vudu, DVD Availability.