The Last Temptation of Christ Retro Talk; Grade: B+
Updated: Apr 27
Welcome to another edition of Retro Talk! Now normally I only do Retro Talks if I've seen older films in theaters, but since... Yeah.... Depression. Starting today and so forth till we go back to normal, we'll discuss an older film I've never before seen every single week! In the 2010's Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader both made great works of arts of their own, dealing with themes of faith and religion. With Scorsese's Silence undeniably an underrated great film, with Schrader's First Reformed one of the best films of the 2010's and arguably one of the best screenplays of that decade as well, one may think how would a Scorsese and Schrader religious collab film may look like?! Well in 1988 the two geniuses in cinema worked together on The Last Temptation of Christ, directed by Scorsese and written by Schrader. I was so hyped to finally see this film due to the fact these two artists made something great on their own on this genre, I wonder what they can do together on one particular project of this nature.
The film was rewarded with very astounding reviews, an Oscar nomination, and most importantly... Outrage. Apparently at the time The Last Temptation of Christ was a very controversial film during it's release. In an article on July 13, 1988 Ministers Vow to Boycott over this film, due to the inaccuracy and deception of Jesus. Scorsese got a lot of hate towards this film, from those heavily dedicated to their religion. As one whom watched this film, I can understand why they felt upset about it. It doesn't follow the biblical story of Jesus to it's core, as significant changes has been made. Sure Jesus is still known as a powerful being, but in this story he tends to have difficulty in being secure of the title of being known as the son of God, while temptation does come to mind every now and then of Jesus not wanting to be a completely perfect being. But here's the thing those upset about the film must've forgotten: In the beginning of the film, there is a notice that this film is taking on a fictional tale from an acclaimed novel and not taking on one we've come to know and love from the Bible itself. Whether you agree or not, I felt the outrage was unneeded. Scorsese wasn't trying to offend anyone, it's not like he made a mockery/parody of the beloved son of God like adult cartoon shows have done in the past, examples Robot Chicken and Family Guy.
Scorsese adapted this novel into a film because in my opinion... It's an interesting take on this figure. What if Jesus was in a way like one of us? The feeling of dealing with temptations constantly feeding our heads, as we just want to let go and give in, but we tend to avoid because what may God think of us for giving into a sin?! Being a perfect being whom has never sinned is impossible, only a Son of God can achieve this. But what I find interesting on this take is the man had an interesting theory of his own, he thought maybe Jesus still the son of God, could have face the challenge of temptations constantly throughout his entire life. Like it wasn't a walk in the park for him like they make it out to be in the Bible, he may of just had challenges of temptation all the time, but knew how to remain perfect and just completely avoid all temptations, due to the fact he has responsibility of the title he has given by God himself. Another take I found very intriguing is the fact at times, being titled as the son of God maybe brought uncertainty to Jesus. I mean given that high honor in your existence is unheard of. Having never seen a man that has an honor of that stature, we can understand Jesus' uncertainty of that role due to the fact in all humanity it's never been heard of. That's why Jesus in this story feels uncertain that he may not being doing all that is require to be the Son of God, as he doesn't feel fully secure of having that reputation as there could be more to be done for his people. I felt both elements in changing the deception of Jesus even though fictional, to be very intriguing as you can honestly not only spark a conversation, but can somewhat feel more of a connection with the character in this story. Jesus though showing great power in a couple moments and of course partaking in crucifying for us, this version of Jesus can make the audience feel a connection with this character due to the fact he shows human like qualities. It may not be accurate to Biblical terms, however some audience may prefer this version of Jesus more because they can understand him. He's still a perfect being with great power, but he shows human like emotions we as humans show in everyday life. I mean people don't follow religion because they don't believe it's real, a perfect being that doesn't find much challenge in their entire existence?! I may not agree with them, but I understand why they may feel that way. Honestly you can make a case one may find reasoning why people choose to believe, if they were to watch this fictional story, it actually sounds a little more believable.
The Last Temptation of Christ is a beautifully shot film, complimented by a lovely composed score. Let's talk about the lead whom plays Jesus Willem DaFoe... It's not really a surprise we're shown a great performance by Mr. DaFoe, but this maybe the best deception of Jesus I've seen in any film. When Willem DaFoe is locked in... BOY HE SURE IS LOCKED IN. He's exactly what you want out of a character of this nature and this interesting take on Jesus. I felt a naturally complicated strong performance from Willem DaFoe, as he delivers BIG TYME! The story of The Last Temptation of Christ can be a replica of the Biblical story, only this version Jesus handles the difficulty of uncertainty, temptation, while also has quite fierce integrity in certain moments. What I love what Schrader has done with this story is not only spark conversation on religious terms, but give a truly engaging moving story as there is not a dull moment at all. There are some moments where you can say were a bit over the top. I did found the scene where Jesus was in a circle to be a bit much, I felt the aftermath felt rewarding at least, but during his time in the circle just felt a bit goofy. Let's talk about the ending.... I felt this could be a turn off for many viewers as one can say I was getting there, but then it grew on me once I realize what it’s all trying to say. It's basically what the title says: This was Jesus' Last Temptation, before he moves on. Though it felt uncertain how this was going to unfold, as like many of us we're so custom to the Biblical story, that we just assumed it would go out the way it was told in that version. In this version it takes a good minute to get there, with some confusion along the way, the pay off was certainly worth it. I won't spoil anything: But it felt as if God was trying to handle the difficulty of Jesus' mind, so he can finally feel secure to his title.
I still find First Reformed significantly better and I give a slight edge to Silence, but Scorsese and Schrader really have made a great work of art in The Last Temptation in Christ. The thing I enjoy the most about their films on religion is the fact they challenge the viewer. I don't think faith in religion should make it believe it's a walk in the park, filled with rainbows as everything comes very easy for those that choose that route. Faith is an important yet beautiful thing to have, but to truly commit to faith has it's challenges. Films like these make me understand the importance of faith, they don't feel like a propaganda commercial ad from Pure Flix's films, that actually engage audience in conversation about the stories behind of what they believe in and how that relationship is very sacred to have, despite the many difficulties one may have down the road with faith. I admire Scorsese and Schrader for their films, not afraid to take on the hard hitting challenges that we need to now and then think about.
Overall, The Last Temptation of Christ is a great film. I highly recommend checking this one out, it's on ShowTime. Do have a marathon consisting of The Last Temptation of Christ, Silence, and First Reformed during this quarantine, excellent triple feature option. Well thank you all so much, look forward to next week on another edition of Retro Talk! -Mitch Smietana