Monday, September 24, 2012

The Last Temptation of Christ -
Martin Scorsese (1988)

Martin Scorsese has made some pretty decent movies, several of which ended up somewhere on the 2012 Sight & Sound poll. I had originally planned to watch Hugo (2011, S&S #588) early in the month. Didn't get the DVD borrowed, and decided to just roll over to a different film on a different theme.

I crossed protest lines to see this in the theater. Texas, man...

The Last Temptation of Christ
dir. Martin Scorsese. 1988, USA.
Sight & Sound 2012: Critics' #894 (whoa. 1 vote?)
Roger Ebert's Great Movies ... Criterion essay
DVD/Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection
Watch via Amazon Instant / iTunes / YouTube

The Last Temptation of Christ trailer (1988)

Rabbi 1: That is blasphemy.
Jesus: Didn't they tell you? I am the saint of blasphemy. Don't make any mistakes. I didn't come here to bring peace, I came to bring a sword!
Rabbi 2: Talking like that will get you killed.

Migraines of the reluctant Messiah. Early on, you might wonder whether this will be the Jefferson Christ - maybe a seer of visions, but no miracle-worker. But that's not the case. As much as I think this is a great movie, I do often wish it was somehow different or possibly better. This time around, I noticed how much of the story is comprised of the Greatest Hits by Jesus: water-into-wine, raising Lazarus, storming the money-changers, the Last Supper... Often handled with a deft touch though, sure. Like Judas's crack about Peter being steady and solid as a rock. Or when Jesus he-who-is-without-sin's the stone-casting mob and Zebedee (director of The Empire Strikes Back) steps forward, he calls him out. "Who is that widow you've been seen with?" And someone in the back of the crowd yells out, "Judith!!" Awesome. I also wondered if there were any relation at all to the Bob Dylan "Judas!!" heckler.

The focus is very clearly on the human aspect of the Christ duality: the fear, reluctance, indecision, resentment, confusion, that bearing the Holy Spirit would create. But sometimes it spills over into the realm of possible madness. The way he expects crowds to naturally understand his vague parables, which could easily come off as nutty ramblings. Pretending not to recognize his own mother to make some obscure point. Until the literal miracles start up, the hint of insanity meshes with the earlier doubts among his disciples (especially the guy who misses his sheep). The approval of John the Baptist ("My Dinner with" Andre Gregory) might even be suspect given the throng of ecstatic loons he attracts. But once you see someone pull their own heart out of their chest and start talking baptism-by-fire, you pretty much have proof.

But overall, I generally feel sorry for this Jesus. From what Magdalene says, sounds like he was a pretty normal kid. He admits his faults, and especially his paralyzing fears, to the desert monk early in his journey. Despite those fears, he accepts his duty and pushes forward towards his own death. While waiting for the "betrayal" at Gethsemene, he's scared shitless - begging to be spared like Moses, Isaac, Noah, Elijah... And of course, Satan exploits his fear of death with the last temptation. What kind of bothers me is how Jesus isn't so much tempted to live a whole, normal, happy life - he gets to!! Might not technically be reality, but seems fairly real to me. I'd forgotten that it wasn't actually Magdalene that Jesus grew old with. Also, Harry Dean Stanton's St. Paul is practically satire.

Other than the sacrilege, a common complaint is the various (usually American) accents on display in the holy land - Brooklyn Judas and so on. I don't see the problem. It would be weirder to me if everyone tried to put on the same fake accent, and what would that be? Some American Jewish accent, something like European Yiddish, some Middle Eastern Hebrew flourishes, the flat nowhere diction of Hollywood? No thanks. Also, although they're clearly American accents, the variety might even be kind of accurate - like if the different characters came from different regions within Israel. Willem Dafoe talks like a Nazarene, the Iscariots were the Brooklynites of Judea, etc... Romans of course have spoken with a British accent (Bowie!) since time immemorial.

A lot of great desert photography, nice Peter Gabriel "world music" soundtrack, an all-star cast with lots of odd cameos. It's certainly not perfect, but I do find it thought-provoking. And the filmstrip runout transcendence right before the end credits provides one final unusual touch.

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