The Last Temptation of Christ is a long movie based on a very long and controversial historical novel written in Greek in 1953 by author Nikos Kazantzakis. It was translated to English in 1960, and made into a controversial film by Martin Scorsese in 1988. The soundtrack is by Peter Gabriel and sounds dusty, as though all the instruments are dirty with and corroded by the very soil of Israel.
The film deals with the human side of Jesus Christ, who is the central figure of the world’s largest religion. Christianity’s focus is on this figure, who the devout believe was the Son of God. Jesus is played by Willem Dafoe. Spoiler: David Bowie is in this film as well. Sadly, though, he does not play himself. We will get to that in Part Two.
What follows is my live response to the film The Last Temptation of Christ, the fictionalized story of a man named Jesus. I will try my best not to slip up and ruin the ending. I know how this story of the Son of God ends, and I don’t want to wreck it for anyone.
It’s Christmas. People love to watch Christmas movies at Christmas, and what movie is more Christmasy than The Last Temptation of Christ? Baby Jesus was born around Christmas, and there was a star. Willem Dafoe IS Jesus and he is a star.
That’s why I am going to make this sacrifice of time and bandwidth, and watch this movie about Jesus with much Peter Gabriel wailing going on in the background. Much. I am going to “live blog” what I see and hear, and publish it on Christmas Day. If you want to watch it too, get back to us in the comment fields and let us know if you see and hear what I see and hear. Maybe you’ve seen it. What did you think of it, and of my observations? Let us know. Here I go to Netflix.
TLToC starts off with a long passage about the dual nature of Christ. Then, a disclaimer: this is not based on the gospel but on the author’s imagination, which is much like this review is to be.
The title screen looks like a sixties British spy movie but the music is making me want to belly dance. TLToC was directed by Martin Scorsese, who seems to have a preference for casting people with Eastern US accents into this film, including Jesus.
That part is ridiculous. If Jesus wasn’t white, he surely didn’t have an NY accent.
The film starts with a beautiful Willem Dafoe lying on the ground in pain, remembering a time when he was fasting and whipping himself to keep the pain of God away from himself. It’s not easy being Jesus.
Judas just walked in, all in green with curly red hair, looking like a human Shrek. You know, I have had some bad friends but I have never had a Judas. He’s mean and horrible and yells at Jesus, calling him a coward for building crucifixes meant to kill his fellow Jews. I mean, he’s right, but he’s beating Jesus up and stuff. It’s bullshit. We can’t all have cushy jobs.
“I struggle,” says Judas. “You collaborate.” What a martyr wannabe. I realize this is Harvey Keitel!
Now the action is outside: someone is killing soldiers – is it Judas? Is that what is happening? I am confused. There are men in chains. One of them is Jesus. He’s putting on this really cool looking studded belt but it has these spikes on the inside of it, which makes it not really the greatest belt ever. Was Jesus building the crucifixes for himself? I am still confused. I am only two minutes in. This movie is 3 hours long.
Willem Dafoe is gorgeous. Now Jesus is being stoned. He is going to be nailed to the cross. I can’t understand why people are so horrible. Mary is here begging for him to be let go. Mary his mother. Now, here is Mary Magdalen. She spits on Jesus. Only one man is speaking up for Jesus and the other prisoners. He gets pushed down. Jesus is to go up on the cross for sedition. I hope he gets away!
Rome and all the Gods of Rome condemn him. Jesus is helping tie the other men up and they are being nailed to the cross and stripped naked and hung. When a prisoner’s foot is hammered, blood goes onto the face of Jesus but then:
Jesus is on the floor again, in a gown, indoors screaming and being comforted by a woman, who thinks the devil might be talking to him.
Now Jesus is walking out into a desert that looks remarkably like the one around Las Vegas, Nevada. Maybe Victorville, California. I think the memories of the men on the cross were not memories but premonitions, or images of a life this Jesus, who chose to be a man, did not choose.
Jesus falls onto the ground a lot.
Now he is in a town. There are naked women and symbols and coins everywhere. Jesus thinks in his head a lot, about God. He is thanking God for showing him the way. The way appears to be the way into a brothel. The men are watching Mary Magdalene do business. Jesus is watching, too.
Then, he casts a glance at men gambling and men cooking shellfish. Jesus is a Jew, so this must not be his idea of a good dinner.
The music in this movie is pretty cool but I cannot stand Peter Gabriel in general. It’s nothing personal.
Mary Magdelene is played by Barbara Hershey, who is very beautiful. She has black eyes and long black curls and big soft lips.
Cue forward to evening. Jesus has been sitting outside the chambers of the prostitute Mary M until the last customer leaves, which seems kind of pervy. He’s walking in to talk to Mary M. He is asking her to forgive him for “too many bad things.”
She is calling him on sitting outside all day with the others and then coming in and being all, “Sorry, Mary M.” She thinks he is a jerk, pretty much. She’s pissed off.
Jesus is telling her God can help, but she does not seem impressed.
Please note: there are still two hours and twenty three minutes left in the movie.
Back to Mary: she is telling Jesus her soul is in her body and that he just wants to make love to her, like all men do. She has face tattoos and is offering herself to Jesus, and making him touch her, but he jumps away. She jumps off the bed yelling, and tells him to turn away and not look at her. She tells him that every time she sees him her heart breaks.
I know how that feels. Poor Mary.
Now, though, she is sitting with him at a fire, but he leaves and starts walking through the desert. I feel like Mary M should give up on Jesus. I don’t think he’s really meant to be her man. It seems like he’s God’s man.
His clothes look so comfortable.
Now there are little mud huts in the desert. Jesus is going into one. I think these people are monks, because they are praying for the death of the master of the monastary. The monk who greets Jesus doesn’t want Jesus to pray. He wants Jesus to sleep.
Jesus sleeps. (A problem with this film is telling when it’s human Jesus or when it’s God Jesus, and if it’s supposed to be the present or the past in terms of the life of Jesus. It jumps a lot and it’s not like Jesus isn’t always in the same outfit.)
Jesus wakes and comes in to pay his respects to the dead man. The other men are kissing his dead body. Jesus realizes that the dead man is actually the man who brought him into the mud hut, which is impossible since the monk tells him he died last night, before Jesus even arrived.
The monks are burying the man. “Flesh, the master no longer needs you.”
Jesus is talking about how he is here to serve God, talking to a monk, who is trying to tell Jesus that he’s special. Jesus isn’t buying it. In his New York accent, Jesus is talking about how it’s not easy being God’s pet. He doesn’t feel special.
I read the Bible once, straight through, but I have never been baptized and had no formal teaching, so I have no real idea what is happening, but I think he is speaking to a future disciple now. Jesus is saying, “Lucifer is inside me.” Lucifer tells Jesus that his destiny is as God’s, but Jesus doesn’t like it. Not really. He might be a little flattered, I guess.
There’s a snake coming out of a hole in the floor of the mud hut. It’s coming at Jesus. I think the snake is the devil. It’s having sex with another snake, I think. I have seen slugs have sex and it looks like this. It sounds sexier than slug sex, though. Jesus says LEAVE ME leave me LEAVE ME to the snake.
Whoever the monk is, he’s kicking Jesus out because he says Jesus is pure and has to go speak to men. Jesus says, “I see men and I feel sorry for them, that’s all.”
Here’s that bastard Judas again, pulling Jesus out of the hut. I guess Jesus was allowed to sleep over one more night. He’s got orders to kill Jesus. Jesus is all, I am purified, and I don’t care what you do. Judas has resting bitch face. Jesus wants Judas to kill him, but Judas stops.
Jesus got a lot of attention without social networking. It’s interesting how pretty much everyone on earth has heard of him at this point and that reminds me of the Kevin Sampsell poem called Jesusbook.
Jesus tells Judas he’s happy to go through the door that is death, but that if Judas doesn’t kill him, he will go forth and speak to people in the voice of God.
Judas looks freaked out. Jesus says, “Maybe God didn’t send you here to kill me. Maybe he sent you here to follow me.”
Some people really hate Jesus. Those people think they are original, but it’s nothing new at all. They always have. That historical hatred makes it easy for other people to worship him. Everyone loves the bullied one at the end of the day. Unless they don’t. For now, Jesus is totally working the geek charm.
I love the sound of people walking on rocks and gravel in movies. I first noticed this while watching the original Clash of the Titans.
Judas and Jesus (from here on known as “J”) are making cool sounds with their sandals on the desert floor when they happen upon the people of the village dragging Mary M out of her brothel by her hair. She is not going gently. The people are mad because she is a Jew who goes with Romans on the Sabbath.
Then, they start to stone her. Jesus jumps in between Mary M and the stone-throwers. Jesus speaks. He talks about how everyone is a sinner and casting stones is wrong. Jesus tells a hypocrite that Jesus is like Santa Claus, basically, and knows what’s up even when people are sleeping.
This is scary shit. I am glad Mary M is okay, but I already have the NSA to think of all the time. I don’t need God, too. That’s why I remain an unbaptized heathen.
Jesus is ministering to Mary M and the stoners, and as he bends down I see he has manpurses. They look really nice. He goes on to tell the story of a farmer with seeds and stuff, but I am distracted by how very much I want to hear Christopher Walken tell this story. I think the people are distracted too, because they don’t believe that Jesus is the farmer. Then, Jesus says that we must love one another. The people think this is BS because they are hungry. Jesus says something lovely as he tends to do.
“Whoever is hungry for justice, they are the ones who will be blessed.”
Everyone in this movie is white. Like, so white you’d think this all went down in London.
Jesus is talking about how one day the rich will be poor forever. I don’t really want that for anyone – I would prefer a level of comfort for all, but rich people sure do like Jesus these days, you know?
The people in this village are just really edgy, and now they have run off to kill in the name of Jesus, which is upsetting to him, since he preached love. Except for the part where the rich people will all suffer forever. That’s not very loving, is it?
Anyway, this little imperfect speech has gathered more disciples for Jesus. Oh – I forgot I was going to call him J. Anyway, Mary M wants to go too, but J doesn’t seem to want any sisters on the road trip. He washes her feet instead. She totally falls for this and goes anyway.
The movie keeps going from man Jesus to God Jesus. Spoiler: I have read the Last Temptation of Christ. I have read the Bible, too, as I said, though I was confused by it. I am also American. I grew up with Jesus despite not being Christian and so I know how this is going to end. It really isn’t pretty. I like how Mormons don’t wear crosses on their necks, to tell you the truth. Crosses are sad.
Now they are at the lakeside. Some guys are fishing and everyone is looking up to see J. James, Andrew. Those are some of the names. Now all the men are walking with Jesus, and their numbers are growing.
Now, all the men are lying down and arguing about who gets to be by the fire. Now Judas it talking to Jesus who is not near the fire. He is telling Jesus he is better than the other men. He thinks the other men are weak. He tells Jesus he’d rather kill than turn the other cheek, even if it was someone he loves.
Judas can’t accept that J doesn’t want freedom for Israel, but for the soul. He wants Jesus to be madder at the Romans and now they are talking details about how to build a house.
Did I mention that Willem Dafoe is REALLY handsome?
J doesn’t think he’s the Messiah because he wanted to kill the stoners of Mary M.
Judas is talking about John the Baptist. Judas thinks J the B will know what’s up.
J just wants Judas to be his friend, and now they are sleeping in each others arms.
More Peter Gabriel music. Also, now Jesus is eating an apple. I guess it’s fall.
He’s throwing the seeds. Now an apple tree is there. Now there is a miracle.
It’s day again. People are singing and dancing and a man is preaching. They are all naked. All the women have pubic hair. This movie was filmed in the nineties. If this was filmed now, the women would probably have to have merkins.
The preaching man is John the Baptist. It’s funny how he sounds angry, like modern day Bible-thumpers. Jesus recognizes him from somewhere. A dream.
J the B sees the messiah in Jesus. He is afraid to baptize Jesus, even though J wants to be baptized. He wants J to baptize him, J being the Messiah and all.
Jesus talks a lot.
J the B is telling Jesus that love is not enough, and nothing the Romans have done is of value.
Jesus says he’s a heart and he loves and that’s all he can do. J the B thinks God demands anger, but Jesus thinks he’s wrong. J the B is talking shit about whores.
Jesus knows violence is not the answer, but he doesn’t know what the answer is.
Neither do I.
Now, here is Jesus walking through the desert alone. He is sweaty and dirty. I wonder where he is going? He is at a little mountain running his hands through the dirt, drawing a circle, threatening not to leave it until God speaks to him in “human words.” He wants to know if God wants him to die, or take the path of the axe or the path of love.
It’s like he’s a teenage girl in the time before cell phones, waiting at home for a boy to call.
It’s night now. There are sounds, like bells or tiny chains clanging. What is it? It’s a snake again. It’s talking in a sexy voice. Jesus is answering it. The snake is talking like it’s God, telling Jesus he should have a family and not be a martyr. Telling him the world doesn’t need him to be its savior.
Jesus banishes the snake and weeps. After ten days, he’s still sitting there. Now, there is a lion. It is really a pretty lion. It sounds like Judas. It claims to be the heart of Jesus. I don’t know if the lion is Judas. I am pretty paranoid about Judas, but I don’t want to give away the reason and spoil this movie for you. Now the fire is talking to Jesus and promising to be his friend. Jesus realizes the fire is Satan. I guess. I am pretty bad with symbolism, for a poet.
Now the apple tree is back. Jesus is eating the apple but blood comes out. The fire comes back, and fronts at Jesus about the future. I feel like it’s a mistake to listen to the fire.
J the B is here now, telling Jesus not to be afraid. He is telling Jesus the Lord wants him to take the axe and take the message to all. Jesus is chopping the tree down now, which I think symbolizes his feelings for Rome, but I feel like the axe is the wrong answer. I really do. Like Jesus, though, I don’t know the right answer. Jesus wanders off.
Now Jesus has found a house. There are goats in the house and the women are feeding Jesus. One is named Mary and one is named Martha. Jesus is grateful that they restored him after his days in the desert. Jesus is getting drunk. The women want to know if he has a wife.
Jesus says no. The women are speaking to Jesus and these are symbols: that he should not live in the desert but should be in a home, where men make more men. Then, Jesus learns that Harrod killed the Baptist. Jesus is stricken with an emotion Willem Dafoe does not convey well enough for me to recognize.
Cut back to the disciples. They are missing home and wonder how their sheep are. The men are feeling like fools because Jesus bailed. Some want to stay and wait as they were asked by Jesus to do. Some want to go back to Galiliee.
Now, the men are trying to properly interpret the words of another disciple.
The story of our time, am I right?
Judas demands the men wait, and they agree. Peter stands up in agreement and then suddenly is Jesus there, glowing as if lit from within. He looks creepy and haunted. He speaks of John baptizing with water but that he will now baptize with fire. He invites the men to war. He pulls something out of his chest. It is his heart. Jesus asks the men to take it. No one takes it. They look pretty shocked.
Jesus says he will lead the men and that they will leave their families and give away their belongings to fight with the axe. Judas is the first to kiss the feet of Jesus. He is pleased with the violent thoughts of Jesus.
Now the lepers. Suddenly, Jesus is upon the mud pits, freeing the lepers of Satan. I can’t tell from this scene, the way it follows the declaration of the axes, whether he is doing it for goodness or to make a scene and be noticed.
Now he is restoring sight to a blind man.
Naturally the man has blue eyes because apparently this movie is set in Sweden.
That’s cool though. Restored sight is good. Now the disciples are celebrating Jesus healing. They are bragging.
Now a man is cutting the guts out of a goat. The goat has HUGE testicles. People are singing and carrying some kind of priest around on a stretcher, but the priest is in gold and standing up. Now there is a queen with eyeliner and tattoos on her face. Perhaps she is a bride. Perhaps this is a wedding.
It is. Suddenly Mary M is back and a man notices she is a whore and tries to make her leave. Jesus tells him to knock it off because heaven is like a big wedding where everyone is against the law. The man calls him a Nazarene. I guess he doesn’t know about Jesus yet.
One day, nearly everyone will.
Some man is giving Jesus dirty looks and Jesus is drinking again. Now people are dancing to celebrate the wedding. Jesus is dancing. He is smiling and did I mention WILLEM DAFOE IS REALLY FREAKING HANDSOME?
Also, I am bad at spelling names. I hope this isn’t a sin.
Jesus is trying to talk the wedding party into following him. Now wait. If some bro showed up preaching at my wedding I might be slightly upset. That said, I feel like the weddings back then were not about the brides.
The men want miracles for proof that Jesus is the man with the plan. He thinks they must have heard of him. They have but they are doubtful this is the real J.
He tells them forget it . The miracle is he is there at all. He still has that weird gleam in his eye and is telling them wedding party that he is there to tear down their existence and replace it with God.
Here’s the thing – that would not fly well with me.
He is telling them their gold and silver will rot. Do those things rot?
These people think he’s crazy and should go back to building crosses. Now the people are trying to hurt him and Jesus is threatening them and yet inviting them to go with him. They just keep fighting.
Now there are poor blind cripples, as Jesus calls them. They are crawling after J. J believes these people will be his army.
Okay. Here is the part where this character Jesus totally jumps the shark. He rejects his own mother, who approaches him among the disabled, and tells her he doesn’t know here and that his only parent is God. He says, “Who are you?” He kisses her and leaves her in tears.
That is no way to treat your mother, Jesus, God or not.
Now is the big moment. There are women and they are crying and screaming because a man is dead. Jesus is resurrecting the man. That’s why we have Easter eggs.
PART TWO COMING IN JANUARY
NOTE: this movie is only one-third of the way through and I have written four thousand words. There could well be a part three.