My thoughts on The Last Temptation

(NOTE: I’m not going to talk about the serious theological blunders of the work - which has been discussed thoroughly many times)

PS: Possible Spoilers Below

Finally having curiosity get the better of me, I decided to watch this film and read the original novel which caused a lot of Christians to go up in arms. First of all, I’m going to spoil the fun and now give my thoughts: I’m not too impressed by the film and found much of the novel too strange for my liking. Now, when people talk about The Last Temptation, most of the time they mean the controversial film version directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Willem Dafoe in the title role. Through reading, I found out that that ‘adaptation’ is actually a quite a bit of a different creature than the novel - the film cuts off a lot and introduces more.

The cutting off of some scenes is rather understandable. There are some more intense scenes in the original novel, such as:

Matthew,” said Jesus, “bring your notebook here. What do you write?” Matthew got up and handed Jesus his writings. He was very happy. “Rabbi,” he said, “here I recount your life and works, for men of the future.” Jesus knelt under the lamp and began to read. At the very first words, he gave a start. He violently turned the pages and read with great haste, his face becoming red and angry. Seeing him, Matthew huddled fearfully in a corner and waited. Jesus skimmed through the notebook and then, unable to control himself any longer, stood up straight and indignantly threw Matthew’s Gospel down on the ground.
What is this?” he screamed. “Lies! Lies! Lies! The Messiah doesn’t need miracles. He is the miracle—no other is necessary! I was born in Nazareth, not in Bethlehem; I’ve never even set foot in Bethlehem, and I don’t remember any Magi. I never in my life went to Egypt; and what you write about the dove saying ‘This is my beloved son’ to me as I was being baptized—who revealed that to you? I myself didn’t hear clearly. How did you find out, you, who weren’t even there?” “The angel revealed it to me,” Matthew answered, trembling.
The angel? What angel?” “The one who comes each night I take up my pen. He leans over my ear and dictates what I write.” “An angel?” Jesus said, disturbed. “An angel dictates, and you write?” Matthew gathered courage. “Yes, an angel. Sometimes I even see him, and I always hear him: his lips touch my right ear. I sense his wings wrapping themselves around me. Swaddled in the angel’s wings like an infant, I write; no, I don’t write—I copy what he tells me. What did you think? Could I have written all those miracles by myself?
An angel?” Jesus murmured again, and he plunged into meditation. Bethlehem, Magi, Egypt, and “you are my beloved son”: if all these were the truest truth … If this was the highest level of truth, inhabited only by God … If what we called truth, God called lies … He did not speak. Bending down, he carefully gathered together the writings he had thrown on the ground and gave them to Matthew, who rewrapped them in the embroidered kerchief and hid them under his shirt, next to the skin.
Write whatever the angel dictates,” Jesus said. “It is too late for me to…” But he left his sentence unfinished.

Perhaps because the filmmakers thought these would just give more reason for people to complain, they cut all this out, except for the quote “the Messiah himself is the miracle”, which was transposed to another scene. Meanwhile, some scenes may not have been filmed perhaps due to the film’s low budget.

Another difference is that in the film, Jesus is judged by Pilate in private, without the involvement of the Jewish leaders and with no crowd; there is no Simon of Cyrene. Yet, the novel itself is fairly standard at this point - Jesus is tried and beaten by the Sanhedrin (albeit ‘off-screen’), the trial before Pilate is a public affair, and the crowd shouts for Barabbas; even Matthew’s oft-misused “Let His blood be on us and on our children” is retained by Kazantzakis. Simon of Cyrene is present - albeit as a minor character: he is an innkeeper who runs the inn where the disciples are hiding. After the disciples prove to be a bunch of cowards who could not even volunteer to carry the cross for Jesus, he rebukes/insults them and goes out himself to do it. And later, as Jesus was crucified (and as the darkness spreads over the land), he has a vision that it was the angels themselves who nail Him to the cross:

Then [the soldiers] called the gypsies with the nails, but as the hammers were lifted and the first blow was heard, the sun hid its face; as the second was heard, the sky darkened and the stars appeared: not stars, but large tears which dripped onto the soil. The crowd was overcome with fright. The horses on which the Romans were mounted became ferocious. Rearing, they began to gallop furiously and trample the Jewry. Then earth, sky and air suddenly grew mute, as at the beginning of an earthquake.
Simon the Cyrenian fell prone onto the stones. The world had shaken many times under his feet, and he was terrified. “Alas! now the earth will open up and swallow us all,” he murmured.
He lifted his head and looked around him. The world seemed to have fainted. Deathly pale, it was now just barely visible in the bluish darkness. The heads of the people had vanished and only their eyes—black holes—bored through the air. A thick flock of crows which had scented the blood and rushed to Golgotha now fled in terror. A feeble gasp of complaint descended from the cross, and the Cyrenian, tying his heart into a knot so that he would not weep, lifted his eyes and looked. Suddenly he uttered a cry. Jesus was not being nailed to the cross by gypsies! No, a multitude of angels had come down from heaven, holding hammers and nails in their hands. They flew around Jesus, swung the hammers happily and nailed the hands and feet; some tightly bound the victim’s body with stout cord so that he would not fall; and a small angel with rosy cheeks and golden curls held a lance and pierced Jesus’ heart.
What is this?” murmured the Cyrenian, trembling. “God himself, God himself is crucifying him!

Now we go off to talk about the temptation itself. While the film is ambiguous as to whether the temptation was actually real or just a vision, the novel’s version could be interpreted as leaning for the latter. Hanging on the cross, Jesus runs out of breath and faints:

And then—never in his life had the Cyrenian experienced such intense fear or pain-a great, heart-rending cry, full of complaint, tore the air from earth to heaven.
ELI… ELI…” The sufferer was unable to continue. He wanted to but could not: he had no more breath. The Crucified inclined his head—and fainted…

His eyelids fluttered with joy and surprise. This was not a cross; it was a huge tree reaching from earth to heaven. Spring had come: blossoms covered the entire tree; and at the very very end of each branch a bird sat over the brink and sang. … And he—he stood erect, his whole body leaning against the flowering tree. He lifted his head and counted: one, two, three…
Thirty-three,” he murmured. “As many as my own years. Thirty-three birds, and all singing.
His eyes expanded, burst their bounds, covered his entire face. Without turning, he could see the world in bloom in every direction. His ears, two sinuous seashells, received the blasphemies, weeping and tumult of the world and turned them into song. And from his heart, pierced by a lance, the blood flowed.
There was no wind, but the compassionate tree shed its flowers, one by one, onto his thorn-entangled hair and bloody hands. And as he struggled amid the sea of twitterings to remember who he was and where he was, the air suddenly whirled, congealed, and an angel stood before him. … At that moment, day broke.

The angel (with green wings!) assures Him that His crucifixion was all a dream, and Jesus now sees the world as an idyllic place, with a procession of great lords going to a wedding - Jesus’ wedding. He then finds Himself now clothed in rich garments and riding a white horse, and rides on. Jesus and the angel find a young bull tied to an olive tree:

Tied to the trunk of an olive tree was a gleaming full-rumped bull, black with white forehead. His tail was held high, and a nuptial crown rested on his horns. Jesus had never seen such power, such brilliance, such hard muscles, nor eyes so dark, so full of virility. He was frightened. This is not a bull, he reflected; it is one of the dark, deathless faces of Almighty God.
The angel stood near him and smiled cunningly. “Don’t be afraid, Jesus of Nazareth. It’s a bull, a young virgin bull. Look how swiftly he moves his tongue and licks his moist nostrils, how he lowers his head and butts the olive tree, anxious to fight with it, how he shakes himself in order to break the rope and escape. … Look down there in the meadow. What do you see?” “Heifers, young heifers. They’re grazing.” “They’re not grazing; they’re waiting for the young bull to break the rope. Listen once more how he bellows. What tenderness, what supplication, what power! Truly, like a dark and wounded god. … Why has your face grown fierce, Jesus of Nazareth? Why do you look at me with those dark, unlaughing eyes?” “Let us go,” Jesus bellowed softly. His voice was all tenderness, supplication and power. “First I’ll release the bull,” answered the angel, laughing. “Don’t you feel sorry for him?” He approached and untied the rope. For a moment the chaste beast did not move. But suddenly he understood: he was free. With a bound he rushed toward the meadow. At precisely that instant Jesus heard the tinkling of bracelets and necklaces from within a lemon orchard. He turned. Mary Magdalene, crowned with lemon blossoms, was standing before him, bashful and trembling.

When turns back, He finds out that the noblemen, the lilies which graced the way, and the angel himself, are gone; only the bull in the meadows remained. Mary asks Jesus to follow her: according to her, Jesus is a wanted man - a mob wants to crucify Him, and made everything ready until an angel snatched Him away. They walk down the lemon grove (note a motif here; earlier, Kazantzakis describes the jeering crowd as throwing stones and lemon peels at Jesus), and after a brief conversation they start to have sexual intercourse with each other. In the open. Then they talk some more; Jesus calls Mary here “precious fellow worker of God” and (oddly) “Mother of God”, and suggests that they name their son “Paraclete, the Comforter”. :eek:
Around this, Mary’s servant, known thereafter as the Negro, comes into the scene. Jesus falls asleep while Mary walks away along with the servant. Just around that, the servant hears voices of men and dogs and runs off, leaving Mary alone in a place filled with cypresses and palms. Seeing a black, red-spotted dog, she hears a voice (God) who tells her that she must now die and should not fear nor resist, calling her “great martyr” and “first martyr”. Eventually, Levites and Caiaphas’ “bloodthirsty slaves” jump in on Mary, calling her a whore. A balding, fat hunchback (Saul of Tarsus) comes, claiming to have the right to kill Jesus and demanding to know where He is.

While the hunchback spoke he looked at her passionately and came closer and closer, his breath on fire. Magdalene fluttered her eyelids.
Saul,” she said, “look at my breasts, my arms, my throat. Wouldn’t it be a shame if they perished? Don’t kill them!” Saul came still closer. His voice was smothered, hoarse.
Confess where he is and I won’t kill you. I like your breasts, your arms, your neck. Pity your beauty and confess! Why do you look at me like that? What are you thinking?
I was just thinking, Saul—and sighing—just thinking what miracles you would perform if God suddenly flashed within you and you saw the truth! To conquer the world my beloved needs disciples like you—not fishermen, peddlers and shepherds, but flames like yourself, Saul!
Conquer the world! Does he want to conquer the world? How? Speak, Magdalene, because that’s just what I want to do.
With love.
With love?
Saul, listen to what I’m going to tell you. Send the others away—I don’t want them to hear. This man you’re hunting and want to kill is the son of God, the Saviour of the world, the Messiah! Yes, by the soul which I shall render to God!

But the mob won’t wait. While Magdalene is still speaking, they have begun to stone her.
Jesus wakes up, still under the trees, thinking about what He had just dreamed - He could not remember anything save stones, a woman (could the woman have been Magdalene?), and blood.


As Jesus tried to recall the dream, the memory changed to that of a woman in a loom, weaving and singing something. It was then that He found the green-winged angel once more, who suggests that He try letting His soul escape His body so He can find out who the woman is. Jesus finds out that it is Mary, the sister of Lazarus. The angel tells Him that she thinks that He is dead and weeps. After asking about Magdalene, the angel just simply tells Jesus that she is dead, ‘killed by God’ and that she is now immortal in heaven; Jesus protests it as being “unjust”. This is where the angel delivers the infamous “one woman with countless faces” speech.

Jesus and the angel go to the village to Mary and Martha’s house. The angel decides to stick with Jesus and turns himself to the aforementioned Ethiopian servant, passing off as Jesus’ errand-boy. Jesus knocks at the door, and a delighted Mary and Martha come and greet Him (interestingly enough, they use the words often heard in the Eastern church during Passiontide: “We worship your passion, we salute your holy resurrection.” :rolleyes:). Jesus then declares a name change; because He will take their brother’s place, He now declares Himself to be ‘Lazarus’, at which the angel transformed Him to actually look more like Lazarus. Later, the village came to know about this and went and see ‘Master Lazarus’ and his servant. Time passes, and Mary gives birth to a son.

Years pass, and Jesus, Mary and Martha now have a huge family; with Jesus living His life as a normal carpenter. However Mary had a dream where a Seraphim told her that this was all a dream and that Jesus was actually crucified. Shaken by this, Jesus went out to the fields and found the Ethiopian servant, which He attempted to send away. But the angel would not go (“This is a difficult moment. Your mind might waver.”), and just dismisses Mary’s dream - after all, she’s a woman. “They can’t endure great joy, so they cry.”

One Sabbath evening, a half-drunk wayfarer goes in front of Jesus’ doorstep. It was Simon of Cyrene, who reports that Pontius Pilate had recently gone mad: he would wash his hands in an attempt to (literally) get the blood off, order his servants to flog him with his own whip, wear a crown of thorns around his head, and at night go off to the taverns of Jerusalem (including Simon’s own) for a drink (note that the servant/angel hissed at Simon to shut him from talking). Then, according to Simon, Pilate was just found crucified on top of Golgotha at dawn.

Jesus suddenly felt a stab in his heart as though he was being pierced with a lance; and the four blue marks on his hands and feet swelled and turned red. Mary saw him grow pale. She approached and stroked his knees. “Beloved,” she said, “you are tired. Come inside and lie down.” The sun had set; the air grew cool. The Cyrenian, now completely drunk, was tired of talking. He fell asleep. The Negro seized his arm, raised him with one heave and dragged him out of the village. “You were delirious,” he said to him angrily, pointing to the road to Jerusalem. “Leave!

Later, we see the hunchback Saul, now calling himself Paul, working as a door-to-door evangelist. He goes to “Master Lazarus’” house and tells the story of his conversion and preaches the resurrected Christ. Jesus, of course, reacts angrily at this and gets into a hot argument with Paul (with Paul delivering those lines which unfortunately made it to the film). All this climaxes with Paul going to the front yard and preaching to an imagined crowd, and finally leaving, proclaiming that “I’m my own boss” as Jesus stares on. The angel talks about Jesus’ mind wavering again, and says that he come inside.

More years pass, and the Romans have begun to sack Jerusalem. The old Jesus sees His now-aged - and in some cases, mutilated - disciples gather, and as in the film, Judas confronts Him for rejecting His mission. Jesus now realizes His fault, and asks for help, but the others also now abandon Him, calling Him a traitor and a coward (with Matthew lamenting that Jesus ruined the gospel he wrote! :stuck_out_tongue: :eek:). Jesus is left alone; the house and the village has all disappeared - but He felt a crowd watching Him in the darkness.

It was then that He felt someone push a reed soaked in vinegar to His lips, enabling Him to complete His cry. He found Himself back on the cross, and He saw the “angel”-servant mockingly laugh at Him and disappear.

His head quivered. Suddenly he remembered where he was, who he was and why he felt pain. A wild, indomitable joy took possession of him. No, no, he was not a coward, a deserter, a traitor. No, he was nailed to the cross. He had stood his ground honorably to the very end; he had kept his word. The moment he cried ELI ELI and fainted, Temptation had captured him for a split second and led him astray. The joys, marriages and children were lies; the decrepit, degraded old men who shouted coward, deserter, traitor at him were lies. All—all were illusions sent by the Devil. His disciples were alive and thriving. They had gone over sea and land and were proclaiming the Good News. Everything had turned out as it should, glory be to God! He uttered a triumphant cry: IT IS ACCOMPLISHED!
And it was as though he had said: Everything has begun.

The End.

The film’s version simplifies a lot of things here and adds more: Simon of Cyrene is omitted altogether, Mary Magdalene just dies after a flash of light shines on her, Paul is not a fat hunchback but is - literally - Harry Dean Stanton, the “angel” is made to be a young girl instead of an Ethiopian boy (perhaps to deflect accusations of racism?), Judas explicitly unmasks the angel as Satan, and finally, the film adds Jesus praying a prayer of repentance to God: “I want to be the Messiah!” Still, I doubt that the story would be that much different. :rolleyes:

Now we get to the crux:
One of the things that made the film rather bad for me is because it does not spell out explicitly the “why’s”. The filmmakers tacked out a part of the prologue in the beginning of the film, but I think it would have been better if they just used all of it (and avoided the misspelling of “principal” to “principle” :p), since reading it in full would at least enlighten the reader:

I never followed Christ’s bloody journey to Golgotha with such terror, I never relived his Life and Passion with such intensity, such understanding and love, as during the days and nights when I wrote The Last Temptation of Christ. While setting down this confession of the anguish and the great hope of mankind I was so moved that my eyes filled with tears. I had never felt the blood of Christ fall drop by drop into my heart with so much sweetness, so much pain.
In order to mount to the Cross, the summit of sacrifice, and to God, the summit of immateriality, Christ passed through all the stages which the man who struggles passes through. That is why his suffering is so familiar to us; that is why we share it, and why his final victory seems to us so much our own future victory. That part of Christ’s nature which was profoundly human helps us to understand him and love him and to pursue his Passion as though it were our own. If he had not within him this warm human element, he would never be able to touch our hearts with such assurance and tenderness; he would not be able to become a model for our lives. We struggle, we see him struggle also, and we find strength. We see that we are not all alone in the world: he is fighting at our side.
Every moment of Christ’s life is a conflict and a victory. He conquered the invincible enchantment of simple human pleasures; he conquered temptations, continually transubstantiated flesh into spirit, and ascended. Reaching the summit of Golgotha, he mounted the Cross. But even there his struggle did not end. Temptation—the Last Temptation—was waiting for him upon the Cross. Before the fainted eyes of the Crucified the spirit of the Evil One, in an instantaneous flash, unfolded the deceptive vision of a calm and happy life. It seemed to Christ that he had taken the smooth, easy road of men. He had married and fathered children. People loved and respected him. Now, an old man, he sat on the threshold of his house and smiled with satisfaction as he recalled the longings of his youth. How splendidly, how sensibly he had acted in choosing the road of men! What insanity to have wanted to save the world! What joy to have escaped the privations, the tortures, and the Cross!

This was the Last Temptation which came in the space of a lightning flash to trouble the Saviour’s final moments. But all at once Christ shook his head violently, opened his eyes, and saw. No, he was not a traitor, glory be to God! He was not a deserter. He had accomplished the mission which the Lord had entrusted to him. He had not married, had not lived a happy life. He had reached the summit of sacrifice: he was nailed upon the Cross. Content, he closed his eyes. And then there was a great triumphant cry: It is accomplished! In other words: I have accomplished my duty, I am being crucified, I did not fall into temptation. …
This book was written because I wanted to offer a supreme model to the man who struggles; I wanted to show him that he must not fear pain, temptation or death— because all three can be conquered, all three have already been conquered. Christ suffered pain, and since then pain has been sanctified. Temptation fought until the very last moment to lead him astray, and Temptation was defeated. Christ died on the Cross, and at that instant death was vanquished forever.
Every obstacle in his journey became a milestone, an occasion for further triumph. We have a model in front of us now, a model who blazes our trail and gives us strength.
This book is not a biography; it is the confession of every man who struggles. In publishing it I have fulfilled my duty, the duty of a person who struggled much, was much embittered in his life, and had many hopes. I am certain that every free man who reads this book, so filled as it is with love, will more than ever before, better than ever before, love Christ.

Another weakness of the work is not so much its low view of divinity, but its low view of humanity. Jesus comes off as being too angsty - especially the film version! - that you’d think He started the modern-day emo fad and penned the lyrics for Linkin Park songs. :smiley: There’s also the subtle suggestion that Jesus may actually be mad - if we apply the Trilemma here, TLT’s Jesus is very much a lunatic (literally “moon-struck”, as a scene from the novel might imply). :eek:

Now, we go to the final verdict. Theologically, the whole work is severely flawed that I can’t and wouldn’t recommend it in those terms (you would be better off reading more spiritually nourishing books).
Artistically, while the novel I may have a chance to consider - albeit only very slightly, the film I think to be a very bad adaptation (Scorsese is partly not to blame however, as he had only a little budget to make it). Even so, I do not deny its influence in later Jesus films: for example, this film started the fad of using Middle Eastern music for such adaptations (The Passion of the Christ comes to mind).

If I could rate this:

NOVEL: Two stars out of five; 1 on a scale of 1 to 10; E on a scale of A to F
FILM: Half-star out of five; 0 on a scale of 1 to 10; F on a scale of A to F

Great stuff. I won’t even try to mirror what you wrote.

I rented the film a few years ago, not having a firm grasp on all the theological errors, but I couldn’t stand how Jesus was portrayed as wishy-washy. Grow a backbone man! I kept saying during the film.

Not only that, but Dafoe’s Jesus is such that the disciples even had to (literally) carry/drag Him off to avoid the angry crowds! :stuck_out_tongue:

We get to another comparison: the character of Judas.
The novel’s Judas, aside from his red beard (which many of the characters comment on), is in one sense similar to other Judases: early on, he is introduced as a blacksmith/Zealot who expects the Messiah to be that of the sword and is confident that the time is at hand. His conviction is such that later in the story he could not even think about Jesus dying - he had no trust in death. After Jesus confides to Judas that he had a vision of Isaiah telling him to read Isaiah 53:

I don’t understand,” said Judas, standing still and shifting the pebbles with his big toe. “Who is the lamb being led to slaughter? Who is going to die?
Judas,” Jesus slowly answered, “Judas, brother, I am the one who is going to die.
You?” said Judas, recoiling. “Then aren’t you the Messiah?
I am.
"I* don’t understand!*” Judas repeated, and he lacerated his toe on the stones.
Don’t shout, Judas. This is the way. For the world to be saved, I, of my own will, must die. At first I didn’t understand it myself. God sent me signs in vain: sometimes visions in the air, sometimes dreams in my sleep; or the goat’s carcass in the desert with all the sins of the people around its neck. And since the day I quit my mother’s house, a shadow has followed behind me like a dog or at times has run in front to show me the road. What road? The Cross!” Jesus threw a lingering glance around him. Behind him was Jerusalem, a mountain of brilliantly white skulls; in front of him, rocks and a few silver-leafed olive trees and black cedars. The sun, filled with blood, had begun to set.
Judas was uprooting hairs from his beard and tossing them away. He had expected a different Messiah, a Messiah with a sword, a Messiah at whose cry all the generations of the dead would fly out of their tombs in the valley of Joshaphat and mix with the living. The horses and camels of the Jews would be resuscitated at the same time, and all—infantry and cavalry—would flow forth to slaughter the Romans. And the Messiah would sit on the throne of David with the Universe as a cushion under his feet, for him to step on. This, this was the Messiah Judas Iscariot had expected. And now…
He looked fiercely at Jesus and bit his lips to prevent an unkind word from escaping them. He began again to shift the pebbles, this time with his heels. Jesus saw him and pitied him.
Take courage, Judas, my brother,” he said, sweetening his voice. “I have done so. There is no other way: this is the road.
And afterward?” asked Judas, staring at the rocks.
I shall return in all my glory to judge the living and the dead.
Many of the present generation will not die before they have seen me.
Let’s go!” said Judas…

…Judas rolled on ahead, bellowing. Within him was an earthquake: everything falling away. He had no faith in death—that seemed to him the worst road of all; resurrected Lazarus, who appeared to him deader and filthier than all the dead, made him nauseous; and the Messiah himself—how could he possibly manage in this fight with Charon? … No, no, Judas had no faith in death as a way. He turned. He wanted to object, to throw out the grave words which were burning on his tongue. Perhaps they would make Jesus change his route and not go by way of death. As he turned, however, he uttered a cry of terror. An immense shadow fell from Jesus’ body. It was not the shadow of a man but of a huge cross…

This mistrust of death and his preexisting conceptions of what the Messiah is makes Judas’ objections about handing Jesus over to the Jewish leaders (which Jesus demands so things can go as planned) and his protests to it more understandable. However, the film just removes a great part of the traces of such a concern, leaving only a bare minimum. The equivalent scene from the film goes:

Judas: …I don’t understand. (smiles at Jesus)
Jesus: Judas, I am the lamb. I’m the one who’s going to die.
Judas: Die? You mean you’re not the Messiah?
Jesus: I am.
Judas: That can’t be. If you’re the Messiah, why do you have to die?
Jesus: Listen. At first, I didn’t understand…
Judas: No, you, listen! Every day you have a different plan! First it’s love, then it’s the ax, and now you have to die. What good could that do?
Jesus: I can’t help it. God only talks to me a little at a time. He tells me as much as I need to know.
Judas: We need you alive!
Jesus: Now I finally understand, All my life I’ve been followed, by voices, by footsteps, by shadows. And do you know what the shadow is? The cross!
I have to die on the cross and I have to die willingly.
…We have to go back to the temple.
Judas: After you die on the cross, what happens then?
Jesus: I come back to judge the living and the dead.
Judas: I don’t believe you.
Jesus: You have to.

The removal of these traits made Judas as very much the straight man, an idealized hero (as one reviewer calls him), who seem to refuse to hand Jesus over simply because it conflicts with his sense of justice. If one could say that The Last Temptation took Jesus off the pedestal, apparently the filmmakers put Judas there in Jesus’ place!

A bit of an unrelated observation, but here goes:
Apparently Nikos Kazantzakis is rather fond of lemons. The fruit, the tree, and even the flower has appeared a number of times within the novel itself.

-Lemon and date trees are planted near Nazareth.
-Peter relates to Jesus that crowds threw rotten lemons at them when they tried to preach the coming of the Day of the Lord.
-Saul the Levite (aka Paul) throws a lemon rind at Peter during the ruckus in the Temple.
-The mob lobs lemon peels, along with stones, at Jesus just as He was being crucified
-In the dream world, Jesus meets Mary Magdalene, crowned with lemon blossoms, in a lemon tree grove.
-Jesus and Mary lie down under a lemon tree in the same orchard.
-The “angel” crumples a lemon flower and smells it as he is talking to Jesus.

I observed that references to lemons also occur in many of his other works; for example, Zorba the Greek, Freedom or Death, Saint Francis, The Rock Garden, Buddha, and The Greek Passion‎/Christ Recrucified to name a few. Then again, Kazantzakis may have been influenced by the lemon trees in his native Crete when he wrote these works.

I remember when the “Last Temptation” was released to theaters…I drove from Nashville TN to Atlanta GA as a theater in Atlanta was the only theater within driving distance to see the movie. As we entered the theater we were frisked by the police. It seems the day before some religious people had brought in paint ball guns and shot the screen while the movie played. They were arrested.

We waited in line for about two hours, listening to the picketers call those in line names and screamed Bible verses at us and told us we were doomed to hell. There were guards posted at each entrance into the theater proper ready to stop any violence or mischief begun by the protesters.

I enjoyed the movie very much. I finally bought a copy when it became available on VHS. William Defoe portrayed an interesting, very human Jesus of Nazareth.

If there is one thing I’d laud Scorsese about, it’s that at least he did his research. So we get to see the Passover lambs being slaughtered and drainages of the Temple are blood-drenched (due to the korbanot), as it should be. And I would laud his rendition of how Golgotha looks like. As a plus, I feel that he also managed to show such grittiness and ‘realism’ despite his budget.

I’d disagree with you though about Willem Defoe. He’s actually one of the reasons why the film as a whole just didn’t work for me, in an artistic sense. Sure he’s convincing when he speaks aloud or when he smiles - the eerieness of his stare is on par with, if not more unnerving than what Robert Powell (Jesus of Nazareth) could ever conjure. But I just found his voice in his internal monologues rather grating. This, coupled with the fact that he often complains and mopes about this or that, almost makes me want to shout at the screen - not so much due to blasphemy, but to the lack of any backbone. It’s such that ultimately, I felt it failed to clothe Jesus with any authority or importance.
There’s also the fact that even with his rough, dusty tunic, Defoe is not much different from the conventional western Jesus: blond-haired and rather fair-skinned. Harvey Keitel’s Judas looks more authentic compared to him, even with the reddish hair and beard. But that’s a minor point.

And as I have mentioned, one of the major faults of this film is it’s low view of humanity. So far, I’ve seen or heard about a number of films which explore how it was like for Jesus to be truly man, but only a handful manage to show it credibly without making Him look like a disturbed proto-emo (as in here), a teary-eyed Televangelist (The Judas Project), or a ‘fun’-loving clown (the Visual Bible’s Matthew, the 1999 miniseries *Jesus**).

*Incidentally, I’ve heard some describe Jesus as “The Last Temptation without the controversy”, and with good reason: Jesus does explore some of the themes that TLT does, albeit in more ‘palatable’, orthodox bounds. And there’s also the sparing use of the Gospel accounts in favor of fictionalized, “what-if” events.

Bumping this thread for those who wish to add more comments.

To comment on my own post:

I was recently reading a review of the film (part of the book Scandalizing Jesus? by Darren J. N. Middleton), which pits it against the novel, and the reviewer touches upon this same point. He observes that Kazantzakis’ Judas, while basically the “thoroughgoing Zealot” who tries to rally Jesus to His cause time and again, is most of the time a mere part of the background as Jesus relates to the others. Scorsese, however, dramatically reduces the other disciples “to an amorphous mass of weak and largely inconsequential men” (he never even devotes a lot of screentime to the other disciples, in comparison to the original novel where they occupy a major bulk of the plot), thereby beefing up Judas.

Scorsese’s Judas has thus become a larger-than-life figure (as I mentioned earlier ‘an idealized hero’), and by supplanting the Gospel’s and Kazantzakis’ image of Peter as leader and John as the beloved disciple, becomes Jesus’ most trusted confidant and intimate friend - Willem Defoe’s Jesus is dependent-submissive only to Harvey Keitel’s Judas, sometimes in an even sexually ambiguous manner. Scorsese’s Judas is rather dominant: Keitel’s physique, strong voice, and tough-guy New York accent “easily overpowers a rather wimpy-looking Defoe.”

Another point of difference between the film and novel is in Jesus’ preaching itself.

Kazantzakis has Jesus preach often, with at least some power and gravitas. He teaches His disciples, the Samaritan woman, and the crowd; He identifies Himself as the “Son of man” and the new Moses and talks about how “the prophesied day has come” to the people of Nazareth. His preaching is clear and authoritative that the people call Him “the new Comforter.” In this regard he is quite close to the Gospels. Scorsese, however, has little preaching and none of the substance. The first time Jesus tries to tell a parable, He starts awkwardly, slowly builds up some steam, only for the parable to fall flat on its face. This also happens at subsequent times He does attempt to preach - Defoe’s Jesus is rather uncertain, with no self-confidence, without any semblance of authority, often relying on others (read: Judas) for support.

I’ve heard of it. Probably never will watch it. And if I do see it, it’s only because Martin Scorsese directed it…Been a fan of his since I saw Taxi Driver.

It’s better if you don’t. Scorsese might be a good director (and he did have a sincere wish to make a film about Jesus since his childhood), but this particular adaptation, IMHO, is just an epic fail - I can’t tell you how the two hours I spent watching it is unbelievable torture enough because of its neurotic, weak-kneed protagonist. :shrug:

If anything, it only succeeds in making the already-low Christology of the original novel plummet further into the ground.

I’ve never seen this movie, but I think it’s portrayal of Christ is very incorrect and also irreverent… and the movie seems to ignore His divinity.

Actually, I feel that the main problem with the film (I differentiate between the film and the novel because, while they may have the same basic theme, one is a quite different beast from the other) is not so much its view of Christ’s divinity, but its view of His humanity, which is very low. If I could summarize it, the film shows a weak, spineless, ultra-dependent Christ who hears voices in His head. :shrug:

I don’t know, but I think it was an interesting concept gone wrong. I think we forget sometimes that the temptation in the desert wasn’t the only temptation Jesus faced. I’m sure he faced many temptations in His life, but was able to resist it. I think this is what they were aiming for, but from what you have said, is an epic fail.

But again, as someone who wants to be a filmmaker, I’ll probably end up seeing it just so see how it was filmed and how Scorsese’s directing was and analyze the editing (this is what I mostly do when watching a movie).

Jolly good then. Let us know what you think of it, once you’ve watched it. :slight_smile:

It also brings us to another major difference between the film and the novel.

Some have praised the film’s historical accuracy and realism/naturalism. If there is one thing that we can commend the film, it’s that Scorsese actually did a bit of homework on some areas, especially his portrayal of the crucifixion, which eschewed popular iconography for (what was then) cutting-edge historical realism. He bases his portrayal of Christ crucified on the initial reconstruction of how the crucified man from Givat-ha-Mivtar named Yehohanan was nailed to the cross (something which was, unfortunately, found to be flawed). Not to mention that Scorsese also does away with the loincloth of Christian art, preferring to follow what some believe to be the more accurate route: showing the victims fully naked. Showing Jesus in the (once believed to be) posture of Jehohanan also helps hide Defoe’s private parts, thus allowing a frontal shot to pass by the censors - in contrast to the other folks crucified in the film, who are only shown sideways or behind.

The settings (the film was shot in Morocco, as was many other Bible films) and the low budget also helped contribute to that rough, gritty feel of the ancient world - a good break from the sanitized, perpetually clean Holy Land of many films before and after this one. Still, the film is not completely accurate - it anachronistically uses Arabic music to give the sense of the Middle East. The film also noticeably displays the tendency - as many Jesus films - to either omit the supernatural or to display them in a much more naturalistic manner.

This is where the difference plays out.

Kazantzakis’ novel does not concern itself much with naturalism and historical accuracy; rather, the supernatural has a huge place in the novel. Not to mention that Kazantzakis often makes a subtle reference in his narrative and the dialogue to, aside from the Old Testament, Eastern Christian spirituality.

In the film, John the Baptist baptizes Jesus with no fanfare, while the half-nude disciples of John continue their ancient rendition of a disco/Pentecostalist meeting, complete with gyrations, self-flagellation, convulsions and loud chants, shrieking and wailing (i.e. something not present in the novel). Unlike the Gospels, there is no voice from Heaven, nor does the Spirit of God alight down like a dove.

Kazantzakis, meanwhile, supplements the Gospels with a couple of references: to traditional icons of the Baptism of Christ, and to the traditional Eastern Baptismal formula (“The servant of God, N., is baptized in the name of the Father…”).

The crowd which had assembled on the shore made way. Who was this pilgrim who, having thrown off his white robe, was clothed in sunlight? Who was this man who, without confessing his sins, entered the water with such nobility and assurance?
The Baptist in the lead, they both thrust their way into the blue stream. The Baptist climbed onto a rock which jutted out above the face of the water. Jesus stood next to
him on the sandy river bed, the water embracing his body up to the chin.
The moment the Baptist lifted his hand to pour water over Jesus’ face and to pronounce the blessing, the people cried out. The flow of the Jordan had abruptly ceased. Schools of multicolored fish floated up from every direction, circled Jesus and began to dance, folding and unfolding their fins and shaking their tails, and a shaggy elf in the form of a simple old man entwined with seaweed rose up from the bottom of the river, leaned against the reeds, and with mouth agape and eyes popping from joy and fear, stared at all that was going on in front of him. The people, viewing such wonders, were stricken dumb. Many fell face down on the shore to hide their eyes. Others shivered in the violent heat. One, seeing the old man emerge from the deep all covered with mud, shouted, “The Spirit of the Jordan!” and fainted.
The Baptist filled a deep shell and with trembling hand began to pour water over Jesus’ face. “The servant of God is baptized …” he began. But he stopped: he did not know what name to give.
He turned to ask Jesus; but just as everyone, stretched on tiptoe, expected to hear the name, wings were heard to descend from the heavens and a white-feathered bird—was it a bird, or one of Jehovah’s Seraphim?—darted forward and balanced itself on the head of the baptized. It remained motionless for several moments, then suddenly circled three times above him. Three wreaths of light glowed in the air and the bird uttered a cry as though proclaiming a hidden name, a name never heard before. The heavens seemed to be answering the Baptist’s mute question.
The people’s ears buzzed, their minds reeled. There were words together with the beating of wings. The voice of God? The voice of the bird? It was a strange miracle. … Jesus tensed his whole body, trying to hear. He had a presentiment that here was his true name, but he could not distinguish what it was. All he heard were many waves breaking within him, many wings, and great, bitter words. He raised his eyes. The bird had already bounded toward the summit of the heavens and become light within the light.
The Baptist, whose years in the desert and in cruel solitude had enabled him to master the language of God, was the only one who understood. Today is baptized, he whispered to himself, trembling, the servant of God, the son of God, the Hope of mankind!
He signaled the waters of the Jordan to resume their flow. The sacrament was over.

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