The last temptation of Christ

Has anyone seen a movie where William Dafoe plays Jesus called the last temptation of Christ? Is it any good? I think I may have heard it’s a bad movie but I don’t know.

I’ve seen it several times…it’'s…“different”…but on the whole I enjoyed it. I went to see it when it first came out in the 80’s…I was living in Huntsville AL at the time and had to drive to Atlanta GA as Atlanta was the only city within driving distance in the South that was showing it.

I had to wait in line for a couple hours as the theater had to set up security measures. The day before a “Christian” group had paint balled the screen to prevent it from being shown. We had to go thru a ‘pat-down’ by police to insure no paint guns, knives, or spray paint made it into the theater by “Christians” who were picketing outside the theater…those of us in line was called vile names by “Christians”…some of them were arrested as they pelted some in line with tomatos…it was exciting to say the least.

The portrayal of Jesus is one of a very unsure man who slowly realized who he was. The movie also capitalized on his relationship with Mary of Magdala…and in this particular portrayal she was depicted as a prostitute…something which the Gospels never depict but was fostored by one of the popes in the early centuries…don’t remember which one.

The “last temptation” was very interesting…he was tempted to “come down from the cross” and live a life with Mary of Magdala.

I thouroughly enjoyed the movie…I tried reading the book but it was a very tedious read…but the movie is worth watching if only to get another perspective of the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth.

Well it’s a controversial movie because

*]It shows Jesus having sex with Mary Magdelene
*]Constructing crosses for the Romans
*]Kissing other men on the lips
*]Jesus being tormented by the voice of God

Also because it shows Jesus using the name “Jehovah” for God (which wasn’t offensive at all to me)

Complete carp. Avoid like the plague.


It was much better than I expected, after all the fuss when it was first released. Just be aware that it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

Not my cup of tea.

I have. I’ve also read the original novel by Nikos Kazantzakis (author of works such as The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, Zorba the Greek, The Greek Passion aka Christ Recrucified, and Captain Michalis).

The rather highly-overrated (IMHO) novel is, frankly speaking, while having a rather interesting premise, does tackle things in a way that many Christians would find problematic and controversial, there’s no denying that: it was after all the novel which caused Kazantzakis to be anathematized from the Greek Orthodox Church in 1955.

From a literary POV, I think the novel is a somewhat average speculative fiction: not totally as bad as some would like people to think, but not exactly the best either. I was more interested in Kazantzakis’ main premise and writing style than the plot itself. The old adage about authors’ retellings of Jesus’ life coming to reflect more the authors than the Man Himself is true: Kazantzakis’ Jesus is more of a mirror reflection of Kazantzakis himself, who was himself a highly tortured and spiritually restless man, than Jesus of Nazareth.

As for the (also over-rated) film ‘adaptation’ (I personally consider it more of a separate creature from the novel), it’s more of a combination of a little good and much bad and dull. If I can be frank, the film literally just plodded along that I began to wonder what was it that caused all the controversy. Martin Scorsese might be a famous director, but the film is just, bizarre. Like, more bizarre than the novel. And Willem Dafoe does have a few bright moments, but on the whole I could not stand his spineless and whiny Jesus: if the novel’s Jesus is having an existential crisis, the film’s Jesus comes off as having mental illness. I guess some things are better left on paper. :shrug:

For the benefit of everyone, a snippet from the novel’s prologue:

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.

Men kissing each other is only controversial and prone to misinterpretation in our modern-day culture, Besides AFAIR the only scene where this happens is during the betrayal of Jesus in Gethsemane, and even then Judas is the one who initiates it. If that is problematic, I could name a few other Jesus films which should be in problem as well. :wink: And “Jehovah”, the novel (in the translation) actually uses it quite a number of times, but this in itself of course isn’t inoffensive.

As Jesus being tormented by the voice of God and making crosses for the Romans: this is part of the work’s theme, and yes, this is one of the more problematic (from an orthodox POV) parts. For Kazantzakis, Jesus, being both God and man, would have had His humanity - weak as human nature is - clash often with His divinity: a battle between desire (“what I want to do”) and duty (“what I must do”), between the willing spirit and the weak flesh.

Kazantzakis makes reference to the battle between flesh and spirit in the prologue:

THE DUAL SUBSTANCE of Christ—the yearning, so human, so superhuman, of man to attain to God or, more exactly, to return to God and identify himself with him—has always been a deep inscrutable mystery to me. This nostalgia for God, at once so mysterious and so real, has opened in me large wounds and also large flowing springs.
My principal anguish and the source of all my joys and sorrows from my youth onward has been the incessant, merciless battle between the spirit and the flesh.
Within me are the dark immemorial forces of the Evil One, human and prehuman; within me too are the luminous forces, human and pre-human, of God—and my soul is the arena where these two armies have clashed and met.
The anguish has been intense. I loved my body and did not want it to perish; I loved my soul and did not want it to decay. I have fought to reconcile these two primordial forces which are so contrary to each other, to make them realize that they are not enemies but, rather, fellow workers, so that they might rejoice in their harmony—and so that I might rejoice with them.

Every man partakes of the divine nature in both his spirit and his flesh. That is why the mystery of Christ is not simply a mystery for a particular creed: it is universal. The struggle between God and man breaks out in everyone, together with the longing for reconciliation. Most often this struggle is unconscious and short-lived.
A weak soul does not have the endurance to resist the flesh for very long. It grows heavy, becomes flesh itself, and the contest ends. But among responsible men, men who keep their eyes riveted day and night upon the Supreme Duty, the conflict between flesh and spirit breaks out mercilessly and may last until death.
The stronger the soul and the flesh, the more fruitful the struggle and the richer the final harmony. God does not love weak souls and flabby flesh. The Spirit wants to have to wrestle with flesh which is strong and full of resistance. It is a carnivorous bird which is incessantly hungry; it eats flesh and, by assimilating it, makes it disappear.
Struggle between the flesh and the spirit, rebellion and resistance, reconciliation and submission, and finally—the supreme purpose of the struggle—union with God: this was the ascent taken by Christ, the ascent which he invites us to take as well, following in his bloody tracks.
This is the Supreme Duty of the man who struggles—to set out for the lofty peak which Christ, the first-born son of salvation, attained. How can we begin?
If we are to be able to follow him we must have a profound knowledge of his conflict, we must relive his anguish: his victory over the blossoming snares of the earth, his sacrifice of the great and small joys of men and his ascent from sacrifice to sacrifice, exploit to exploit, to martyrdom’s summit, the Cross.

In the novel (and the film), Jesus is the Messiah and apparently knows what He is supposed to do, but at first He wants to run away from His destiny: the novel pointedly mentions that fear is the only demon left for Jesus to struggle with before His time is come. To this end, He tries to collaborate with the Romans by making crosses for them, thinking that by doing so God would somehow leave Him alone to lead a normal life.


“The Last Temptation of Christ explored the theme of the battle between spirit and flesh. The book was banned by Vatican in 1954 and in 1955 Kazantzakis was excommunicated from the Greek Orthodox Church. The members of the Orthodox Church of America damned the work as extremely indecent and atheistic, after admitting that they hadn’t read it and had based their case on the magazine articles. Kazantzakis presented Christ as an existential hero, a rebel against his divine mission until he is awakened by Judas, whom he calls his brother. Judas tries to same in Jerusalem, but his heroic struggle against God ends in failure.”

It was Pope St. Gregory the Great if I remember right. What is interesting is that Kazantzakis chooses to use the conception of Mary of Magdala as a prostitute, something that is well-known in Western Christianity but is mostly foreign to the East, where she is distinguished from Mary of Bethany and the “sinful woman”. And I won’t exactly put it as Jesus being “a very unsure man who slowly realized who he was,” but Jesus being as a man who knows the path He must tread, but is very unsure and afraid to do it.

Not to come off as lambasting the film further, but I think the film’s greatest flaw is trying to adapt the novel in the realistic, naturalistic manner that has become the vogue in recent Jesus films, where the supernatural is kept at a minimum. The original novel is very much in the magic realism genre, in which supernatural and fantastic elements blend in with the real world: otherworldly beings ranging from Satan and various angels to the spirit of the river Jordan (who appears in a single scene; you know, that old man who is usually portrayed in some Eastern icons of the baptism of Jesus) have as ‘real’ a presence as the human characters, for one.

There are also a number of conscious (anachronistic) references to both Jewish and Christian tradition and spirituality, which heightens the feeling of having the ‘real’ and the ‘fantastic’ in the same stream of thought more: going back to the baptism scene in the novel, Jesus addresses John as “Forerunner,” John baptizes Jesus in the Eastern baptismal formula (“The servant of God is baptized…”), and as mentioned, the personification of the river Jordan appears at the moment of baptism in the sight of everyone present. To this we could add the narration’s description of the proceedings as “a sacrament.

The film, in showing things naturalistically, cuts off most of these fantastic elements (and in a few places, inserts some original scenes) while seeming to retain a few, albeit in a muted fashion. This directorial choice made the finished product rather bizzare, in my humble opinion.

It’s funny, there are certain books, movies, songs, artists, etc. that perennially come up here on CAF, even many years later.

Here is a commentary on it by Catholic film reviewer Steve Greydanus:

I love that movie and have seen it about 20 times on VHS.

There was a big hullabaloo when it 1st came out…worth checking out. A different portrayal of Jesus than we’re use to but imo absolutely fascinating. Tremendous acting.

It’s been too long since I’ve seen the film to make any comments about it, and I haven’t read any of those works, but I am currently reading his Saint Francis, which I find rather well crafted.

I remember when it came out (the movie) and there was a big hullabaloo about it. I didn’t see it because of that.

Then many moons later, I was at my buddy’s hanging out and he told me it was his favorite movie. Since he had it and I wasn’t going to be contributing to anyone’s pocketbook by watching it, I did.

Garbage. I wish I had the time back. The Passion of the Christ - now that could change one’s life. The Last Temptation of Christ? Eh.

how about Jesus of Nazareth? I’ve never seen that one either, is it good?

Overdramitized but all in all enjoyable…with nothing to offend conservative Christian sensibilites I would think.

“Jesus” and “Gospel of John” are both entertaining as well…I saw “Jesus” in the '80’s at Century Theaters in San Jose…it was playing across the street from “The Life of Brian”…:slight_smile:

Which is perfectly normal. :smiley:

Here is a commentary on it by Catholic film reviewer Steve Greydanus:

A few things:

One scene that had religious critics up in arms depicts Jesus sitting all afternoon in a room outside the bedroom of a prostitute (Mary Magdalene), where he can both see and hear her servicing a long queue of customers. The movie’s defenders pointed out that nothing in the scene indicates Jesus is supposed to be moved to lust by what he sees and hears, so why couldn’t a perfect man do what Jesus is represented as doing? Yet even putting aside the question of lust (and of Jesus’ general state throughout the film of apparent obssession with Mary Magdalene), there is still the matter of ordinary modesty; not to mention the obligation to avoid situations that would reasonably give scandal (since Jesus appears to be simply waiting his turn like Mary’s customers).

The better question is: why is Jesus in Magdalene’s ‘shop’?

In the novel, Jesus at this point has finally decided to go into the Essene monastery in the desert and meet God there, where “[He] shall kill the flesh and turn it into spirit.” He originally intended to avoid the infamous hamlet of Magdala, but en route to the monastery, He just found Himself setting foot in the town.

He marched and marched, and his mind wandered. He was running from Magdalene, the whore, to God; from the cross to Paradise, from his mother and father to distant lands and seas, to myriad-faced men, white, yellow and black. Although he had never crossed the boundaries of Israel, ever since his early childhood he had shut his eyes within his father’s humble cottage and his mind, like a trained hawk with golden hawk bells, had darted from land to land, ocean to ocean, screeching with joy. It was not hunting anything, this hawk-mind of his; he had become oblivious of the body, he was escaping the flesh, ascending to heaven—and this was all he could possibly desire.
He marched and marched. The twisting path wound in and out through the vineyards, rose once more, reached the olive groves. The son of Mary followed it as one follows running water or the sad, monotonous chant of a camel driver. This whole journey seemed a dream to him. He scarcely touched the earth; his feet trod his human seal, the heel and five toes, lightly into the soil. The olive trees waved their laden branches and welcomed him. The grapes had begun to shine; the heavy clusters hung down until they reached the ground. The girls who went by with their white kerchiefs and firm, sunburned calves greeted him sweetly: Shalom! Peace!
Sometimes, when not a soul was visible on the path, he heard the heavy footsteps behind him again; a bronze splendor flared up in the air and was then snuffed out, and the evil laughter exploded once more over his head. But the son of Mary forced himself to be patient. He was approaching deliverance; soon he would see the lake opposite him, and behind the blue waters, hanging like a falcon’s nest between the red rocks, the monastery.
He followed the path, and his mind ran on, but suddenly he stopped, startled. There before him in a sheltered hollow, spread out beneath the date palms, was Magdala. His mind turned back, turned back, but his feet, against his will, began to lead him with sure steps to the perfumed hermitage of his cousin Magdalene, to the house which was condemned to the fires of hell.

Thinking that it was God who is making Him go to Magdala (in order to beg forgiveness from Mary before He retires into the desert), Jesus finally allows Himself to be led into town. He follows an Indian nobleman to the courtyard of Mary’s whorehouse.

The difference between film and novel is that in the latter, Jesus apparently cannot “both see and hear [Mary] servicing a long queue of customers” (the book explicitly notes that the room is closed, with only sounds from the bedroom being heard every now and then) nor does the narrative focus on it. Rather, Kazantzakis focuses on the customers on the line, who are chatting and eating snacks to pass the time, especially the Indian nobleman (who arrives at the conclusion that life is but a dream and becoming enlightened, promptly leaves). Jesus is more anguished with having to put up with these kinds of men.

The young nobleman had lowered his heavy eyelids. His upper body swayed slowly back and forth and his lips stirred as though he were saying his prayers. Already, before entering Paradise, he had plunged into everlasting beatitude. He heard the cackling of the partridge, the tickling and the creaking inside the bolted chamber, heard the old woman at the door load her grate with live crabs, which then hopped onto the coals.
This is Paradise, he meditated, overcome with a great lassitude; this, the deep sleep we call life, the sleep in which we dream of Paradise. There is no other Paradise. I can get up now and go, for I require no further joy.
A huge, green-turbaned man in front of him pushed him with his knee and laughed. “Prince of India, what does your God have to say about all this?”
The youth opened his eyes. “All what?” he asked.
“Here, in front of you: men, women, crabs, love.”
“That everything is a dream.”
“Well, then, my brave lads—take care,” interrupted the old man with the snowy beard, who was telling his beads on a long amber chaplet. “Take care not to wake up!”

…] The time went by. Now and then the slow, gentle clicking of the amber beads could be heard. All eyes were pinned once more on the squat doorway. The old man was late, very late, in coming out.
The young Indian nobleman got up. The others turned with astonishment. Why had he got up? Wasn’t he going to speak? Was he about to leave? … He was happy. His face was resplendent; a gentle glow patched his cheeks. He wrapped the cashmere shawl tightly around him, put his hand to his heart and lips, and took his leave. His shadow passed tranquilly over the threshold.
“He woke up,” said the youth with the golden rings about his ankles. He tried to laugh, but a strange fear had suddenly overcome them all, and they began with anxious haste to discuss profit and loss, and the prices current in the slave markets of Alexandria and Damascus. Soon, however, they reverted to their barefaced talk of women and boys, and they stuck out their tongues and licked their chops.
“Lord, O Lord,” the son of Mary murmured, “where have you thrown me? Into what kind of yard? To sit up with what kind of men! This, Lord, is the greatest degradation of all. Give me strength to endure it!”

Jesus eventually begins to wonder if the Indian was right - whether everything here is really just a dream.

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