The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

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This devotional piece from Martin Scorcese (based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis) wavers between inspired moments of heresy and long stretches of being just another Jesus movie. While in its way wholly respectful to the prophets, it disrespects sacred institutions in search of it’s own truth. In doing so it has incurred the wrath of self appointed guardians, including the burning of a theatre in France along with some of its patrons.

Jesus of Nazareth is a carpenter. He doesn’t build houses, he builds crosses in an effort to discourage the spirit that haunts him. But the spirit cannot be cast out because the spirit is God. This is a classic refusal of the call, but the call is persistent, driving him from his family and friends into the wilderness where, failing to repel the spirit, he seeks instead to know what it wants of him. Revolutionary assassin Judas marches at Jesus’s side, steering him toward a martyr’s sacrifice that will open the way for a liberated palestine, ready to murder him if he strays from that path.

To the bitter end Jesus is tempted to relinquish the burden but his final temptation – a dream of escape to a normal life – teaches him the consequences of surrender – and the editorialising of “it is finished” into “it is accomplished” drives the nails home.

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