I am a rebel. I know it is hard to visualize but I am pretty rebellious at least in my family. I am an atheist (gasp!), I live with my boyfriend without marrying him (slut!) and I watch films and attend events (satan worship potlucks mostly) that my parents would look down on. The Last Temptation of Christ is one of those films that have been condemned by the Catholic Church (of which I was a forced member of at one time). The condemnation is a little silly and yet it still holds true today. Why is this film so divisive among people who can’t appreciate art or are culturally relevant anymore? It is because this film shows Jesus Christ as played by a William Defoe (he can’t fool me… he will always be the Goblin from the Spiderman films no matter how long he grows his hair.) and because this film shows Jesus as (double gasp!) a human!
This film asks what would have happened if Jesus got off the cross when the Devil asked him to and he lead a normal life full of wives and children. It is what I always asked myself when I had to sit through the never-ending stations of the cross or the long lectures of suffering that Christ did so I could selfishly eat too much meat or not give up anything for Lent. However I came to a very different conclusion than this film explores. I figured that if he could get off the cross and live then he could probably time travel and he would go on a rollicking orgy through the ages. (at least that is what I would do.) Instead this film assumes that his philosophy would live on whether or not he actually died and came back to apostles three days later. That his sacrifice is not really needed if he could get someone like Peter or Paul to spread his word. No wonder the Catholic Church had their panties in a twist. This film called them out on their game. There is no evidence that Jesus actually said or did anything in the Bible, just that he might have lived. This film may have been closer to the truth of the matter than the Bible is. (Probably not, though)
Religion is just a manifestation of human being’s imagination. If seen from a different angle, Jesus was really crazy. In fact this film sets up at the beginning the possibility that he is crazy. Harvey Keitel’s Judas character visits Jesus at the beginning and calls him out on his shit. Jesus asks whether or not he can tell if it is the devil talking to him or if it is God. Judas than beats him up and says that he needs to find out for sure. What I like about this film is how they sketch Judas out to actually be a strong presence. He is one of Jesus’ fiercest disciples and the one who doesn’t complain. I never completely bought the dismissal of Judas as an evil, conniving figure. Nobody can follow someone like Jesus and not believe in what he has to say.
I also like the depiction of John the Baptist’s mass baptizing. It was a crazy thing for John the Baptist for doing. It was a little weird that all of these people are possessed by the “devil” when in fact they were just seduced by John’s collective preaching ideas. Everything that Jesus does and his followers do can be seen as crazy to a “normal” person. I think that is one of the reasons this film stuck in so many God-fearing Christians’ crawl.
I liked this film more the ideas that it raises then for anything else. It is well acted and well shot, but I couldn’t care less. It is a thinking film that sticks with you for days afterwards. Jesus is such an iconic character that any alternative view of him is going to raise some anger in people, but I think that every Christian should actually see the film before judging it and me for seeing it. It might just reaffirm your beliefs.