The Last Temptation of Christ

Nashville Scene

DIRECTED BY: Martin Scorsese

REVIEWED: 07-20-98

What does it take to make a $6 million movie in which Jesus Christ is shown coming off the cross to have sex with Mary Magdalene? And what does it take to get that movie shown in America? Does it require the filmmaker to spill his own blood, sweat, and tears? To have himself crucified? Apparently so. Among other magnificent obsessions, Voyager/Criterion's 10th-anniversary laserdisc of The Last Temptation of Christ drives home director Martin Scorsese's tack of self-punishment as part of the process. "Even when I was doing it, I knew I was never gonna be satisfied with it," he explains on the disc's supplemental audio track. But the real anguish came upon Last Temptation's hellfire release, the result of its bold attempt to present "God as the ultimate headache" and Jesus (Willem Dafoe) "as a metaphor for the human condition" (per Dutch Calvinist screenwriter Paul Schrader). On the film's mean streets of sand, the quest for divinity is a pain; the human condition keeps rearing its ugly head. In terms of dialogue, "Let you who is without sin cast the first stone" becomes "Which one o' you people has never sinned? Whoever that is, come up here! And throw these!" Sickeningly, the right-wing fundamentalist set typed Scorsese as a Judas who'd sold out their savior to the "Jewish money" at Universal. The director's public redemption should have been the standing ovation he received after the film's world-premiere screening at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York, but the campaign to bury the picture partially succeeded. It's still one of Scorsese's least-discussed movies, and it's still all-but-impossible to find in mainstream video stores.

--Rob Nelson

Other Films by Martin Scorsese
A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies
Bringing Out the Dead
Mean Streets
Raging Bull
Taxi Driver

Film Vault Suggested Links
The People vs. Larry Flynt
Citizen Kane
Mother Night

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