THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey,
Harry Dean Stanton, David Bowie
Director: Martin Scorsese
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Features: See Review
Length: 163 Minutes
Release Date: April 25, 2000
The Last Temptation of Christ might
very well be the most controversial film of the last 15 years. Given the pictures subject matter, that was
probably unavoidable, but still, a bit sad, because there have been very few films in
history as deeply spiritual as this one. One
only need remember that director Martin Scorsese has strong personal ties to the Catholic
Church (he even intended to become a priest in his youth) to understand that his
intentions for bringing Nikos Kazantzakis novel to the screen were good ones, and I
think for anyone whos watched the movie beginning to end with an open mind, the
results speak for themselves.
When this picture first came out, I was working as an usher
supervisor for a local theatre. And we
received many copies of the form letter petition from various churches, which threatened a
one year boycott of any movie house that dared show this degenerate film. Included on the petitions were selections of
various quotes from the film to demonstrate how blasphemous it was. The petition targeted both Universal Studios and
Martin Scorsese as evil. And our theatre,
like many, succumbed to the pressure and agreed not to book the film (United Artists
actually refused the movie on a national level). Only
one theatre in my town showed the picture, and the picketers came out in full force
Problem is, controversy always inspires curiosity. It did with me, and I braved the peaceful
protesters to see just how bad the film really was.
Thats what I was expecting from the movie.
What I actually got out of it was not expected. I found the film to be incredibly moving and
powerful, and particularly courageous in the way it addressed real, everyday moral and
something mainstream Hollywood seldom does.
The central theme of the movie is the constant struggle between the
spirit and the flesh
of having the desire to seek and attain divinity, but battling
with earthly temptations. The movie uses the
central figure of Jesus (Dafoe) as the literal embodiment of that struggle. According to Gospel, Jesus was both fully human
and fully divine. The film uses that duality
as the basis to present us with a Jesus who followed the will of God, but in a way that
was never easy. He had to fight real
temptations, just like any of us, and deal with setbacks, including people who had no
interest in his message, weak and quarrelsome disciples, and a constant uncertainty of his
role and his place
like most spiritual journeys, his was a life long one, and could
not be fully understood until the end of it.
Scorsese created a film with a great look to it
and settings really seem to ring out with a sense of history, and help create a world that
is hot and bleak, yet somehow, capable of miracles. His
casting choices were excellent, including Dafoe in his greatest performance and Harvey
Keitel as Judas
by using actors such as them, he was able to keep the story grounded
and connected to the audience, real rather than poetic, and not as distant from us as most
of the Biblical epics he grew up watching.
But most importantly, his film is a spiritual triumph. Many friends of mine who were not particularly
religious were moved and touched by this picture. The
movie is not at all about a Jesus who failed. It
is about a Jesus whose triumph was complete and beyond measure. The film is respectful enough to take Jesus
message seriously, and appreciate the hardship he must have experienced as his words often
fell on deaf ears or those who would kill him for daring to speak about such new,
challenging ideas concerning mans relationship with God.
For those who would protest the film without having seen it,
theres not much I can say
theyre probably better off not watching (the
initial petition, however, was glaringly wrong in most of the quotes and scenarios
purported to be in the film, and the ones that were correct were taken blatantly out of
context). Instead, I would appeal to those
who either relish brilliant filmmaking that captures the true essence and struggle of
humanity on screen, or those who would be willing to watch with an open mind and no
pre-conceived notions. Even if some walk away
feeling the picture wasnt for them, at least they would have judged the movie
seeing it before forming an opinion.
Consider the film above all, a journey of faith. Trust in Scorsese and his vision, and let it take
you where it wants to from beginning to end, and the rewards are ample. When Jesus cries out from the cross, It is
accomplished!, we understand just what a hard fought and well earned victory it was.
What an impressive job Criterion has done with this anamorphic
transfer! Ive seen this picture
numerous times over the last decade, but nothing compares to the visual pleasure of this
DVD. Images are incredibly sharp and crystal
clear throughout, with excellent detail and texture.
Nothing ever softens or loses definition. The
coloring is superb
beautifully rendered and contained, and natural looking
throughout, even under the influence of darkness or tinted lighting. Daylit scenes are especially beautiful. Until watching this DVD, I had never really
picked up on what a beautiful film this was to view.
There are one or two occasions of noticeable nicks on the print, but they are so
few and far between, I didnt feel it worthy of docking any points for it. If all 10 year old films were as clean as this,
thered be no complaints.
This is a wonderful audio mix, clean and balanced. Most of the dialogue and action occurs across the
front channels, with very sparing use of the surrounds, except an occasional crowd scene. Where the soundtrack really excels is with Peter
Gabriels amazing score
passionate, powerful, and extremely percussive, his
music makes the best use of the .1 channel, bringing a solid, resonating bottom end to
many scenes. At one point, the lowness was so
strong, I could feel my couch vibrating under me! The
score is also mixed with respect to all channels, giving occasional instrumental cues to
the rear channels for a more enveloping listening experience. High marks.
For starters, a great commentary track featuring Martin Scorsese,
Willem Dafoe, writer Paul Schrader and revisionist Jay Cocks (though I personally wished
Scorsese could have done a track by himself as well).
Theres also a collection of research materials, stills, costume designs,
location production footage shot by Scorsese, a filmed interview with composer Peter
Gabriel with a stills gallery of some of the exotic instruments used in making the music,
plus animated menu screens with music. Criterion
The Last Temptation of Christ is a remarkable, profound motion picture experience, one that dares delve deep into the realm of serious spirituality and the constant, nagging battle between good and evil that plays out constantly in the soul of humanity. I consider it one of the best films of the 80s, treasuring it even more than Scorseses other classic Raging Bull. And this DVD represents another triumph for the Criterion Collection in terms of quality and extras.