The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

The carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth, tormented by the temptations of demons, the guilt of making crosses for the Romans, pity for men and the world, and the constant call of God, sets out to find what God wills for Him. But as His mission nears fulfillment, He must face the greatest temptation; the normal life of a good man. Based, not on the Gospels, but on Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel of the same name.

The Last Temptation of Christ is a 1988 American epic drama film directed by Martin Scorsese. Written by Paul Schrader with uncredited rewrites from Scorsese and Jay Cocks, the film is a film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ controversial 1955 novel of the same name. The film, starring Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, Andre Gregory, Harry Dean Stanton and David Bowie, was shot entirely in Morocco.

Like the novel, the film depicts the life of Jesus Christ and his struggle with various forms of temptation including fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust. This results in the book and film depicting Christ being tempted by imagining himself engaged in sexual activities, a notion that has caused outrage from some Christians. The film includes a disclaimer explaining that it departs from the commonly accepted biblical portrayal of Jesus’ life and is not based on the Gospels.

The film received polarized reviews from critics. Scorsese received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, and Hershey’s performance as Mary Magdalene earned her a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress nomination, while Keitel’s performance as Judas earned him a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor nomination.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

About the Story

Jesus of Nazareth is a carpenter in Roman-occupied Judea, torn between his own desires and his knowledge that God has a plan for him. His conflict results in self-loathing, and he collaborates with the Romans to crucify Jewish rebels.

Judas Iscariot, a friend of Jesus’ originally sent to kill him for collaboration, instead suspects that Jesus is the Messiah and asks him to lead a liberation war against the Romans. Jesus replies that his message is love of mankind; whereupon Judas joins Jesus in his ministry, but threatens to kill him if he strays from the purpose of rebellion. Jesus also has an undisclosed prior relationship with Mary Magdalene, a Jewish prostitute.

After saving Mary Magdalene from a mob gathered to stone her for prostitution and working on the sabbath, Jesus starts preaching. He acquires disciples, but remains uncertain of his role. He visits John the Baptist, who baptizes him, and the two discuss theology and politics. John’s primary goal is to gain freedom from the Romans, while Jesus maintains people should tend to matters of the spirit.

Jesus then goes into the desert to test God’s connection to himself, where he is tempted by Satan, but resists and envisions himself with an axe, being instructed by John the Baptist in answer to Jesus’ dilemma of whether to choose the path of love (symbolized by the heart) or the path of violence (represented by the axe). Jesus returns from the desert to the home of Martha and Mary of Bethany, who restore him to health and attempt to persuade him that the way to please God is to have a home, a marriage, and children. Jesus then appears to his waiting disciples to tear out his own heart and invites them to follow him. With newfound confidence he performs various miracles and raises Lazarus from the dead.

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Eventually his ministry reaches Jerusalem, where Jesus performs the Cleansing of the Temple and leads a small army to capture the temple by force, but halts on the steps to await a sign from God. He begins bleeding from his hands, which he recognizes as a sign that he must die on the cross to bring salvation to mankind. Confiding in Judas, he persuades the latter to give him to the Romans, despite Judas’ inclination otherwise.

Jesus convenes his disciples for Passover seder, whereupon Judas leads a contingent of soldiers to arrest Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus turns himself over. Pontius Pilate confronts Jesus and tells him that he must be put to death because he represents a threat to the Roman Empire. Jesus is flogged, a crown of thorns is placed on his head and finally he is crucified.

While on the cross, Jesus converses with a young lady who claims to be his guardian angel. She tells him that although he is the Son of God, he is not the Messiah, and that God is pleased with him, and wants him to be happy. She brings him down off the cross and, invisible to others, takes him to Mary Magdalene, whom he marries. They are soon expecting a child and living an idyllic life; but she abruptly dies, and Jesus is consoled by his angel; next he takes Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, for his wives. He starts a family with them, having many children, and lives his life in peace.

The Last Temptation of Christ Movie Poster (1988)

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, Paul Greco, Verna Bloom, Roberts Blossom, Gary Basaraba, Irvin Kershner, Steve Shill, Roberts Blossom
Screenplay by: Nikos Kazantzakis, Paul Schrader
Production Design by: John Beard
Cinematography by: Michael Ballhaus
Film Editing by: Thelma Schoonmaker
Costume Design by: Jean-Pierre Delifer
Set Decoration by: Giorgio Desideri
Art Direction by: Andrew Sanders
Music by: Peter Gabriel
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release Date: August 12, 1988