This week's episode of Lost in Criterion tackles Martin Scorsese's controversial 1988 adaptation of the (somehow less controversial) Nikos Kazantzakis novel.
We talk a lot about the politics of the controversy and the theology of the film, and it's a rather long episode. Like most "controversial" films we've watched (aside from Salo) Pat and I fall firmly on the "how could people not like this" side of things.
While perhaps more prominent in the novel, The Last Temptation presents a Jesus who, while still sinless, is tempted by the fear, anger, doubt, lust, and depression that haunt most of our lives. He is "tempted in every way", overcoming all the pitfalls of humanity. This is a Jesus who chooses not to sin, instead of one who could not possibly choose to sin. This is a Jesus who is fully human while still fully God. This is the Jesus of the Bible and of orthodox Christianity. Modern Christians, at least in America, seem to have a problem with Jesus as human at all. To them He is a perfect being, casting off temptation like the wrapper of a fast food burger, not the Jesus who in the Garden of Gethsemane begged God to find a different path. The Last Temptation is perhaps one of the most spiritually faithful versions of the story of Jesus ever put to film.
That being said there are still a couple of issues. First is something I failed to mention in the episode and I'm sorry for it: Jesus and his disciples are -- as they so often are in western film -- incredibly white, an obvious inaccuracy that almost no one will ever complain about, or at least not on the same level as any other complaints leveled at the film. Max von Sydow, Jim Caviezel, Diogo Morgado...the list of attractive white Jesuses is nearly as long as the list of Jesus movies, and it's something we're so perfectly comfortable with that there would be more controversy if Jesus were played by a non-white. Second, the continued insistence that Mary Magdalene is a prostitute, a salacious conflation with an unnamed woman that's been western Christianity's interpretation of the first witness to a resurrected Christ since Pope Gregory codified it in the 6th Century. This interpretation certainly provides an anchor for the film's narrative -- and like white Jesus, it is not something that the film was called out for in the initial protests -- but that doesn't make it any less troublesome that the degradation of one of the most prominent women in the early church is continued here.
I could write at length here, but I already spoke at length on the topic in this week's episode. Give it a listen?