May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
April 22, 2009
I remember the day I opened my mailbox and found a pamphlet about a half-inch thick from James Dobson’s organization, filled with elaborate warnings about why I should not see Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ.
Then I saw the film and it moved me powerfully, inspiring me to consider what Christ, being sinless and yet tempted in all things, must have suffered. What is more, I had grown up with images of Jesus inspired by stained-glass windows and flannel-graphs, so it was jarring to see a dust-smeared Jesus among disciples who were jostling for the best seat beside a campfire.
Did I “agree” with the film’s depiction of Christ? Of course not. And the author of the film’s source material, Nikos Kazantzakis, would forgive me for that. After all, he opened his book by insisting that this was a very personal experiment in fiction, an exploration into questions that troubled him, and not at all a “gospel” narrative.
Moreover, the film’s astonishing soundtrack, an extravagant work by Peter Gabriel infused with music from nine different nations and cultures, remains my favorite work of music composed for cinema, and the most precious CD in my collection. It’s a riveting artistic experience, a spiritual journey all its own.
The debate continues today among Christians and unbelievers, among Scorsese’s fans and nay-sayers: Is The Last Temptation of Christ a great film or one of the great director’s rare missteps? Does Harvey Keitel’s accent spoil the whole thing? Is the film a work of blasphemy, or an expression of an artist grappling with complicated questions about the Incarnation? Is Scorsese going to hell for showing us images of Jesus in bed with a woman? Or was that scene actually profound, as it was only a vision that the devil concocted to try and tempt Christ off the cross? (Spoiler: Christ does not give in to Satan’s temptation.)
Whatever the case, it’s now easier than ever to see Scorsese’s controversial film.
Jeffrey Overstreet watches far too many movies, writes film reviews and two weekly columns for ChristianityTodayMovies.com, maintains the Web site LookingCloser.org, contributes to Paste Magazine, and is at work on a series of novels. He works at Seattle Pacific University.