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February 2006

DVD: The Last Temptation of Christ

imageI’m not sure how this got on my Netflix list. Probably the same way many things do. It came up in a conversation, I realize I have never seen it, and I go add it to my list, just cause, hey, when something comes up in conversation, I should have the cultural reference point. In any case, this arrived from Netflix many months ago. I tried once in December (I think) to watch it on one of my plane flights back and forth between Seattle and Florida, but I was sitting next to little kids, and then things started happening on the screen that made their eyes go wide, so I stopped that and watched Buffy instead.

A few days ago I decided to try again. It had been awhile, so I started over rather than continuing from where I’d left off.

In any case, here are my conclusions. The movie to me was essentially three very distinct parts, so I will talk about them seperately:

Before the John the Baptist: William Dafoe is a sucky Jesus. Or he was directed that way. Or the book this is based on is that way. Fine, OK, this is before he “started” and I can understand some of what they are trying to do here in terms of showing this poor schitzophrenic man and the voices in his head, but… he just engenders no sympathy through his performance. He just stumbles around looking pitiful and depressed. Fine. Got the point in 5 minutes. Did not need 45 minutes of it.

During Jesus’s ministry: William Dafoe is still a sucky Jesus. You get absolutely NO understanding why anybody would ever follow this man. They show more and more people deciding they should follow him and there are crouds and you see there is a “movement”. But you can not see any possible reason for it. This Jesus shows no charisma whatsoever. You expect a David Koresh type of guy. Someone who is insane, yes, but who has an appeal, who is compelling, who you would understand why some people would be drawn to him and why many people might follow. Defoe’s Jesus is someone that people would walk away from or ignore. His tone is lethargic and sleep enducing. Not something that would energize anybody to give up their lives and follow. Or even to change their behavior and do what this man is recommending. At least Judas is a bit interesting in this phase.

On the Cross: Here it gets at least slightly interesting. Finally the actual “last temptation” happens. Basically you get an Inner Light type scenerio. [I’m sure other places did that sort of thing earlier, but I just thought it was amusing to make a Star Trek comparison while talking about a Jesus movie.] Basically Satan gives Jesus the chance to live a normal life instead of dying on the cross. Jesus does not know it is Satan and accepts. He lives out that whole life, then at the end realizes the truth and begs to go back and do the right thing. Then he is back on the cross and the movie ends. Of course, this completely makes the whole temptation moot. Because Jesus did NOT have to choose. He got both. He lived the entire normal life, out to being an old man, then got to go back. Yes, there was supposidly the spiritual choice, and at the end of the life he saw, he had to choose to go back and die on the cross. But… he had already experienced the normal life. He gave nothing up. He was not presented that as an option and refused it. He accepted, lived it, then went and did the other as well. Perhaps that is the point, he DID give in to the temptation and thus really was just a normal man. I don’t know. Of course, in the end it was all just the final hallucinations of an insane man slowly dying, so doesn’t really matter.

Anyway… all in all… bottom line… about 30 minutes of interesting material in a 164 minute movie. Maybe if you push it, an hour of stuff worth watching. But it was way way too long. And be it the actor or the director or the writer, the Jesus character himself was just never compelling or believable. I never felt sorry for him or sympathised in any way. I certainly wasn’t inspired or anything of a religious sort of nature that would lead me to want to admire this man in any way. I just wanted to slap him and tell him to get over himself.

Anyway, worth seeing on the grounds that it was very controversial when it came out and is a cultural reference point of sorts… but that is the only reason.