Last Temptation of Christ
Director - Martin Scorsese
Cast - Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel
Country of Origin - U.S.
Discs - 1
MSRP - $39.95
Distributor - Criterion
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
The Film (4/5)
John Waters once stated in his essay regarding Jean-Luc Godard's Mid 80's Christian-themed film Hail Mary "With the Pope as your press agent, you are bound to stir up a little interest." Godard's film was much like most of his post mid 1960's output, thick with symbolism, and while the plot was familar due it's association with the Birth of Christ legend, it was not what one would call easy viewing.
Enter Martin Scorsese only a few short years later with his long gestating adaptation of Niko Kazantakis Last Temptation of Christ, a book Scorsese head received as a gift from Barbara Hershey and David Carradine on the set of Boxcar Bertha in the 60's, and had wanted to make into a movie since. Finally, after nearly going into production with Paramount in the early 80's, Univeral picked up the rights to make the film, and went forward with the production.
Of course the production was not smooth with the Catholic Church protesting the films very existence up to, and through the films theatrical release. The reason being is the film is not an adaptation of the Gospel's, but rather based on an alternative fiction that explores the human side of Jesus Christ. The controversy stems from a sequence near the end of the film where Jesus during his crucifixion is "tempted" off the cross by a young androgynous child, and convinced to live a normal human existence with Mary Magdalene, complete with sex and children.
What these people failed to see (mostly because they refused to watch), is that this depiction of Jesus, developed his character from the simple white knight that is seen in so many portrayals, and had not graced the screen since Pasolini made the Gospel According to St. Matthew in 1963, to something truly greater. A character with true emotions, a character that died for his peoples sins, but did not do it like a simple automaton. This was a choice, and Martin Scorsese does a beautiful job with this sequence depicting that struggle to make that choice.
The film stars Willem Dafoe as Jesus, and tells well known story of the final years of his life. In this version he is a cross-maker for the Romans, when due to encouragement of Judas Iscariot (Harvey Keitel) he begins to preach a message of love. Judas sees this as a way of sparking a revolution in Jerusalem, however, Jesus feels this is the message that flows within him naturally. As in the Bible he gathers his Apostles, and spreads his messages, and of course, it ends with his persecution and crucifixion.
Scorsese, much like the aforementioned Pasolini film, decided to take a minimalist approach to his stylistic choices on the Last Temptation of Christ. Everything from the set design, to the costumes adheres to this minimalist aesthetic, which is truly in keeping with the spirit of sparse realism he is attempting at least in depicting the aesthetics of the period.
On the other hand his use of surrealism may never surpass what he has done with this film from the subtle use of talking animals to the films final "Temptation" sequence. You can see slight nods to surrealist and dreamlike filmmakers as far reaching as Luis Bunuel, Maya Deren, and Mario Bava (tell me that androgynous child wasn't influenced by Kill Baby, Kill.).
The performances are across the board excellent, and Willem Dafoe may be the standard bearer for the finest Jesus performance currently committed to film. And while his look may go against the common standard of what Jesus looked like his performance truly fleshes out the character greater than any before or since. The same can be said for others in the cast, David Bowie makes an excellent Pontius Pilate, and Harvey Keitel feels natural in the role of Judas Iscariot.
Overall, while not based on the Gospel's as some obviously would have preferred. Martin Scorsese's the Last Temptation of Christ feels like the most honest, and human portrayal of the character of Jesus, and one of the best versions of his story. The Last Temptation of Christ is an absolute classic of religious cinema, and a fine addition to Criterion's Blu-ray line.
I have not seen Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ since VHS, so to say this transfer is a revelation is a little bit of an understatement. Criterion have predictably worked their considerable skills on this transfer creating a very film like transfer with incredible detail, especially in close up shots. There is light grain that adds to the film like presentation. The black levels and contrast are excellent, and flesh tones are largely accurate. There is some light print damage throughout, but nothing overly serious, and nothing that truly takes away from the quality of this impeccable HD transfer.
Criterion have presented the Last Temptation of Christ a wonderful 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track in English. This track is nothing short of phenomenal. The dialogue is clear and audible, effects are mixed well in the mix, and Peter Gabriel's score comes through loud and clear. I could not pick up any audio defects on the track such as pops, cracks, or hissing.
Criterion have ported over the extras from their DVD/Laserdisc release of Last Temptation of Christ for this release, and while none of it appears to be new (although it is to me). It is quite interesting. The disc kicks off with a commentary by Martin Scorsese, William Dafoe, and screenwriters Paul Schrader and Jay Cocks. There is a VHS featurette called On Location in Morocco which is behind the scenes footage shot by Scorsese while on set. We then have Stills and Research a gallery of photos taken by Mario Tursi, and also some production sketches by Scorsese. The disc is wrapped up by a series of costume sketches by the films costume designer. There is also a short booklet included with an essay by David Ehrenstein.
A film that is controversial for it's character development. Martin Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ, decided to take the common depiction of the Christ character, and inject humanity into him. I hope that with the passing of time, the controversial nature of the film has passed, and people can now see an excellent story told by one of the greatest filmmakers of the last 50 years. If that is the case, this Blu-ray is the best available version of the story. The restoration by Criterion is the best this film has ever looked, and may ever look on home video. Highly Recommended.