The Last Temptation of Christ

Yesterday, I saw Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ. I sat in the theatre quite riveted. Jesus is a man who is fully human, yet fully divine. He knows it. He knows he has a mission. God is guiding him. But that mission requires him to rebel, to defy, to lead hordes of others, and eventually, to die. What shall he choose? His spiritual destiny – to be sacrificed for the sake of God – or his temporal inclinations?

This basic existential challenge is at the heart of the temptation that this film is about. On a more philosophical level, the film is not about Jesus but about all men and women. All of us have a spiritual calling. And all of us have temporal inclinations. We want to live up to our spiritual calling, if we know what it is. But we are also afraid. What would people say? How would I be treated? What about food and money? What about all my hopes?

For those of us who are more strongly aware of this calling, this is a film to watch. Jesus, played remarkably by the actor Willem Dafoe, is clearly two persons. He desires for comfort, he fears for his life, he longs for the support of his friends, he is attracted to the opposite sex. At the same time, he knows. The detached, far-away look in his eyes betrays that beneath all the chaos of his feelings, there is an equanimity that arises from his knowledge that he is meant for greater things. The body’s death will not kill him. Lesser matters, like persecution, humiliation, criticism, can harm him even less.

I cannot accept that playing this character would not have been a significant experience in Dafoe’s spiritual life, or that just any good actor could have played it.

For the Christians, the life of Christ is so significant in universal history that all time is divided by them between before Christ and after Christ. This sense of cosmic significance pierces the whole film, it is present in Christ’s eyes, in the ominous desert landscape that he lives in, and in the stirring background score that accompanies him in his journey. Most importantly, it is clear that the filmmakers are telling us that this is not a struggle that has happened once and for all in history, but is relived in the hearts of each of us, every day. It is an everyday struggle, yet an eternal, timeless one.

It is perhaps no anomaly that the word ‘passion’ comes from the Latin passio, which means suffering. The passion of Christ is the suffering of Christ. But it is a suffering, and eventually, a death, that is accepted willingly for the manifestation of the greater purpose of his life. Here is a film made with total passion, and one that reminds you of your own passion, both in sense of your greater purpose and the suffering you will have to undergo if you remain faithful to it. The whole film is an artistic exploration of what it means to have two natures. It is charged with a current of spiritual energy that makes you forget the here and now and enter the life being portrayed on screen. It testifies to the magic of cinema.

As a youth, Martin Scorsese seriously contemplated becoming a Catholic priest. He eventually decided to become a filmmaker. In The Last Temptation of Christ, he offers not a priest’s sermon, but an artist’s spiritual portrait that goes beyond the conventional portraits of Christ as a totally pious person, painting the picture of a man who has the destiny of a messiah – but also the fate of a troubled, fearful human being.

On the harsh, rugged landscape of Morocco, in the midst of the sounds and songs of the Semitic people, Scorsese paints a picture of Christ that is thoroughly modern and relevant to any spiritual seeker, and to my understanding, also totally faithful to traditional Christian thought, despite what fundamentalists would say about it being blasphemous. Culturally, this film is a film of what we today would call Middle-Eastern culture, a culture that Christ himself inhabited. The visuals and the music – including a soaring piece by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to accompany Christ’s crucifixion – themselves are stunning, but the centre-piece of the film is the inner struggle of the individual. Watch it to be be gripped, shaken, left in awe of what just took place on the screen.

Every man partakes of the divine nature in both his spirit and his flesh. That is why the mystery of Christ is not simply a mystery for a particular creed, it is universal. . .This book was written because I wanted to offer a supreme model to the man who struggles. I wanted to show him that he must not fear pain, temptation, or death – because all three can be conquered, all three have already been conquered.” – Nikos Kazantzakis, author of the novel on which the film is based.

~ by tdcatss on June 18, 2011.

15 Responses to “The Last Temptation of Christ”

  1. lovely! will surely watch this film. the more I come close to my spiritual purpose, further away I go from it …

  2. very well written review! :) I’m glad I read it.

  3. Thank you Prommila… you commented even before I had finalised the post! The film has left quite an impression on me.

    I didn’t quite understand how you get further away from your spiritual purpose when you get close to it… please say more about it :)

  4. It’s a long story… for now I can tell you that I’ve defeated the purpose for which I was born — that’s how I’ve been feeling for last few years. This raises many questions such as how do I know what my life purpose is? do we really have a purpose? Or we invent it to make life more meaningful than it already is?

    J.krishnamuri’s philosophy initiated me into a life to which I couldn’t remain faithful. then I had a long affair with occult sciences like astrology,. My inquisitiveness led me to trying out things based on the principle of synchronicity; tarot, iching etc. I didn’t spare crystal healing, affirmations either. Even learned and tried out past life regression. And after spending 5 years among things that couldn’t answer my questions, I developed skepticism toward everything. All I know now is I should live in the moment and let psychological memory dissolve, but this seems impossible, too.

    I’m angry!

    (typing is not easy over nokia e63)

  5. I haven’t seen this, Kaif, but I too love your reviews. :) I don’t know how I’d feel about the portrayal of Jesus, how it was done, what was implied or shown. What I do like is what you came away with from the movie . . .the struggle for each of us, the two natures that battle within. Your insights really touched me as recently I had this thought come to me . . .life equals suffering . . .for everyone, in some way.
    Thank you so much for just being you!

  6. hi prommila. thanks for sharing your feelings. so what do you think one can do?

    the occult is interesting and fascinating. one of my friends has been into it quite seriously. but i have not really met someone who has benefited from it in substantial measure.

    for some time now, i’ve felt quite sure that one needs to belong to a particular tradition, or school, of personal development.

    krishnamurti’s idea of letting psychological memory dissolve… i don’t feel that most people can do this…

  7. Thanks for your very kind comments, Debbie :).. I don’t know if you would like this film or not. But if you have a chance to watch it, do so, because if the unconventional portrayal of Jesus is not a problem for you, you will probably be quite strongly affected by the film.

  8. it’s hard to say what benefits us and what doesn’t. There is no scale to measure growth if we look at life closely. one way to look at things is, everything happens for a divine reason. If this is true, then nothing goes wasted. The other point of view is life is random — result of a chemical disorder in the universe. If latter is correct, then everything is meaningless, because the question of spiritual growth doesn’t arise.
    do you live in delhi?

  9. hi prommila. i agree, from one perspective, nothing is wasted. but i also feel that we have the freedom to choose between the less beneficial and the more beneficial. we may get to the same place sooner if we make the right choice. for instance, in my case, i feel that if i choose the wrong job, or the wrong career, it will still help me in some sense, by bringing out new sides of me. but if i choose what i am suited for by nature, i will grow further and quicker.

    yes, i live in delhi. we can communicate further on e-mail, if you would like to.

  10. you have my email Id, drop me a mail :)

  11. Finally saw the film, Kaif! Thanks again for recommending it! my reaction is on my blog, if you would like to know …

  12. Kaif, another awesome movie review. I watched this movie just around the same time my spiritual sojourn was starting.. At least knowingly. :-) I loved this movie.

    To Prommila, sorry to poke my nose in to your conversation, but this is what I have to say: The occult and its powers and other stuff such as visions, etc., are all transient and relative. They come and go. Which means that they are not real. Look for what is real. and permanent. Go to the source of the question: “Who Am I?” Like Ramana Maharishi, once told another soon-to-be spiritual master: “Why run behind Gods who come and go?”

  13. Abhilash, don’t worry I won’t cut your nose — it’s safe behind the screen ;)

    Whatever you said, you said it too soon. If you read my comments carefully, and if you try to understand what i have said, you would realize that i am not after visions or mystical experiences — i have had my own share, and who knows what the future holds. I don’t know how many mystical experiences you have had, and I don’t know if you just read philosophies and be content with them, but saying is one thing, and realizing them is another.

    A piece of advice, never preach anyone “The occult and its powers and other stuff such as visions, etc., are all transient and relative. ” Everyone must experience the magic and futility of these experiences before they can realize what’s it that takes us where we want to. We are here to experience life and its illusions with our own consciousness and senses, no one else’s experience can replace our own. And that’s the root or bone of contention of reincarnation. Desires and illusions are necessary to our growth. Before one can decide anything’s worth or worthlessness, they must experience it themselves.

    Running after Krishnamurtis, Ramana Maharishis, other gurus or babas, doesn’t take us anywhere either. — this is one of the things I have learned through my own experience.

    Neti, Neti.

  14. i’m happy for abhilash’s nose… :)

    for some reason, i cannot find anything else to say. maybe i should wait till i get some visions.. or maybe even liberation.. then i can say something, if i’m still alive.

  15. No experience is necessary, unless you “want” it.

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