To me, Martin Scorsese is a god amongst film directors. Countless generations have been thrilled by the cinema of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and mesmerised by the operatic story telling of Francis Ford Coppola. But amongst the 'golden generation' that emerged in the 70's, consisting of all above mentioned auteurs, and also including Brian De Palma, Scorsese and Spielberg stand out as the most consistent, which is no surprise as both are my most favourite directors working in film today.
When The Last Temptaion of Christ came out, Scorsese was crucified by all denomination of the Christian faith. They saw it as an attack on Christ. But that is where they fail to see the bigger picture. Scorsese himself is a Catholic, and would in no way go out intentionally to court controversy. Indeed, before any action is registered on screen, it is clearly stated that the film is a work of fiction. The author of the original novel stated this; it is nothing more than a story and NOT a commentary on the life of Christ.
But the damage was done. Which is a shame as this film is one of my favourite Scorsese films, in fact one of my favourite films period. The story revolves around a fictional Christ played by the excellent Willem Defoe, and his battle to resist the tempation of the devil. There are excellent supporting acts from Harvey Keitel as a sympathetic and misunderstood Judas, and (a favourite character actor of mine) Harry Dean Stanton as the zealous Paul/Saul. All the aforementioned are simply superb in their roles, as well as as Mary Magdeline.
The story is about man's everlasting battle with the sins of the flesh and the movie is an excellent allegory of that. Our fictional Christ has to resist the temptation of the devil, his LAST temptation, hence the title. Defoe's character is always doubting himself and questioning his own existence and his duty in life. He is scared and at the same time tempted by the lure of worldly comfort, such as married life, family etc.
My favourite part of the film is the last 20 minutes or so, when we see him give into tempation as he hangs on the cross. A seemingly angelic girl appears and says god has forgiven him, and he is now free. He takes her hand and is led to a life he craves; he marries, has children and grows old. On his deathbed he is visited by Judas and is duly reminded of his role, that he is the chosen one. 'That 'angel' is satan' bellows Judas, infuriated. And then our fictional Christ realises his folly, and seeks god's forgiveness, then lo and behold! He wakes up and realises he was on the cross all along! And his 'life' was nothing more than a dream! Satan has failed, and our fictional Christ (everyman) has triumphed over temptation! This 'dream' section is what caused the outrage amongst Christians. But this is without doubt the most beautifully constructed, acted, photographed and realised chapter in the film, and is my favourite! You can see why uber nerd Kevin Smith rates this film in his top 5 films of all time! And while it isnt in my top 5 movie list, it is nonetheless one of my personally favourite Scorsese films!
I must also comment on the music of the film; it is very 'arabesque' in tone, with drum beats and flute. It is one of my favourite movie sound tracks alongside Raging Bull (Mascagni) and The Mission (Morricone). It is brilliant and has to be heard to be believed!
I urge all Scorsese fan's and non-fan's alike to give this fantastic movie a try. Buy it now and witness the master storyteller at his blistering best!
All in all, The Last Tempation of Christ is Scorsese's underrated masterpiece!