Silence in the Last Temptation

April 12, 2012

Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ is a great movie and easily one of the best movies this semester.  It is a movie that starts out with a disclaimer, citing that the movie isn’t based on the Gospels, however when you watch the movie there is a sense of the normal structure that these Jesus films follow; i.e. Palm Sunday, Mary Magdalene, The Last Supper, and the Crucifixion.  The movie follows a type of formulaic telling of Jesus’ life with key differences that make this movie unlike the other Jesus films.  Scorsese makes sure that the same overdone quotes of other movies don’t get repeated again in this movie, which is shown at the stoning of Mary that Jesus stops.  Instead of saying, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”, Jesus, says something more realistic, and more fluid than quoting the bible (part 1, 34:24).

[DHR: I’ve put the Paul Schrader screenplay for The Last Temptation of Christ online in BlackBoard.  It needs to be said that it’s not followed exactly: Scorsese and the cast were on location in Morocco, Schrader was elsewhere making another film, and the script was edited under the pressure of the tight filming schedule.  But Scorsese felt that the characters were working class and he needed for them to talk in colloquial English.  So what the screenplay has is:


Who’s never sinned? Which one of you

has never sinned? Whichever one of

you’s never sinned should come up

here and throw these.]






I’d like to concentrate on two parts of the movie that share the same technique in the movie.  There is ruckus or a lot of sounds in both these scenes but then the two actors start a conversation and all sound is eliminated from the scene and all the audience hears is the conversation between the two actors.  It gives this intense feeling to the scene, and the two characters in it add to the importance of the words they say.

The first scene is between Jesus and John the Baptist, when Jesus reveals himself to John as the messiah.  In the background of this scene, there is a lot of people dancing and getting baptized by John and diegetic music.  After John accepts Jesus as the messiah and baptizes him, the two men begin on a debate.  As the two men start to speak to each other, all the external sounds fade away except for the conversation between John and Jesus.  The silence gives more emphasis to the discussion between the two and even grabs the attention of the audience so their primary focus is on the foreground and not the background.

The second time that the movie does this is when Jesus is on the cross and his “guardian angel” shows up.  People are yelling from the crowd and people on the cross are screaming in agony, and the movie drowns the noise out to focus on Jesus and the “guardian angel”.  The focus turns to the “angel” addressing Jesus and how he doesn’t have to suffer.

Though I believe that the purpose of this silence of noise serves as a transition to Jesus’ last temptation.  And through this scene, a new arc opens up, which again to reiterate the last temptation of Christ.

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