Last Temptation of Christ

Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ provides the audience with one of the most humanistic approaches to Jesus on film.  This is due to many factors, including the noticeable exclusion of famous bible passages such as “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  However, it isn’t just relatable, unfamiliar dialogue that brings Willem Dafoe’s Jesus to a relatable level on par with those of us that watch the film.  Nor is it the emphasis on the idea that God has possessed Jesus, which is meant to strongly show the audience that Jesus was a man before the presence of God forcibly took control of him.  What makes this Jesus so compelling, and ultimately human, are his mistakes.


The familiar and even cliché quote, “To ere is human; to forgive, divine” comes to mind when watching the controversial flick.  For me, this is primarily due to the fact that Dafoe as Jesus certainly personifies the first half of the statement.  He makes plenty of mistakes as God intervenes in his life and prepares him for his role in life.  He struggles with his inability to fully comprehend the situation he is in, and like any other human being, makes a misstep here and there until he finally reaches his destination on the cross.

One major mistake can be seen when Judas threatens to kill Jesus for being complicit in the Roman domination of the Jews.  Jesus is willing to accept his own murder due to the stress of his predicament, and even tells Judas to go through with the murder as the knife is pressed against his throat.  Once Judas allows him to live and joins him on his mission, Jesus corrects this misjudgment on his own life and perseveres through the trials of his existence.  By not pushing aside his duty and trudging onward, he steps back onto the path he had previously strayed.

The final mistake Jesus makes is perhaps the greatest one presented in the film.  When on the cross, Satan offers the life that Jesus wanted instead of the agony and suffering of crucifixion.  And because Jesus is not aware of Satan’s trickery, he seems at peace and able to go along with the idea.  This leads to the disaster seen at the film’s climax, with Jesus recognizing his error, and ultimately correcting that action with the ultimate sacrifice and total compliance with God’s plan.  While this notion that Jesus was imperfect may (and very well did) upset many people of the Christian faith, it portrays him as a man that anyone in the audience could relate to on a very basic level.  It is the heart of the film, showing the viewer that no matter what happens, it is possible to move past mistakes, and that where one ends his or her journey matters.  No one is free from error; that is what makes each and every one of us human.

-Chris Lombardo

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3 Responses to “Last Temptation of Christ”

  1.   Merzela Says:

    I agree that what makes Jesus so compelling and relatable in this movie is his mistakes and also the personal conflicts he goes through. I think this film succeeds in connecting an audience to Jesus who were unable to do so before. This specific audience, are the people who find fault in themselves and struggle to lead a holy righteous life. In watching this movie, they can see how Jesus may have struggled the same way they did and this may serve as an encouragement. In humanizing Jesus, I think the film succeeds on emphasizing how great of a man he was for doing what he did in spite of all his personal conflicts. He was a man who did extraordinary things and this is a testament that we too can do ordinary things; this I believe is the message and essentially the message of the bible.

  2.   mbenares Says:

    Your absolutely right about the portrayal of Jesus being relatable to anyone that has watched this film. Jesus isin’t portrayed as a higher being or superior to anyone else rather he is shown struggling and encountering the hardships he faces as a human that we all do in our lives.

  3.   David Richter Says:

    What makes the “last temptation” so plausible is that we are constantly aware of Jesus as searching for an answer to the question “What does God want of me.” He discovers his ministry while saving the Magdalen from the mob. He is shocked when he successfully performs miracles. He doesn’t realize that his destiny is to be sacrificed until he has already entered Jerusalem.

    [Even Mark’s gospel, which has Jesus not realizing his mission till he is about thirty, after he has been baptized by John, knows before he arrives in Jerusalem that the Son of Man is to be persecuted and crucified.]

    Because Scorsese’s Jesus arrives at his sense of destiny so late in the story, it doesn’t seem at all implausible that it was a mistake, or only a test, like Abraham with Isaac, and because the lines Dafoe speaks are scripture-like but not scriptural, it doesn’t seem so strange that the standard plot line should be shifted into the fourth dimension.

    (Having an adolescent girl play the satanic tempter was another stroke of genius, though Scorsese originally planned for her lines to be spoken by an elderly man.)

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