A film of challenging ideas, and not salacious provocations, The Last Temptation of Christ is a powerful and very modern reinterpretation of Jesus as a man wracked with anguish and doubt concerning his appointed role in life. Pic was lensed on Moroccan locations for a highly restrictive $6.5 million.
As a written prolog simply states, Last Temptation aims to be a ‘fictional exploration of the eternal spiritual conflict,’ ‘the battle between the spirit and the flesh,’ as Nikos Kazantzakis summarized the theme of his novel.
After rescuing Mary Magdalene from the stone-throwers, Jesus tentatively launches his career as religious leader. But only after his return from the desert and his hallucinatory exposure to representations of good and evil, is he transformed into a warrior against Satan, finally convinced he is the son of God.
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Blondish and blue-eyed in the Anglo-Saxon tradition, Willem Dafoe offers an utterly compelling reading of his character. Harvey Keitel puts across Judas’ fierceness and loyalty, and only occasionally lets a New York accent and mannered modernism detract from total believability.
Barbara Hershey, adorned with tattoos, is an extremely physical, impassioned Mary Magdalene. One could have used more of David Bowie’s subdued, rational Pontius Pilate.
1988: Nomination: Best Director