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The controversial - and widely acclaimed - Martin Scorsese picture gets some high-definition love from Criterion....
Criterion / 163 Minutes / 1988 / Rated R / Street Date: March 13, 2012
Martin Scorsese's film of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel The Last Temptation of Christ achieved all the notoriety a movie about Christ possibly could, and a movie that most of its opponents never actually took the time to see. But had they actually viewed it, most probably would have agreed that it espouses one of the most spiritual, God-affirming ideals to ever be committed to celluloid.
While most people are aware of the controversy surrounding the film, most also have no idea that this was actually the second attempt to bring the novel to screen. Even back in 1982, Martin Scorsese was about to go into production with the film at Paramount, but the moral (and apparently extremist) majority was making the rounds to shut down the production. The part of all this that really grabs and shakes me is that the film, about Jesus The Man versus Jesus The Son of God, doesn't really contradict the savior that people have been worshiping for nearly two millenniums now.
The film is an examination of Jesus' attempts to convey the message of God's love and our love for each other. But before, and even after, the film's release Scorsese endure threats against his life to the point where he needed bodyguards to protect him from the exact people that Jesus was trying to reach. In France, theaters were apparently bombed in protest. Now, I could be wrong, but exactly where in the Bible does it say, "Thou shalt bomb and intimidate those who worship me in their own way"? I mean, who's really on the wrong side of the spiritual fence here?
How ironic then that it is probably one of his least seen, though. I think the thing that protesters really did was actually persuade people to see the film who might have never seen it otherwise. I myself had no desire to see this until people started whooping and hollering about how I shouldn't be allowed to. Yet, if we went down to these people's churches and started protesting that the people inside shouldn't be allowed to worship is the way in which they wanted to, we'd probably be removed. The Last Temptation of Christ is one of the best spiritual films ever made and for all you out there that, to this day, condemn the film as blasphemous, actually try to pick up a copy and watch it for once. You may be surprised at what you've been fighting all these years.
Willem Dafoe delivers an absolutely magnificent portrayal of Jesus, one of love and understanding in a situation that he could not understand himself. Barbara Hershey, as Mary Magdalene, is also perfect as the sinner who only wants to be loved and forgiven by Jesus. In fact, the entire cast is uniformly terrific including Harry Dean Stanton, Harvey Keitel, David Bowie and even Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kirshner. Nor is there any faulting the direction of The Last Temptation of Christ. Scorsese shows an incredible passion for this material. This is not really the type of movie you'd expect from the man who's brought us such hard-edged cinematic gems as Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and GoodFellas. You can see every frame of the film filled with love and care. Scorsese's a master filmmaker and The Last Temptation of Christ is one of his masterpiece works.