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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

# Posted 12:38 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THAT OTHER CONTROVERSIAL MOVIE ABOUT A DEAD JEWISH GUY: I just finished watching The Last Temptation of Christ. Leaving aside the theological issues it raises, I think it is a stunning cinematic achievement. But having been just 11 years old when it debuted in theaters, I have no recollection of precisely why it provoked such profound resentment among Christians who felt that their faith was being maligned.

Then again, it isn't hard to guess why Temptation became such a cause celebre. The film's greatest literary achievement and most perilous theological statement departure are one and the same. In the Gospel, the divinity of Christ makes him seem distant and superhuman even when he is in his human form. In the film, Jesus of Nazareth becomes a human being with tragic failures and complex motivations all his own.

As the film begins, Judas Iscariot discovers that the Carpenter has been making crosses and selling them to the Romans. After watching the crucifixion of a fellow Jew on a cross that he has made, Jesus endures the taunts of an embittered mob that accuses him of betraying his people. I suspect that the attribution of this sort of selfishness and cruelty to the Son of God approaches the blasphemous. Yet at the same time, the profound irony of portraying Christ as a maker of crosses provides the character of Jesus with a powerful and credible motivation for abandoning his home in Nazareth to become a wandering prophet.

On a similar note, I also suspect that the closing scenes of the film, in which the crucified Savior struggles against temptation, would violate many Christians' sense of propriety and decorum. In order to render Christ's temptation in an emotionally compelling and realistic manner, Scorsese once again lets Christ become more human and more flawed than Christian doctrine can accept.

Now, as a non-Christian, I cannot put myself in the shoes of a Christian watching the film. Nonetheless, I found the general tone of the film to be inspirational rather than offensive. If one can accept the artistic license taken by the director, then one can benefit from a vision of compassion that speaks to all of us and not just Christians.
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