The full-page ads make it seem sinful not to succumb to the temptation of seeing the most controversial film of recent times. It is praised as “deeply felt and ultimately faith affirming,” “as spiritual and involving a film as you are likely to see this year,” “one of the most serious, literate, complex and deeply felt religious films ever made.”
Jay Scott of the Toronto Globe and Mail writes, “The Last Temptation illuminates the struggle in all souls…a courageous film that people of all religions or no religion should be able to watch with identical fascination.””
Its director, Martin Scorsese, has said that 99 per cent of those who complain about the movie haven’t seen it. Isn’t it stupid to criticize without seeing – especially when so many critics describe it both as a masterpiece and as a sincere treatment of the life of Christ from a fresh perspective?
In answer, I affirm that the intelligent response to this movie is not to see it. It ought to be banned for blasphemy. As Franco Zeffirelli, himself a distinguished director, says, the movie is “damaging to the image of Christ. He cannot be made the object of low fantasies.” And Zeffirelli has not seen the film.
What it deals with is not in dispute. Its ore controversial aspects were described in the opening paragraph of a Time cover story:
Jesus has brief on screen sex with his first wife Mary Magdalene and later commits adultery. Judas is a hero, the strongest and best of the apostles, Paul, is a hypocrite and a liar. Jesus is so dazed that, even on the eve of his Crucifixion, he is still not quite sure whether to preach love or murder Romans.
“The whole point was to take a fresh look at it,” said the Christ in the film, William Dafoe, “so that it would once again become vital.”
There is a difference, however, between vitality and travesty. The Judas, Harvey Keitel, “felt very deeply that it could have happened that way – in spite of the fact that it did not happen that way, according to Scripture, our only source. Canon Harvey, is quoted by Time as saying, “If you tear up the only evidence you’ve got, you can say anything you like.”
The Episcopal (Anglican) Bishop of New York, Paul Moore, Jr., defends Christ’s sexual fantasies in the movie: “In a day and age when fundamentalism of all kinds seems to be growing in the church, this is a most important and dramatic statement of the traditional teaching of the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches, which was originally adopted at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The Council defined Christ as fully human, fully divine and one person. The movie affirms that classic definition of Christ.”
But the bishop ignores the rest of the definition, which says, “We declare that He is perfect both in His divinity and in His humanity, truly God and truly man, composed of body and rational soul; that is He is consubstantial with the Father in His divinity, consubstantial with us in His humanity, like us in every respect except for sin. Thus, Jesus cannot be shown as having sinful thoughts about Mary Magdalene or about Mary the sister of Martha.
Emphasizing the humanity of Jesus, those responsible for this film neglect His divinity. Jay Scott writes, “The novel leaves Christ’s actual divinity open to interpretation and the film follows suit.” Writer Paul Schrader said, “The struggle of the dual nature of Jesus, that’s what the film always had to be about for me.”
Scorsese himself said that what interested him in the Nikos Kazantzakis novel on which the film is based “was that the human part of Jesus would have trouble accepting the divine.” That could only have been because the divine was not there; it is a sham, an Arian Jesus being presented – an illustration of an ancient heresy.
Universal Pictures, the newspapers, the critics, even the more “liberal” theologians have combined to cry up the merits of a movie described by some who have seen it as long, tedious and second-rate. For commercial purposes, they are willing to do anything to offend orthodox Christians. As Pat Buchanan writes, “…placing Jesus in bed with Mary Magdalene, a scene without foundation in the Bible, is a salacious, sleazy stunt, to shock and titillate an audience, a stunt manifesting a contemptuous disregard for the injury such a scene must cause to devout Christians.
If Martin Scorsese, the baptized Catholic who made the film, had really wanted to resolve his religious doubts, he should have sought advice from a priest, not explored these doubts in so public a way. He is behaving like Judas – selling his Saviour for money. That is why the film should not have been made.