As I see from your generous review of Of Gods And Men, you can authentically open yourself to the work of film. That’s encouraging, and at the same time discouraging in how much you can actually miss.
Of the films mentioned thus far in this discussion, The Last Temptation of Christ is the most distictive of all. In the other films we have clearly been offered views of the same landscape: from different directors, different writers, different producers, different actors, with much the same interests in mind. At first viewing Scorcese’s film seems to depict a different continent, photgraphed through a quite different lens, the lens of a committed Catholic. Yes, the director, Martin Scorcese is. Doubt this and all you have to do is witness his wondrous tableaux of The Sacred Heart in the fil, remembered from a time in his childhood when The Sacred Heart was enshrined in his home.
While other films, going all the way back to the silent era, present a rapid succession of incidents, of disputes and short, sharp sayings by Jesus; in The Last Temptation of Christ we move into a stately series of set-piece miracles and long spirallying discussions. Just the obvious miracles are depicted in the film. Deeply authentic Catholics should not be in need of miracles. That’s the point.
It’s fair to speculate if the Jesus of The Passion of the Christ, for example, is recognizably the soon-to-be-risen Christ at all. If we follow Scorcese’s lead: back to the very start of things and to the eternal character and plan of God, to the “word” with which he designed and triggered al creation.
For God spoke: Let there be light. And Jesus, as The Last Temptation claims, was and is this very same Word, the perfect and total expression of God’s will. We let the questions echo that this film knows well, about the power of speech, about its limits—and about the deepest aspiration of all: To express to another, to one that we love, all that we think and believe and long for and are.
Through the film we trace the intriguing strategy that shapes the first half of the story’s testimony. (It’s no wonder why our culture is quite obsessed with the language of the court room: witnesses, testimony and ross-examination! How indellible this true myth of Jesus is!) The idea is not original. The account we’re given by Scorcese is briskly told. He himself has been quizzed, witnesses examined, charges tested and refined. The whole film is one overarching trial. And who are the judges?
The Last Temptation of Christ invites us to assess this Jesus, to hear his opponents’ claims and his own, to make up our own minds on the defendant. As Catholics we are given the ultimate free will. In the last scenes of the film, as the wheels of Roman justice turn slowly but inexorably toward His execution, that the truth will become painfully clear: Of all the people in the court of the film, one and only one is the real Judge. He is standing in the dock, the “defendant” mocked and belittled. And his verdict upon all those ranged around him hangs on just one decision of their own: their verdict on this Judge himself… Our verdict on this Judge himself.
How are we to grasp this film’s claims? Scorcese has in view a function for his story so remarkable that many movie goers can miss all sight of it. We can watch his film scene by scene, savor its more elaborate dialogs and fuller telling of the events—but fail to see the movement into which he is inviting us and through which he offers, step by step, to lead us.
Other movies dealing with the life, passion, death and ressurection of Jesus believe the truths of Him to be too elusive, and their viewers to need sustained and careful help if these truths are to be grasped. (Perhaps this is the target audience of your reviews.) Scorcese’s strategy is the bravest of all. He sees the majesty and depth of his task with a poet’s eye: If his viewers are to see what is there to be seen, they must be “re-born”—and once they are re-born, they will see with all the clarity what has made possible their rebirth.
This film is one of the very few with the language to do justice to the process through which we as committed Catholics must go—and through which The last Temptation of Christ will steer them. In short, this is rt as the midwife of this extraordinary birth.
Only in this film are we ready to hear the dialog of Jesus and his closest friends, the long farewell on His night of betrayal.
And following his last temptation, knowing that everything was now finished, so that the old Order migt be brought to the final completion, tells us all we need to hear.
Everything is the mystical vision of The Last Temptation of Christ comes full circle. At the moment of Jesus’ death Jesus himself declares “It is completed”. And, Steven and all, that completion becomes clear as light rises on Easter morning. The “re-born” viewers are shown the source of their re-birth. The serpent has been driven away. All creation is made new.