The Last Temptation of Christ (film)

Reference: Wikipedia

The Last Temptation of Christ is a 1988 fictional drama film directed by Martin Scorsese. It is a film adaptation of the controversial 1953 novel of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis. It stars Willem Dafoe as Jesus Christ, Harvey Keitel as Judas Iscariot, Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene, David Bowie as Pontius Pilate, and Harry Dean Stanton as Paul. The film was shot entirely in Morocco.

Like the novel, the film depicts the life of Jesus Christ and his struggle with various forms of temptation including fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust. This results in the book and film depicting Christ being tempted by imagining himself engaged in sexual activities, a notion that has caused outrage from some Christians. The movie includes a disclaimer explaining that it departs from the commonly accepted Biblical portrayal of Jesus’ life, and is not based on the Gospels.

Scorsese received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, and Hershey’s performance as Mary Magdalene earned her a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress nomination, while Keitel’s performance as Judas Iscariot earned him a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actor nomination.


The film opened on August 12, 1988.[4] The film was later screened as a part of the Venice International Film Festival on September 7, 1988.[5] In response to the film’s acceptance as a part of the film festival’s lineup, director Franco Zeffirelli removed his film Young Toscanini from the program.[6]

Attack on Saint Michel theater, Paris

On October 22, 1988, a French Christian fundamentalist group launched Molotov cocktails inside the Parisian Saint Michel movie theater while it was showing the film. This attack injured thirteen people, four of whom were severely burned.[7][8] The Saint Michel theater was heavily damaged,[8] and reopened 3 years later after restoration. Following the attack, a representative of the film’s distributor, United International Pictures, said, “The opponents of the film have largely won. They have massacred the film’s success, and they have scared the public.” Jack Lang, France’s Minister of Culture, went to the St.-Michel theater after the fire, and said, “Freedom of speech is threatened, and we must not be intimidated by such acts.”[8] The Archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, said “One doesn’t have the right to shock the sensibilities of millions of people for whom Jesus is more important than their father or mother.”[8] After the fire he condemned the attack, saying, “You don’t behave as Christians but as enemies of Christ. From the Christian point of view, one doesn’t defend Christ with arms. Christ himself forbade it.”[8] The leader of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a Roman Catholic group that had promised to stop the film from being shown, said, “We will not hesitate to go to prison if it is necessary.”[8]

The attack was subsequently blamed on a Christian fundamentalist group linked to Bernard Antony, a representative of the far-right Front National to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and the excommunicated followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.[7] Lefebvre had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church on July 2, 1988. Similar attacks against theatres included graffiti, setting off tear-gas canisters and stink bombs, and assaulting filmgoers.[7] At least nine people believed to be members of the Catholic fundamentalist group were arrested.[7] Rene Remond, a historian, said of the Catholic far-right, “It is the toughest component of the National Front and it is motivated more by religion than by politics. It has a coherent political philosophy that has not changed for 200 years: it is the rejection of the revolution, of the republic and of modernism.”[7]


The Last Temptation of Christ‘s eponymous final sequence depicts the crucified Jesus—tempted by what turns out to be Satan in the form of a beautiful, androgynous child—experiencing a dream or alternative reality where he comes down from the cross, marries Mary Magdalene (and later Mary and Martha), and lives out his life as a full mortal man. He learns on his deathbed that he was deceived by Satan and begs God to let him “be [God’s] son,” at which point he finds himself once again on the cross. At other points in the film, Jesus is depicted as building crosses for the Romans, being tormented by the voice of God, and lamenting the many sins he believes he has committed.

Because of these radical departures from the gospel narratives—and especially a brief scene wherein Jesus and Mary Magdalene consummate their marriage—several Christian fundamentalist groups organized vocal protests and boycotts of the film prior to and upon its release. One protest, organized by a religious Californian radio station, gathered 600 protesters to picket the headquarters of Universal Studios’ parent company MCA;[9] one of the protestors dressed as MCA’s Chairman Lew Wasserman and pretended to drive nails through Jesus’ hands into a wooden cross.[4] Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ offered to buy the film’s negative from Universal in order to destroy it.[9] The protests were effective in convincing several theater chains not to screen the film;[9] one of those chains, General Cinemas, later apologized to Scorsese for doing so.[4]

In some countries, including Turkey, Mexico, Chile, and Argentina, the film was banned or censored for several years. As of July 2010, the movie continues to be banned in Chile, the Philippines and Singapore.[10]

Use in Schools

In 1989, Albuquerque high school teacher Joyce Briscoe showed the film to history students at La Cueva High School, raising a storm of controversy by parents and local Christian broadcaster KLYT.[11]


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  1. ^ See Sicarii or Zealotry.
  2. ^ “The Last Temptation of Christ – clip – Jesus defends Mary”. Youtube. 7 September 2007. Retrieved 19 December 2011.
  3. ^ Revealed in an interview with Mark Lawson on Front Row, BBC Radio 4, 23 September 2008.
  4. ^ a b c Kelly, M. (1991). Martin Scorsese: A Journey. New York, Thunder’s Mouth Press.
  5. ^ “Venice Festival Screens Scorsese’s ‘Last Temptation'”. Los Angeles Times. 9 September 1988. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  6. ^ “Zeffirelli Protests ‘Temptation of Christ'”. The New York Times. 3 August 1988. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  7. ^ a b c d e James M. Markham (1988-11-09). “Religious War Ignites Anew in France”. New York Times.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Steven Greenhouse (1988-10-25). “Police Suspect Arson In Fire at Paris Theater”. New York Times.
  9. ^ a b c WGBH. “Culture Shock Flashpoints: Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ”. Public Broadcasting Systems. Retrieved 20 April 2012.
  10. ^ Certification page at the Internet Movie Database
  11. ^ From Last Temptation to Transformation

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