' The dual substance of Christ — the yearning. s0 human. so .s‘itperhaman. (it man to attain (iod — has always been a deep inscrutable mystery to me. My principal anguish and the source Ufa/l my joys and sorrows from my youth onward has been the incessant. merciless battle between the spiritantitheﬂesh . . . and my soul is the arena where these two armies hare clashedand met. ' Nikos Kazant/akis
With this quotation from the atithor upon whose noy'el the filtn is based. Martin Scorsese opens his filtn The Last 'I‘emptation ()_/'( 'hris‘t. these words should giye tis some impression of the seriousness of personal yision that has been inyested in the project and the rey‘erencc with which it has been undertaken. an impression that is underscored by watching the two-hour forty-minute act of faith that follows this prologue. One might not haye realised it from the
media frenzy that has accompanied the film's release in America and Britain. btit the it is. in fact. a deeply-felt piece of work.
Scorcese follows Kazantzakis‘s y ision ofa(‘hrist cast between the spiritual intiinations of his immortality and the physical sensations of pain and pleasure. an exploration that attempts to weigh tip the balance of(‘hrist’s diyinity and humanity in order to come to terms w ith the duality ofour own religious experience. Willem l)afoe's Jesus is seen as a figure occasionally stral'ed with doubt. ttnable to fully belieye that he is(iod for fear that he is merely entertaining blasphemous delusions. alternately driycn and repulsed by his own human urges so that at one moment he can feel desire for Mary Magdelene. yet at another turn away the affections of his earthly mother Mary.
ft is in this kind of context that one has to approach the kernel of the film that has attracted such attention. the scene on the cross w here ('hrist fantasi/es about liying his life as a normal human being: making line to his wife Mary Magdelene. haying children by her. suryiying to old age. Many hay e been unable to stomach this kind of representation of(‘hrist. with some clergymen adyis-ing (‘hristians to ay'oid the film. and a number of local authorities either (like ( ilasgow (‘ity (‘ouncil)asking to see the film before licensing its screening. or banning it outright despite the fact that the British Board of l‘ilm (‘Iassifieation has passed the film uncut for adults and commented that 'far from ridiculing sacred matters. it treats them with great rcyerence‘.
Director Martin Scorsese has been working hard to defend the filtn. and he trayelled to London last week to face the British press and to attempt to elucidate the fundamental questions the film addresses. ‘What it you take it that (‘hrist‘s human nature fights his diy'ine nature all the way down the line. because the humanity cannot conceive of the possibility ofitsdiyinity'.” he asked.
‘I thought this would be great drama.
and I wanted to create through the
Amidst a hail of debate. hype. furious criticism and respectful support. Martin Scorsese‘s The Last 'I'emptation 0f( ‘hrist arrives in Scotland — to threats of banning in Glasgow. Trevor Johnston met the unrepentant director.
noy cl. not the ( iospels. something that would promote discussion. that would be itntnediate and accessible to a lot of people today w ho hay en't really thought about ( iod in a long time.’
'l‘or Ztltltl years people haye beeit dcbatittg iust how human w as .lcsus.‘ he eontincd. ‘Now (iod gay e its this body. It has sexual organs. there's a seyual force there. atid I think that (‘hrist must hay e been the same. it's a stibieetiye \ iew . bttt I think (‘hrist hasto be tempted by sc\ttality to
reiect it. cy en though the human side
may be attracted by it. and in so doing I feel that this makes him an
ey en strongere\amplc for its. l shold how ey er. point out that The last 'I‘emptation ()/'( hrist is not to hay e sc\ with Mary Magdelene. but to carry on his life as a normal man w ho makes loy c to his w ilc for the purposes of hay ing children. and that although the film has se\'ttality in it. this is not titillation. so those people who would go and see it for that please. please don't bother '
'l‘he impression that one gets after only an hour of his rapid firing New York ltaliati .\mertcan is of a man who has been deeply concerned with matters spiritual for a significant part of his life. and indeed the facts tend to bear thisout. ‘Basically my whole life has been the church and the moyie theatre. l laying suffered trout asthma as child I was sent to the nioy ics a lot. and w hen l w asn’t there I was aii altar boy in the chutch Since l was eight yeats old I wanted to be a priest. l w as in a seminary for a year bttt I failed my c\ams and sol finished high school at ('ardiiial llayes Academy in New York. Bttt
10The List 16— 29 September 1988
eyen when l began to study film .it N.\'.l'.. l initially intended togo back to the seminary until I made my first two short films.‘
:\s he himself admits. Scorsese's liltnogt'aphy is marked by themesol religious conflict and redemption. Particularly iii collaboration w ith l’aul Schradcr. his screenwriter here. whose strict upbringing III the ('hi istiaii Reformed ( hutch t he didn't see a tnoy ie in a cinema tiiittl he was si\teen i instilled in him a deepsenseof'spiritual salyation this is entirely cy ident in 'l'ay/ [Hire/"s hay is Bickle and Raging li’tt/l's .lake laMotta. both men memorably played by Robert l)cNiro. both questing towards their own spiritual ideals btit hampered by their circumstnces and the physical frames within which they find tltetttscly cs Scot‘seseN lll('\l ol‘y iotis eyploratit ll] of religious tensions (before lasl [culprit/ion ) w as howeycr. his first substantial icatuie _\/ean .S’Ireety: 'w here the l lat \ ey Keitcl character ( 'hat'ley goes to church and tries to liy e a good (‘ht'istian life. w hileotttside the church the streets are ruled by the gun. l low to liy c in a world of that kind is what the film is abotit.‘
.\ filitt on the life of (host has been on Scorsese's mttid since his film school day s in the cat ly Siyties w hen he lit'st saw l’asoliiii‘s Hie ( [us/tel .lt't'orthtig '/‘o Saint .llatt/iett t ‘a beatitiltil film. the best filtn on ('hrist' ). and w as impressed w till the litiropean style of shooting quickly on a low budget in the stteets.
l low ey er. it w as not until some teii years or so later. w hen Barbara llershcy . w ho plays Mary
tytlagdalene in the finished film. gay-e I him a copy of the Nikos Kazant/akis‘ noy'el that he began to see a tnore concisely defined approach. ‘( her the years as l drifted away from being a practising Catholic. thottghl would still consider myself a Roman Catholic. I began to question the kind of teaching that emphasised the diy'ine side ol'.lesus like he would walk in the room and you knew he was ( iod 4- and I found a kind of empathy with the way Ka/ant/akis goes for the human side of ('hrist.'
Bringing this yision to the screen has required an effort of some tenacity. An earlier production in 1983 was cancelled at the last minute because the cinema chain the film w as booked into oyerturned their decision and the studio feared that they would be pouring SH M into a movie no one would see. ()it this occasion. with a budget trimmed down to a less risky 30 M. attd a screens guaranteed by the ('ineplex-Odcon group. t‘ntyersal tnade the decision to go ahead. Shooting iii Morocco. with a cast including Willem Dafoc and Barabara l lershcy . with l larycy Keith outstandingly forceful in the role of Judas. l lari'y Dean Stanton making an earnest Saul. and (astonishingly) l)ayid Bow ic fitte as a casual l’ontius l’ilatc.
the immediate reaction on botli sides of the Atlantic to the film‘s content. brought forward the release date so that people had a chance to make tip their minds for themser es. and despite all the flak that has been aimed at it. the film's positiye word of" mouth with the public has reaped box office rewards. More pleasing for Scorsese though. must be the response he has elicited from some
sectioiisof the clergy. llc happily quotes Archbishop l’aul Moore of New York’s assessment of the film as ‘('ht‘istologicallycortcct. with a thesis that goes back to the ( ‘ouneil of ( ’alcedon iii the fifth century '. and tellsol'thc black minister whowiotc itito the conseryatiyc Hat/y .\t'lt s: be said that he liked the liltit and w as sending his Biblestudy groupalong to it so they could discuss it together. Btit he also remarked that the people \y ho were seeking to stop the film from being screened. ey en thottgli they may not haye seen ll. were always those w ho would adhere to the word btit not the spirit of the (it)\l)c'l\..
Setttsese\ sincerity outlined his ow ti feelings on the matter let's get away from dogma for a momentf he pleaded. ‘let‘s get to the real message of Jesus. if this film gets through to people to make them understand that Jesus is more than .i piece of 3 plastic on some car dashboard. that his message is the most important tliitig that has been handed dow n to us. and is essential for out sury f\ at as a species. tltcn l think we w ill hay c
tltittc stitttcllttltg giltlti.‘
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