I’m a big fan of those old religious epics, The Robe, The Ten Commandments, those old Sunday movies with the real Stars of Hollywood. Huge stories, huge stars, huge emotion and huge entertainment, fantastic.
However todays epic religious movie is more about challenging belief, presenting new historical findings, and being controversial. For me that’s lost all the passion of the religious epic. Strange I feel this way considering I’m not even religious. However, late night the other week I happened to come across Last Temptation on the Channel 4 Banned Film season, and I gave it a chance.
Good job I did too as it turns out it does retain a lot of that epic feel to it. There’s a load of recognisable stars, big acting and huge stories, but still retaining that modern challenging and controversial stance.
Willem Dafoe is simply stunning as Christ, pulling a painfully emotive performance and showing amazing presence when called for. He almost looks like a man possessed, which is perhaps the idea.
Barbara Hershey plays Mary Magdalene who is onscreen far too briefly. Harvey Keitel is perhaps the weak link here and doesn’t perform well in his role as Judas. There are some quieter moments when he brings through compassion and his love for Christ very well, but when he portrays some stronger emotional feelings it does seem to come through as out of place.
Overall the story is an interesting one, and looking outside of the whole religious aspect, I personally can’t see the reason for the upset. It portrays the final temptation that Satan offers to Christ while he dies upon the cross. For someone who doesn’t believe, I find that this only strengthens the aspect of the story and lifts the ideals and triumph of the story and of the character of Christ even higher.
It’s a well directed movie, and there are some really hard hitting moments, obviously being written and directed by those with a real passion for the subject matter. However it does feel that it leaps about, since this story is just a well visited one there are great leaps in the timeline, and it concentrates on certain acts that are deemed relevant to build to the final temptation. Yet I feel that negatively affects the building of the other characters and the story itself. It’s as though it’s taken for granted that we know the story and we’re only going to be shown the newer, controversial aspects.