The carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth, tormented by the temptations of demons, the guilt of making crosses for the Romans, pity for men and the world, and the constant call of God, sets out to find what God wills for Him. But as His mission nears fulfillment, He must face the greatest temptation; the normal life of a good man. Based, not on the Gospels, but on Nikos Kazantzakis' novel of the same name.Written by
Nick Lopez <email@example.com>
An overlong but thought provoking and interesting piece of spiritual fiction
Jesus is plagued by voices in his head and a pain he has that is so intense as to have him in spasms. He has tried fasting and self-harm but neither have worked for very long. He works as a carpenter; one of the few who will make crosses for the Romans much to the annoyance of his acquaintance Judas, a Jewish rebel. Following an appearance by a spirit, Jesus heads into the desert where he experiences temptations and, ultimately, learns the path he must follow. Returning to the real world he starts to speak and gains a following of loyal disciples who believe he is the Messiah. However for every follower, he gets 10 enemies mainly among the religious elite who see him as a heretic and lawbreaker.
When it was released in cinemas and first screened on television in the UK, this film broke all records for complaints and also had the moral majority (?) up in arms over the controversy and the portrayal of Christ. Although I don't want to get drawn into that, the reason I think they are wrong to complain is the same reason I think the film is worth seeing. From the get-go, this film flies its fictional roots and never claims to be the gospel truth (pardon the pun). However what it does is to think around the gospel, to wonder, to suppose, to ask questions something that millions of Christians do every day when they read the bible and contemplate on it. I'm not blind to the offence that this thought process could have but it still provides food for thought and, like the author's quote says, really puts some interesting ideas on the table in regards the dualities of Jesus as both a man and God.
Although this makes it worth seeing in my book and held my interest and engaged my brain throughout this isn't to say it is brilliant, because it isn't. It is overlong and rather plodding at times and could (and should) have lost at least 30 minutes from the running time to be a better film. The dialogue doesn't help that much at times but the delivery is good from a handful of great performances. Although most "Christians" are in love with Gibson's portrayal of Christ recently, Dafoe goes deeper and more complex with a performance where he seems to totally understand the complex motivations that could have run through Christ he is convincing as man and God and his though process is clear and engaging. He is helped by some great support. Specifically Keitel is great and helps bring out a Judas that is the opposite of the greedy failure we are told he is instead he takes the second hardest job; he makes it work really well and dominates his scenes. Support is also strong from Hershey, Argo, Been and Bowie (yes, even Bowie) who all come over with smaller but impressive performances. Scorsese directs with deliberate movements at times but he matches the mood of the period that is well set by sets, costumes and the cool ethnic score.
Overall this is not a great film and if you have no belief or interest in Jesus then I cannot see why you'd bother to get through such a long film that lacks pace. However as spiritual food for thought it is wonderful and really engaged my brain even if you (rightly) dismiss the film as fiction, it is still useful as spiritual debate and providing a view of things that you can study out and draw from. Compared to the thoughtless, cold and spiritually empty film by Mel Gibson 15 years later, this is vastly better and worth seeing if you saw that.
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