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Jeff Caldwell Scorsese¶s Jesus in ³The Last Temptation of Christ´ 1. Introduction The story of Jesus has clearly appealed to millions of people over thousands of years. However much good news is in the Gospels, the story is not the greatest ever told: ³It has passion and redemption, blood and guts, terrific dialogue, a wrenching climax, and an inspirational coda. But as any drama student could tell you it is not the greatest story ever told. Why? Because the protagonist, Jesus, doesn¶t grow, develop, change, earn wisdom through experience. And because his antagonist, Judas is a bad guy who doesn¶t deserve the bum rap or rep.´ (Corliss). I would like to examine three ways in which Scorsese improves Jesus¶ story. First Scorsese shows us a Jesus that struggles with many of the same problems and questions that most viewers face in life; temptations of the flesh, of power, of following the easy path. Scorsese¶s Jesus also struggles with the toughest question everyone faces; What is one¶s purpose in life? Jesus in Temptation is more man than God, more reluctant than willing. Scorsese surrounds Jesus with disciples that doubt and question. Judas and Magdalene more than anyone else that provide opportunities for Jesus to stay on His path. Judas and Magdalene though never interact on screen. Jesus in Temptation, like many great men of history, is made through the will of others. Importantly the path of Scorsese¶s Jesus includes a missing but important section of the monomyth that is absent from the biblical story of Jesus and the resurrection scene is removed. 2. The Monomyth

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In his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell outlines the worlds many myths and boils them down to what is referred to as the monomyth: ³The hero is introduced in his ordinary world, where he receives the call to adventure. He is reluctant at first but is encouraged by the wise old man or woman to cross the first threshold, where he encounters tests and helpers. He reaches the innermost cave, where he endures the supreme ordeal. He is resurrected and transformed by his experience. He returns to his ordinary world with a treasure, or elixir to benefit his world´ (Vogler). Scorsese takes the original story of Jesus and improves it by exaggerating the reluctant hero, and completely deleting the Resurrection scene. With these two changes Scorsese¶s Jesus begins to fit in with the story the viewer subconsciously expects, a normal man called to a higher purpose. Jesus then becomes a more endearing, interesting figure, one who truly struggles all the time not just in the desert, or on the cross. 3. A Reluctant Messiah Scorsese gives the viewer a Jesus who is ³really human, and like other humans is torn by the conflict between the flesh and the spirit´ (Walsh and Staley 114). This struggle makes Jesus reluctant. He struggles with His decisions and finds at most turns it is easier to make no decision at all, to suffer His visions, to ignore the messages, and to doubt whether it is God or the Devil who speaks to Him: ³What if it is God? You can¶t cast out God can you´ (Scorsese)? This notion of doubt appeals to viewers. Who would not question their own sanity should they begin hearing voices in their head, who would not doubt? For Jesus ³every moment in His life is a conflict and a victory´ (Rosenbaum 281). Every option seems like a temptation, there is no clear direction given from God. Four times in the desert He is tempted, and each time He reflects, doubts, and questions. It is beautiful to see a Jesus that picks up the axe in error. Jesus is faulty, He errs, even after great thought He makes mistakes. These mistakes lead Him to doubt Himself more: ³Jesus¶ self-consciousness is tortured and unsure´ (Humphries-Brooks 83).

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Even when Jesus ³determines the divine origin of His visions and message, He still does not know for sure what God¶s plan is´ (Walsh and Staley 114). Except Scorsese¶s Jesus does know, but sees this knowledge as a curse not as the blessing that it is: ³Think of how you¶re blessed. God actually makes himself known to you. I don¶t know what God wants from me. All my life I¶ve wanted to hear God¶s voice´ (Scorsese). There is a moment after the guardian angel takes Jesus from the cross, and Jesus asks if He is the Messiah. When the guardian angel answers that Jesus is not, a sense of relief comes over the face of Jesus to show the audience that He was still unsure of his destiny. I would suggest that Jesus is never sure of what it is He is supposed to do until it is almost too late. It is Judas who puts Jesus on the path once again. 4. Judas The first words spoken to Jesus in the film by Judas show us his intentions: ³Are you ready´ (Scorsese)? In the end it is Judas who moves Jesus beyond the last temptation, back to the cross: ³Traitor! Your place was on the cross that¶s where god put you! You¶re a coward´ (Scorsese)! The film and the Gospels can be read in such as way as to suggest that ³Only through the efforts of Judas is the establishment of Christianity made possible´ (Rosenbaum 282). Scorsese tackles the Judas question head on in his film. Judas is shown to be the strongest of the disciples. Judas is loyal to the point that he is willing to betray Jesus and his own hopes for the destruction of Rome. What is Judas reward for his sacrifice? A Messiah that turns His back on His fate, that denies His destiny. But perhaps most radically we have a Jesus that betrays Judas. 5. Magdalene Magdalene offers Jesus His first opportunity to act in His role as Messiah. It is the stoning of Magdalene that initiates Jesus to give His first lesson to the people; ³Who has never sinned? Who? Whoever that is come up here and throw these´ (Scorsese)! This scene quickly turns to the Sermon on the Mount.

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Scorsese¶s Magdalene represents the temptation of the flesh, and in the end the final temptation of the normal life. Magdalene allows the viewer to consider Jesus as a man with weakness for the flesh. Scorsese includes the scene of Jesus watching Magdalene having sex with many men ³to show the pain on her face, the compassion Jesus has for her as He fights His sexual desire for Her. He¶s always wanted her´ (Corliss 42). I suggest that the use of Magdalene in the final temptation teaches Jesus what it is to be a man fully. Jesus lives the life of a man in his vision, and he learns that to love means to lose that which you love. To undergo his apotheosis, Jesus must die as a man and suffer the loss of Magdalene. 6. The Last Temptation Jesus faces many temptations throughout the film, each appealing to what Satan believes a man would want; power, riches, domination over the earth. In the end Satan finds the thing that appeals to Jesus as a God; a normal life. ³Satan here is not ... a spokesperson for the easy life of luxury, but rather the one who tempts Jesus to a simple home life´ (Humphries-Brooks 86). This temptation embodies the finale of the monomyth story, a return home, of children, of a long life, of peace after adventures, to be left alone. I must question though whether Scorsese expects the viewer to believe that Jesus does not know that the guardian angel that presents this vision is Satan. Why does Jesus so easily to accept, what was so clear to Him in the desert? The guardian angel is female, and has an English accent, both signs of evil throughout the movie. It is easy to be disappointed with Jesus in entertaining this vision of a normal life, but as Scorsese asks: ³How can you hold him responsible for this fantasy´ (Corliss 134)? Most personal narratives are full of should haves, could haves, would haves and what ifs? Scorsese himself finds no fault in this: The key for the viewer lies in the description that Scorsese presents of what temptation is: ³A temptation is not an act of will; it¶s an involuntary invitation for the will to act´ (Corliss 42). In the end with the help of Judas ³Jesus will impose His will to die over his lust for life. He will consider the

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temptation (as man may) and then resist it, (as God must)´ (Corliss 41). Jesus will crawl back to the cross, beg forgiveness of his father and perhaps fulfill his destiny. 7. Conclusion ³Scorsese¶s film departs from both the Gospels and the Jesus-film tradition by imagining Jesus as a fully round character who gradually discovers who he is and what his task in life entails´ (Walsh and Staley 109). Isn¶t this the trick, isn¶t this why anyone can identify with Jesus? Because He is a man, He shares the same struggle of choices that everyone must. Scorsese omits the final act in the monomyth, the triumphant return of the hero. There is no Resurrection scene which ³validates for us Jesus¶ choice. Individual audience members must decide for themselves whether or not salvation has come through this sacrifice´ (Humphries-Brooks 85). The viewer must only consider a previous scene where the tempted Jesus confronts Saul/Paul. ´Saul assures Jesus that, even if he had not been resurrected, nevertheless, he, Saul, would invent the myth of the Christ in order to give the people something to hold on to´ (Humphries-Brooks92). Like Saul/Paul, Scorsese has taken the story of Jesus and created from it a ³God for every age, including this one. He is the stern hippie guru, high on his own power, swaying between the ploughshare and the sword, between Castaneda and Castro, between Woodstock and Altamont. This is a Jesus who spans the millennia" (Corliss 42). Scorsese¶s Jesus appeals because the audience can readily identify with Him. By including and exaggerating the parts of the monomyth that are human experiences; temptation, reluctance, doubt, and fear of failure Scorsese recreates Jesus as Anti-hero.

Works Cited

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Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1973. Print. Humphries-Brooks, Stephenson. Cinematic Saviour: Hollywood's Making of the American Christ. Westport, Conn: Praeger Publishers, 2006. Print. Rosenbaum, Jonathan "Raging Messiah." Sight and Sound: International Film Quarterly Autumn 1988:281-3. Print. Corliss, Richard. "Body...And Blood." Film Comment September 1988: 34 - 42. Print. Vogler, Christopher. A Practical Guide to µThe Hero With a Thousand Faces¶ Web. 2 June. 2010. ½http://www.skepticfiles.org/atheist2/hero.htm¾. Walsh, Richard G, and Jeffrey L. Staley. Jesus, the Gospels, and Cinematic Imagination: A Handbook to Jesus on DVD. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007. Print. Scorsese, Martin, Fina B. De, Paul Schrader, Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, Harry D. Stanton, David Bowie, and Nikos Kazantzakis. The Last Temptation of Christ. Irvington, N.Y.: Criterion Collection, 2000. DVD