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The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) – DVD Review



Written by: Paul Schrader, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, Verna Bloom, David Bowie.


  • Commentary by Scorsese, Dafoe, Schrader and film critic Jay Cocks
  • Production notes
  • Collection of research materials, artistic references, stills and costume designs
  • Location behind-the-scenes footage shot by Scorsese
  • Video interview with composer Peter Gabriel
  • Gallery of stills from musical instruments used in the film

Released by: Criterion
Region: 1
Rating: R
Anamorphic: Yes

My Advice: Own It.

[ad#longpost]God has a job for Jesus (Dafoe). The trouble is, Jesus doesn’t want any part of it. God comes and speaks to him and it feels like something’s clawing him behind his eyes. So he has dedicated his life to make God angry enough to forsake him, but he soon learns it won’t be that easy.

This is a film that unfortunately is more infamous for its subject matter than being famous for being an excellent film. I won’t belabor this point, except that I find it amusing that those who protest the film are in reality protesting a common theme of the Christian mythos, that Christ was fully human and fully divine. They just don’t want to let that play out to its somewhat logical conclusion. So phooey on them.

Like I said, the film itself is incredible. Dafoe and Keitel, with their performances, remind us why we like them so much as actors. It’s easy to forget them as actors and focus instead on their characters, which is a tremendous plus in any film, especially when you’re dealing with characters some of us have read about since Sunday school. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Harry Dean Stanton, who has some of the best lines in film as Saul/Paul. It’s also interesting, in retrospect listening to the commentary–we’ll address that in a moment–that they were able to do so much on so little budget. The score by Peter Gabriel is excellent, and the two CDs that comprise all of the music from the film have been staples in my collection for a while now.

Jesus prepares for war

The most pleasing thing about this disc was the commentary. From insight about the aborted first attempt at making the film which caused them to rethink their budget (for the better, I agreed with them) to the fact that Scorsese originally had DeNiro in mind to play the role of Jesus, to the four Roman soldiers that keep appearing over and over again–it’s a very informative, very thought-provoking look at the film that spends a good amount of time responding to the unjust criticism that was heaped upon the work by whacko fundamentalists. Hear firsthand what it’s like to put not just sweat into a film, but also one’s faith–and be persecuted for that transgression.

The other standout extra material would be the stills from the film and the reference material which was used in everything from the progression with the cross through the streets to the seemingly unorthodox method of crucifixion used on Jesus and his two companions on Golgotha. This truly shows that Scorsese did his homework and adds another layer to an already fascinating film. Also noteworthy is Scorsese’s “backstage” footage where the director turns the camera on himself and is unsure of what day it is.

Concept art for The Last Temptation of Christ

Even if you don’t want to own this one–maybe because you feel it’ll be your one way ticket to hell with Leary and Scorsese–at least rent the thing and give it a watch. It’s a film made by people, just as wholly human as Jesus.

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