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The Last Temptation of Christ

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I saw Lost in La Mancha way back before C'Stone and I wanted to know if anyone here has seen this. It's a documentary on Terry Gilliam's most recent attempt at making Don Quixote. It was a very entertaining piece that paralleled Cervantes' book, making Gilliam into a modern day Quixote. I kept thinking while I was watching it how Gilliam's failure made the documentary all the more interesting. Anyway, the real gem was on the second disc on the DVD set. They included a discussion between Gilliam and Salman Rushdie which covered all sorts of interesting topics.

I also finally got to see The Last Temptation of Christ. I'd been wanting to see this ever since I read Michael Been's interview in CCM Magazine a few years ago about his involvement in the film. I usually go to Blockbuster (who, as far as I know, still don't carry it) and I still don't have a NetFlix account and I certainly didn't want to just up and buy it without seeing it first. Anyway, it's been quite awhile since I read anything about the film but I seem to recall there being a big backlash about the actual "last temptation" depicted in the film, what with Jesus' "daydream" at the end about wanting to "marry" and have children and lead a "normal" life. I didn't find that to be nearly as offensive as the way they monkeyed with his actual life in the first half of the film. In fact, I quite enjoyed the film from David Bowie's Pontius Pilate scene on. Now I'm curious to read the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. I understand that he wanted to focus on the human aspect of Christ, but did he really screw around with Jesus "becoming" the son of God as opposed to being, or was that Scorsese's fault. The only other thing I have to note is that I still haven't seen a Scorsese film that I love, except perhaps The Last Waltz.

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The Kazantzakis book is one of my favorites (although I think all his books are about 1/4 too long). And yes, it is a human Jesus. Here is a wonderful example of Christology from below. (For those who may not have noticed, my own views tend toward "from below.")

But then, him "becoming son of God" is not necessarily unscriptural. Mark works, I think, from an adoptionist perspective. It's not accidental that except for the title (Mk 1:1), Jesus is never called son of God until he is on the cross. Is that because no one understands, or is it because that is the act that makes him son of God?

Edited by Darrel Manson

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Darryl A. Armstrong wrote:

: I saw Lost in La Mancha way back before C'Stone and I wanted to know

: if anyone here has seen this.

Yup. Very funny. One of the reasons I saw The Man on the Train a few weeks ago was to see how a performance by Jean Rochefort might come across in a film that actually got completed. smile.gif

: Anyway, the real gem was on the second disc on the DVD set. They

: included a discussion between Gilliam and Salman Rushdie which

: covered all sorts of interesting topics.

I can imagine. (Just wondering, is Rushdie the reason you're writing on Lost in La Mancha and Last Temptation of Christ in the same post? The Ayatollah issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie just a few months after the Last Temptation controversy flared up, so people often speak of the two controversies in the same breath.)

: I didn't find that to be nearly as offensive as the way they monkeyed

: with his actual life in the first half of the film.

Well, I found the monkeying before AND after the crucifixion to be pretty bad. (Most of what happens after the crucifixion, I am willing to write off as mere fantasy or an alternate timeline or a what-if scenario, but the scene where Jesus meets Paul, and Paul says he basically single-handedly invented Christianity and the truth about Jesus is irrelevant, is at least as bad as anything that happens in the first half of the film.)

: I understand that he wanted to focus on the human aspect of Christ, but

: did he really screw around with Jesus "becoming" the son of God as

: opposed to being, or was that Scorsese's fault.

Haven't read more than a hundred pages of the novel or so, so I couldn't say right now. But FWIW, I don't think the film requires us to believe that Jesus "became" the Son of God, except perhaps in the sense that the Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus grew in stature and wisdom, etc. As a fully divine being, Jesus WAS God, but as a fully human being, he still had to grow into his messianic role. Problem is, the film has a very, very low view of what it means to be human.

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Darrel Manson wrote:

: But then, him "becoming son of God" is not necessarily unscriptural.

: Mark works, I think, from an adoptionist perspective. It's not accidental

: that except for the title (Mk 1:1), Jesus is never called son of God until

: he is on the cross. Is that because no one understands, or is it because

: that is the act that makes him son of God?

I don't know how I would respond to that question myself, yet, but I do want to note that to say Jesus is "son of God" is not necessarily the same thing as to say Jesus is "God the Son".

"Son of God" was a royal title (a la the coronotation hymn of Psalm 2) that was also applied to Israel as a whole and then, in the centuries after the monarchy was abolished, to the "messiah" (which just means "anointed one" -- and kings were, of course, anointed when they ascended to their thrones). The title did not carry with it the automatic assumption that the person who bore it was inherently divine, or an incarnation of a pre-existing divinity, or the son of a virgin, or whatever.

To call Jesus "God the Son", on the other hand, is to say that he is the second person of the Trinity and all that other stuff.

So one could, arguably, say that Jesus WAS, on one level, God the Son but, as a human being learning how to follow God's plan for his life, he also had to "become" the Son of God -- that is, the one who would play the messianic role in Israel's history.

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ARGH!!!

I just typed a long reply, during which time I apparently got logged out so it was lost!

You have no idea how angry I am...I really need to learn how to type so it doesn't take me so long to get my thoughts down.

:cuss:

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Yeah, I saw Lost in La Mancha last weekend. It was one of the few films in my local rental store's selection of DVDs that held the slightest fascination for me (can you believe Bottle Rocket and Rushmore are nowhere in sight there???).

I felt awful for poor Gilliam and his buddies. The whole process, as it went from bad to worse, really deromanticized the filmmaking process. It seemed a very lonely conquest for Gilliam. The irony is just too perfect.

don.jpg

Gilliam

terry_gilliam.jpg

Quixote

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Darrel (who almost spells his first name correctly tongue.gif ):

But then, him "becoming son of God" is not necessarily unscriptural. Mark works, I think, from an adoptionist perspective. It's not accidental that except for the title (Mk 1:1), Jesus is never called son of God until he is on the cross.

8O

I forbid you to shake the foundations of my understanding of the gospels! =;

In all seriousness, I have no real problem accepting the dualistic nature of Jesus as both fully human and fully divine. However I do have a problem thinking that Jesus became the son of God.

Peter:

Just wondering, is Rushdie the reason you're writing on Lost in La Mancha and Last Temptation of Christ in the same post? The Ayatollah issued his fatwa against Salman Rushdie just a few months after the Last Temptation controversy flared up, so people often speak of the two controversies in the same breath.

Nope. But can I take credit for doing so? That's interesting...

Most of what happens after the crucifixion, I am willing to write off as mere fantasy or an alternate timeline or a what-if scenario, but the scene where Jesus meets Paul, and Paul says he basically single-handedly invented Christianity and the truth about Jesus is irrelevant, is at least as bad as anything that happens in the first half of the film.

I almost stopped watching it at a couple points during the "what-if scenario" as you call it. However, I kept hoping it would redeem itself and I believe, ultimately, it did. I'm not sure if the whole film redeemed itself in my opinion, but I think that scenario did. When the "guardian angel" tried to prevent Jesus from speaking to Paul I realized that she was really Satan. In fact, that particular scene is pobably my favorite scene in the film. I don't think they were trying to say that Paul invented Christianity. I think they were trying to show that humanity needs a savior -- a real savior.

In that scenario Paul's character recognizes that people need a savior and thinks that any story to believe in will do. He mentions to Jesus that Jesus meant nothing to the people but the Jesus that Paul made up -- the one that conquered death and rose from the grave does mean something. However, Jesus gets upset because he didn't die and rise again. This savior of Paul's might be a religious figure, but nothing more. He might spur the people on to believe in something, but that something would only be a false hope -- hollow. This is why Satan didn't want Jesus to talk to Paul. I think this is where Jesus begins to realize that he must go back and die on the cross and then conquer death in reality.

I think that whole scenario makes an interesting counterpoint to (since we're also on the subject of Terry Gilliam) Sam Lowry's "what-if" scenario at the end of Brazil. There, Lowry is also lost in delusion or temptation, if you will, to be set free from his physical pain. He never makes the choice to "come back."

Now, I suppose you could be upset that they used Paul specifically as the character who "makes up Christianity" but I think they were just using the "obvious" choice for that character.

But FWIW, I don't think the film requires us to believe that Jesus "became" the Son of God, except perhaps in the sense that the Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus grew in stature and wisdom, etc.

Really? I thought it did. I'd have to watch it again to write down actual quotes, but I remember flinching a few times when it seemed quite clear to me that the film meant for us to believe that Jesus grew into divinity instead of being born divine. In other words, he became the son of God in an almost Eastern religious transformation instead of merely growing into his fullness. But then, I could be wrong...

As a fully divine being, Jesus WAS God, but as a fully human being, he still had to grow into his messianic role.

::nods::

Problem is, the film has a very, very low view of what it means to be human.

Could you explain what you mean? I didn't get that particularly out of the film. But then again, I was to busy being in a state of almost constant shock at what was done with Judas... tongue.gif

Has anyone seen the commentary by Scorsese, Dafoe, etc.? I have the film until Tuesday so I hope to watch it again with the commentary.

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Alvy:

Yeah, I saw Lost in La Mancha last weekend. It was one of the few films in my local rental store's selection of DVDs that held the slightest fascination for me.

Did you watch the discussion with Salman Rushdie as well? I was trying to remember what subjects they covered in my first post, but it's been two weeks or so since I've seen it and my memory seems to be slipping in my old age (for those of you who don't understand this, just wait until you hit the ripe old age of 22 tongue.gif ). But I just remembered Gilliam tells the story of how he was in consideration to direct Harry Potter. A member from the audience asked how he would have done it and Gilliam responded, "Better."

I felt awful for poor Gilliam and his buddies. The whole process, as it went from bad to worse, really deromanticized the filmmaking process. It seemed a very lonely conquest for Gilliam. The irony is just too perfect.

Yeah, I felt really bad for the assistant director who seemed to be the one caught in much of the crossfire. And then the producers wanted to fire him! He was just about the only person in the whole mess who seemed to have his head firmly attatched to his shoulders. Gilliam himself came across as the absent-minded professor (or, artist, as the case may be).

I used to work as a secretary/webmaster/IT department (as in, I was the entire IT department) at a specialty hardwood lumber yard. We sold all the expensive, exotic wood (we made Bill Gate's hardwood floor). Anyway, my boss had bought the company from it's original owner. He was a brilliant artist. He made stained-glass windows and designed furniture. But he was a horrible businessman. Gilliam kept reminding me of him thoughout the movie.

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I usually go to Blockbuster (who, as far as I know, still don't carry it)

We carry the Criterion dvd of Last Temptation at the Blockbuster I work at, but then again I'm getting the impression from many of your comments that Blockbuster in Canada is significantly different from the US stores.

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Darryl A. Armstrong wrote:

: I don't think they were trying to say that Paul invented Christianity. I think

: they were trying to show that humanity needs a savior -- a real savior.

: In that scenario Paul's character recognizes that people need a savior

: and thinks that any story to believe in will do.

And doesn't it bother you at all that the story which Paul made up just HAPPENS to be the Gospel as it has come down to us? (The Paul of the film is even credited with inventing the virgin birth, even though the subject never comes up in any of the biblical Paul's epistles; FWIW, screenwriter Paul Shrader is on record to the effect that he believes Paul edited the canonical gospels, which is a claim that I have never heard made by any reputable scholar, whether conservative or liberal.)

: He mentions to Jesus that Jesus meant nothing to the people but the

: Jesus that Paul made up -- the one that conquered death and rose from

: the grave does mean something.

But don't you think it's important whether Jesus actually DID die and rise again? The film tells us that Paul would have invented the resurrection even if it had never happened. If we buy that theory at ALL, then we effectively say that it doesn't matter whether Jesus did rise again.

: This is why Satan didn't want Jesus to talk to Paul.

Interesting. If Satan did not want Jesus to talk to Paul, and if, as some say, the third act to this film is a mere "dream sequence" concocted by Satan, then what is Paul doing there? (I guess this question would also apply to Judas's appearance at the very end.) Either (1) Paul has been inserted into the "dream" by a rival of Satan's -- presumably God -- to wake Jesus up to his proper destiny, in which case we must ask why God is telling Jesus, and rather rudely at that, that Paul's message will be preached no matter what happens, or (2) the third act isn't a "dream" at all but is actually happening somehow. (Have I missed a third option?)

: I'd have to watch it again to write down actual quotes, but I remember

: flinching a few times when it seemed quite clear to me that the film meant

: for us to believe that Jesus grew into divinity instead of being born divine.

I'd love to know which quotes you had in mind!

: : Problem is, the film has a very, very low view of what it means to be human.

:

: Could you explain what you mean?

Well, to quote Jesuit film scholar Lloyd Baugh:

After all is said and done, it seems clear that the fatal weakness of
The Last Temptation
's subjective Jesus is in the film-maker's anthropology. Scorsese's Jesus is weak, uncertain and riddled by guilt. He is fascinated, even pleased, by his own suffering, at times seeking it out, clearly indicating dimensions of neurotic masochism. He moves with high energy through phases of frenetic activity, aggressive preaching, and violent criticism of the authorities, and then he falls into periods of passivity, impotence, depression, clearly symptoms of a manic-depressive psychosis. His human relationships are without freedom and strangely imbalanced. He dominates all the apostles except Judas, by whom he lets himself be dominated. His relationships with women are marked by confused feelings of guilt and desire that in the end are never resolved even minimally. Scorsese's Jesus shifts repeatedly in his understanding and acceptance of his divine identity, as if there were a profound and unbridgeable gap between his humanity and his being the Son of God. This creates a theological problem. While it is theologically acceptable to say that Jesus of Nazareth at some point struggled with his identity, it is theologically unacceptable to represent him as having never arrived at a point of serene self-understanding and integration. Scorsese's Jesus, who imagines God as a violent, rapacious bird of prey who pursues and attacks him, obliging him to do and to be something he does not want, manifests serious symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia.

In spite of Scorsese's written disclaimer before even the title and the opening credits of the film -- "This film is not based on the Gospels. It is only a fantasy research on the eternal conflicts of the spirit" -- this is a film about Jesus the Christ. And Jesus the Christ is the figure on whose life, death and Resurrection Western civilization is based. For the Christian, and thus for Scorsese, who insists on his Catholic faith, Jesus is not just another historical figure, however great, but now dead and gone. For the Christian, Jesus is risen: he lives here and now, dynamic and efficacious, in every human being and in every dimension of human culture and civilization. In
The Last Temptation of Christ
, Scorsese represents this Jesus the Christ not only with a low christology, but with a very low anthropology, so low that he almost ceases to be normally human.

Or, to put it more succinctly, the only way Scorsese apparently knows how to explore the humanity of Jesus is to depict him as the same sort of deeply, deeply flawed human being who tends to be the protagonist of nearly EVERY Scorsese movie.

: Has anyone seen the commentary by Scorsese, Dafoe, etc.?

Yup. It's been a couple years, though, and I dont' think I made any notes at the time.

: Gilliam tells the story of how he was in consideration to direct Harry Potter.

And I am so glad he didn't. Gilliam has such a distinctively personal style that I imagine it would be extremely difficult to see J.K. Rowling's own distinctive style through his work. (And one of my key complaints about Chris Columbus's first two films, BTW, is that I think he omits much of what was best in Rowling's books, too.)

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I don't think there's any question that Last Temptation toys with the very common (but I think rather silly) idea of Paul inventing Christianity.

My Last Temptation essay

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Darrel (who almost spells his first name correctly tongue.gif ):

But then, him "becoming son of God" is not necessarily unscriptural. Mark works, I think, from an adoptionist perspective. It's not accidental that except for the title (Mk 1:1), Jesus is never called son of God until he is on the cross.

8O

I've always wondered which way was right. Thanks for straightening that out.
I forbid you to shake the foundations of my understanding of the gospels! =;

In all seriousness, I have no real problem accepting the dualistic nature of Jesus as both fully human and fully divine. However I do have a problem thinking that Jesus became the son of God.

I suspect others had problem is Mark's view (or at the very least, the way he told it). Hence Matthew and Luke. (And I know there is some legitimate debate re: priority of Mark or Matthew, but I lean toward Mark first). And, of course, we could revisit the discussion of Pagels newest book and her view of John and Thomas. :blowup:

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Peter:

And doesn't it bother you at all that the story which Paul made up just HAPPENS to be the Gospel as it has come down to us? (The Paul of the film is even credited with inventing the virgin birth, even though the subject never comes up in any of the biblical Paul's epistles; FWIW, screenwriter Paul Shrader is on record to the effect that he believes Paul edited the canonical gospels, which is a claim that I have never heard made by any reputable scholar, whether conservative or liberal.)

Not particularly, in and of itself. Is/was there any reason for the filmmakers to necessarily be original? Maybe... I didn't know that about Mr. Shrader. And although I think my interpretation of the Paul scene in the "what-if" scenario is still valid, I suppose that paints the artistic intentions in a slightly different light.

I did notice that that was the only reference to the virgin birth in this film, and I remember you making the point at various times about the real Paul never mentioning it. smile.gif

But don't you think it's important whether Jesus actually DID die and rise again?

Yes! I think I said that. Or at least, meant to imply it.

The film tells us that Paul would have invented the resurrection even if it had never happened. If we buy that theory at ALL, then we effectively say that it doesn't matter whether Jesus did rise again.

I would have said that the film tells us that someone, not necessarily Paul, might have, or maybe even, was likely to have invented the resurrection even if it had never happened. In other words, I would have said that I thought the whole "what-if/temptation scenario" was trying to make the point that "saviors" will be manufactured but only Jesus Christ can really do any saving. I still think that's a valid interpretation, however, taking into account the screenwriter's views, well, I suppose that changes things a bit...

Interesting. If Satan did not want Jesus to talk to Paul, and if, as some say, the third act to this film is a mere "dream sequence" concocted by Satan, then what is Paul doing there? (I guess this question would also apply to Judas's appearance at the very end.) Either (1) Paul has been inserted into the "dream" by a rival of Satan's -- presumably God -- to wake Jesus up to his proper destiny, in which case we must ask why God is telling Jesus, and rather rudely at that, that Paul's message will be preached no matter what happens, or (2) the third act isn't a "dream" at all but is actually happening somehow. (Have I missed a third option?)

We're all in agreement (filmmakers included) that that last sequences, whether real or dream or whatever is, in fact, the last temptation of Christ, right?

My interpretation was that the whole sequence was merely a temptation. Not a sin along the lines of lustfully daydreaming about a woman. Nor an actual "happening." I viewed it more as a pictoral image of desires that tempted Christ. So that, as a man dying, he desires to live a "complete" life with a family, grow old, and die peacefully. Not that any of those things are sinful necessarily, but his "cup" was to die as a sacrifice and so leading that desired life would be against God's will.

In any case, Paul and Judas' appearences and even, I would say, Mary Magdalene's death were all flashes of his "conscience," if you will. Little clues to indicate "reality." I believe he said the "Why have you forsaken me?" line just before this sequence, so I wouldn't say it was God inserting those people/events. This was his choice to make.

I'd love to know which quotes you had in mind!

If I get the chance to watch it again, I'll jot them down.

Or, to put it more succinctly, the only way Scorsese apparently knows how to explore the humanity of Jesus is to depict him as the same sort of deeply, deeply flawed human being who tends to be the protagonist of nearly EVERY Scorsese movie.

LOL! I like that...

SDG:

I don't think there's any question that Last Temptation toys with the very common (but I think rather silly) idea of Paul inventing Christianity.

As I noted before, I don't think I would have interpreted the movie as a serious argument for that idea if Peter hadn't informed me of the screenwriter's personal views. I think it can be interpreted differently. However, as to your article:

A Jesus who commits sins — who even thinks he commits sins, who talks a great deal about needing “forgiveness” and paying with his life for his own sins; a Jesus who himself speaks blasphemy and idolatry, calling fear his “god” and talking about being motivated more by fear than by love; who has an ambivalent at best relationship with the Father, even trying to merit divine hatred so that God will leave him alone — all of this is utterly antithetical to Christian belief and sentiment. This is not merely focusing on Jesus’ humanity, this is effectively contradicting his divinity.

Very well said. This was my biggest problem with the film and the reason I almost didn't finish it. A project that explores Jesus' humanity is a wonderful idea I think, but as you say this went beyond merely exploring that side of him and crossed over into contradicting his divinity.

Jesus is led to a house where Mary Magdalene waits to marry him. (Later in the dream-sequence, Mary Magdalene dies, and the girl takes Jesus to wed another Mary [the sister of Martha], cryptically telling him: “There is only one woman in the world, with different faces.” Is this possibly meant to imply, as some critical opinion suggests, that these “Marys” are both a sort of surrogate — perhaps for still another Mary, the mother of Jesus? Could there perhaps be an Oedipal theme here?)

Fascinating. I hadn't thought about that in that way. Once I figured at that the "angel" was Satan I wondered about what that proclamation meant in context coming from him.

Although this strange episode occurs in what is ostensibly a dream sequence, Paul’s argument seems to represent Kazantzakis’s (or Scorsese’s) idea of what could have or would have happened if Jesus were not raised from the dead. Essentially they are introducing the idea that “faith” is more important than Jesus’ resurrection. What is the function of having Paul say these things, even in a dream sequence, other than simply introducing these ideas into the film?

The function, as I see it is to make a contrast between a true savior and a manufactured one.

If they merely wanted to show Paul preaching the gospel in order to suggest the necessity of Jesus completing his mission, why not follow up by having Jesus’ denial of Paul’s message leave Paul shattered and despairing, or at least flatly disbelieving Jesus’ claims?

This might have indeed been the better route. However, I understood the point as being that man will create "false-gods" or "false-saviors" in lieu of a real one. That it was Paul depicted as doing so, I think, both enrages certain viewers and I suppose could be seen as an endoresment of the idea that Paul did make up some of the gospel story. However, both of those views seem to me to be other issues than the point. But, if that was, at least Shrader's point, than maybe I'm missing the point. In that case, I like my point better than his. biggrin.gif

As a completely side-note, I wonder if I might have been more affected by Dafoe's performance as Jesus if I hadn't seen him in so much else before watching this film. He played Jesus almost exactly how I imagined Willem Dafoe playing Jesus (under Scorsese's direction, of course).

Darrel:

I've always wondered which way was right. Thanks for straightening that out.

Do you often have your name misspelled? I'd say over 75% of people who write my name spell it wrong. Even my friends often misspell it. That and I'm always asked where my other brother Darrell (the proper spelling of the character's name, btw) is. :x

And, of course, we could revisit the discussion of Pagels newest book and her view of John and Thomas.

I haven't read it... But don't think for a moment that that will stop me from jumping in... tongue.gif

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Darrel:

Do you often have your name misspelled? I'd say over 75% of people who write my name spell it wrong. Even my friends often misspell it. That and I'm always asked where my other brother Darrell (the proper spelling of the character's name, btw) is. :x

I rejoiced in Hawaii last year finding a tourist souvenir mug that spelled it my way (with a bogus Hawaiian translation, since a,e and l are the only letters in my name found in the Hawaiian language). I bought it just because they spell it write (or wrong depending on which of us is talking.)

In a city a few miles away is another Disciple minister named Darrell. At meetings we do get to do the "this is my other brother Darrell" schtick. Although now it dates us. Many people never saw that show. :cry:

Actually, the emoticon I need is one with white hair, to use all those times I point out how old I am.

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"I also finally got to see The Last Temptation of Christ. I'd been wanting to see this ever since I read Michael Been's interview in CCM Magazine a few years ago about his involvement in the film. "

Ah, Interesting. It was comments by Been that first got me thinking about watching the film. I was a fan of "The Call" and his comments surprised me at first but then got me thinking.

"I didn't find that to be nearly as offensive as the way they monkeyed with his actual life in the first half of the film. "

I'd agree there too, although I enjoy many patches from where Jesus's ministry starts on. Others such as the sacred heart scene that Baugh detests so much (Can someone fill me in on what the whole sacred heart thing is about anyway) are still awful.

: "I still haven't seen a Scorsese film that I love, "

At the risk of sounding sychophantic, I share that too. Raging Bull is probably my favourite.

PTC: "Paul"

This bit just seems poor to me in the film, because I just don't see how its logical. I see the "If jesus didn't exist he'd have to be invented" angle you're drawing out, but at the same time, it just never really seesm very coherrent ot me, and a bit of a random addition.

Matt

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Darryl A. Armstrong wrote:

: : And doesn't it bother you at all that the story which Paul made up just

: : HAPPENS to be the Gospel as it has come down to us? (The Paul of the

: : film is even credited with inventing the virgin birth, even though the

: : subject never comes up in any of the biblical Paul's epistles; FWIW,

: : screenwriter Paul Shrader is on record to the effect that he believes

: : Paul edited the canonical gospels, which is a claim that I have never

: : heard made by any reputable scholar, whether conservative or liberal.)

:

: Not particularly, in and of itself. Is/was there any reason for the

: filmmakers to necessarily be original? Maybe...

Um, I'm not sure what you mean by the filmmakers being "original" ...

: I didn't know that about Mr. Shrader.

Yeah, for more on that, here's a bit from page 3 of Schrader on Schrader:

I had a very strong fixation on St Paul; in fact I was more interested in Paul than in Christ. In some ways what we believe today is Paulinism. Christ is like Socrates: a mysterious figure we only know about through Plato, just as we only know about Christ through Paul. Paul had his hands in all the Gospels. There's good reason to believe he wrote Luke and he supervised the rewriting of the others.

And Paul's martyrdom always interested me more than Christ's. If there was one passage I read and reread, it was the last letter to Timothy and Paul's farewell: 'I fought the good fight'. So whether or not it was because my name was Paul, this is what I really wanted to do. I wanted to go into a city and stand on a stone and start to talk, just the way Harry Dean Stanton does in
The Last Temptation of Christ
, bringing the good news and then getting stoned for it. Of course, martyrdom was always part of the appeal.

I think Schrader is clearly mistaken here -- if anything, the scholars I have read have said that Luke and Paul had very different agendas, since Paul's epistles are full of rather caustic remarks about Jewish ritual while Luke's Book of Acts goes out of its way to show Paul behaving in a very Jewish manner, etc. I can't think of any reputable scholar who believes that Paul actually WROTE Luke. And since Paul himself refers to the other Christians who came before him, notably Peter and James, and since he seems to be in COMPETITION with these other Christians at various points in his career (especially as seen in Galatians), I don't think it makes ANY sense to say that we ONLY know about Christ through Paul. Yes, Paul's letters have had an enormous influence on how we perceive the meaning of Christ -- but he has hardly anything to say about the life of Christ, per se. For that, we turn to the gospels, which are not really all that Pauline.

Oh, and Schrader is not entirely correct when he says we only know about Socrates through Plato -- there is also the satire of him in Aristophanes' The Birds, if I recall correctly.

: And although I think my interpretation of the Paul scene in the "what-if"

: scenario is still valid . . .

FWIW, at least one critic shares your interpretation. Salon's DVD review refers to Paul as "the evangelist who finally convinces Christ he can't avoid his destiny." But I think that's an overly charitable interpretation of the character, and of the scene, myself.

: : The film tells us that Paul would have invented the resurrection even if

: : it had never happened. If we buy that theory at ALL, then we

: : effectively say that it doesn't matter whether Jesus did rise again.

:

: I would have said that the film tells us that someone, not necessarily

: Paul, might have, or maybe even, was likely to have invented the

: resurrection even if it had never happened.

And if we buy THAT idea, then we still fall into the position of effectively saying that it doesn't matter whether Jesus rose again. But then, I'm one of those people who has always insisted that it is the sheer UNlikeliness of anybody making up such a story that makes it probable that the Resurrection actually happened -- as N.T. Wright has put it, the fact that all other would-be messiahs stayed dead is an argument FOR the Resurrection, not against it. The Jews simply were not in the habit of inventing resurrection stories every time a messianic leader was killed (and they pretty much all were). If they HAD been in the habit of doing that, then there would be very little reason to believe that the resurrection of Jesus really took place. But since they WEREN'T in the habit of doing that -- their usual response was to disband the movement altogether or to find another leader (usually a relative of the deceased leader, kind of like how the Christians turned to James the Just for temporal leadership after Jesus rose and ascended), and in no other case did they go around saying that the dead leader had actually come back from the dead. What would have been the point? Especially after so public an execution?

: We're all in agreement (filmmakers included) that that last sequences,

: whether real or dream or whatever is, in fact, the last temptation of

: Christ, right?

Yup.

: In any case, Paul and Judas' appearences and even, I would say, Mary

: Magdalene's death were all flashes of his "conscience," if you will. Little

: clues to indicate "reality."

FWIW, in the novel, Paul kills Mary Magdalene just as he killed Lazarus. To quote page 136 of Schrader on Schrader: "Jay Cocks rewrote it repeatedly, but nothing really changed with the exception of one or two scenes which were dropped and the scene where Saul kills Mary Magdalene which was changed because Marty just felt you couldn't show a pregnant woman being killed, so now she dies sort of miraculously." How does that affect your interpretation of the scene?

: I believe he said the "Why have you forsaken me?" line just before this

: sequence, so I wouldn't say it was God inserting those people/events.

: This was his choice to make.

Interesting theory.

: : Jesus is led to a house where Mary Magdalene waits to marry him.

: : (Later in the dream-sequence, Mary Magdalene dies, and the girl takes

: : Jesus to wed another Mary [the sister of Martha], cryptically telling him:

: : "There is only one woman in the world, with different faces." Is this

: : possibly meant to imply, as some critical opinion suggests, that these

: : "Marys" are both a sort of surrogate — perhaps for still another Mary,

: : the mother of Jesus? Could there perhaps be an Oedipal theme here?)

:

: Fascinating. I hadn't thought about that in that way.

FWIW, Georgia Straight critic Ken Eisner brought this up when he interviewed Scorsese back in '88 -- the fact that all these women are named Mary -- and Scorsese just laughed and said, "Don't look at me!" (That's from memory, not a direct quote.)

For a feminist take on this theme, here's a bit from Margaret Miles's Seeing and Believing:

Throughout, Jesus is represented as unsure of himself and his message. Is he a romantic hero ("the law is against my heart"), or a political revolutionary? Should he endeavor to heal this world, or is the next world all that matters? Should he save the world or should he make love?
Last Temptation
's fundamental conservatism becomes evident primarily in the binaries by which it is structured, binaries that reiterate and reinforce popular caricatures of Christianity: spirit/flesh; suffering/pleasure; spirituality/sexuality; man/woman. These traditional dualisms are reiterated rather than revised in
Last Temptation
. Scorsese's Jesus cannot, finally, figure out what he wants, sex and home, or, as he says in one of the last scenes, "I want to be the Messiah." He is a Jesus who "wants it all".

[ snip ]

The radical iconoclasm many Christians protested in
Last Temptation
can be seen only on the basis of its representation of a Jesus who is "human, all too human" in his sexuality. Theologically, through Judas's rejection of liberation theology, the film represents the self-serving judgment of a wealthy and powerful church: namely, that Jesus' message was spiritual rather than political. Socially, the film is equally conservative. Men and women are stereotypically portrayed: men act and think, while the women lack both subjectivity and intelligence. Instead, they are there to seduce (Mary Magdalen) or to weep (Virgin Mary). The brief moment in which the angel advises Jesus that "all women are one" is not redeemed by the sudden revelation, close to the end of the film, that the angel is, in fact, a devil who has deceived and misled Jesus.

: However, I understood the point as being that man will create "false-gods"

: or "false-saviors" in lieu of a real one.

I understand that point too, but the question remains, if that IS the point, then what do we do with the fact that the film tells us the "real" saviour will be absolutely no different than the "false" one that Paul was preaching?

: As a completely side-note, I wonder if I might have been more affected

: by Dafoe's performance as Jesus if I hadn't seen him in so much else

: before watching this film.

Yeah, at the time this film came out, I think Willem Dafoe was really known for just one other role, in Oliver Stone's Platoon.

MattPage wrote:

: Others such as the sacred heart scene that Baugh detests so much (Can

: someone fill me in on what the whole sacred heart thing is about

: anyway) are still awful.

"Sacred heart" implies the image is Catholic in nature, but actually, it was added to the story by Paul Schrader, a Calvinist and a graduate of Calvin College. To quote page 136 of Schrader on Schrader: "The one scene I did add that wasn't in the book was the one where Christ takes out his own heart. It just hit me and I loved the scene and Marty loved it, and then someone pointed out to me -- I hadn't thought of it at the time -- that that is the emblem of Calvin College, the heart in the hand."

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FWIW, I just received word that a book billing itself as "the first full examination of the controversy, its participants, and their claims concerning [The Last Temptation of Christ's] religious meaning" is coming out in September.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/027...73/petertchatta

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Sorry to have taken so long to respond to this, but I haven't had the time to sit down for any long posts the last few days...

Peter:

Um, I'm not sure what you mean by the filmmakers being "original" ...

I just meant that I wasn't sure there would have been any point in creating a fictional character or using a character not as famous as Paul for the character. Of course, in light of your exposition on the screenwriter's personal views, I suppose my point is moot. It seems clear that he had some agenda in his writing of Paul's character.

FWIW, at least one critic shares your interpretation. Salon's DVD review refers to Paul as "the evangelist who finally convinces Christ he can't avoid his destiny." But I think that's an overly charitable interpretation of the character, and of the scene, myself.

It's good to know that I'm not alone in my folly... tongue.gif

It may be a charitable view in light of the filmmaker's agenda, but does that make it any less legitamate as a viewer's interpretation?

And if we buy THAT idea, then we still fall into the position of effectively saying that it doesn't matter whether Jesus rose again.

I'm afraid I don't follow that train of thought at all...

Just because someone might have come up with a fictional tale does not, in my mind, discount the importance of Christ's resurrection.

But then, I'm one of those people who has always insisted that it is the sheer UNlikeliness of anybody making up such a story that makes it probable that the Resurrection actually happened -- as N.T. Wright has put it, the fact that all other would-be messiahs stayed dead is an argument FOR the Resurrection, not against it. The Jews simply were not in the habit of inventing resurrection stories every time a messianic leader was killed (and they pretty much all were)...

I'm not sure if I find such a story all that unlikely, but I acknowledge Wright's point. I suppose it's quite reasonable, as you explain, that since the Jews didn't make up such stories that they wouldn't have in this case. But is it unheard of in other cultures during this time period as well? Were resurrection stories unknown?

FWIW, in the novel, Paul kills Mary Magdalene just as he killed Lazarus. To quote page 136 of Schrader on Schrader: "Jay Cocks rewrote it repeatedly, but nothing really changed with the exception of one or two scenes which were dropped and the scene where Saul kills Mary Magdalene which was changed because Marty just felt you couldn't show a pregnant woman being killed, so now she dies sort of miraculously." How does that affect your interpretation of the scene?

I'm not sure. I struggle with figuring out how much weight I give to the artist's intentions when concluding my own interpretations. In this case, we have both the filmmaker's and author's intentions to grapple with and I haven't read the book.

I do find it curious that Scorsese would have a hard time depicting the murder of a pregnant woman but has no issue with, well -- the rest of this story...

I understand that point too, but the question remains, if that IS the point, then what do we do with the fact that the film tells us the "real" saviour will be absolutely no different than the "false" one that Paul was preaching?

Isn't the reality in contrast with the fiction difference enough?

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Darryl A. Armstrong wrote:

: : And if we buy THAT idea, then we still fall into the position of effectively

: : saying that it doesn't matter whether Jesus rose again.

:

: I'm afraid I don't follow that train of thought at all...

:

: Just because someone might have come up with a fictional tale does not,

: in my mind, discount the importance of Christ's resurrection.

And if the fictional tale happens to be the story of Christ's resurrection?

: I'm not sure if I find such a story all that unlikely . . .

Then on what basis would you believe that the story was about an actual event in history?

: Were resurrection stories unknown?

The gospels certainly contain more than one resurrection story, if by that we include mere resuscitation, e.g. the raisings of Lazarus and Dorcas. So stories of that sort were not entirely unknown. But there is something qualitatively different about the story of Jesus' resurrection, not least the fact that he was, until his resurrection, just a would-be messiah who had failed in the most public and miserable manner possible. It is difficult to imagine why anyone would tell a story about HIS resurrection if there hadn't been a very good reason to tell such a story.

: : I understand that point too, but the question remains, if that IS the

: : point, then what do we do with the fact that the film tells us the "real"

: : saviour will be absolutely no different than the "false" one that Paul

: : was preaching?

:

: Isn't the reality in contrast with the fiction difference enough?

Um, WHAT contrast?

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Peter:

And if the fictional tale happens to be the story of Christ's resurrection?

Hmmm...

It's like those oft referenced monkeys working on Shakespeare's plays. If they do wind up typing them all out, would that discount Shakespeare's original works? I don't think so. But maybe I haven't thought it through enough and I'm missing some implications.

Then on what basis would you believe that the story was about an actual event in history?

Good question. I don't know. Do we base historical accuracy on originality? What you and Wright are implying makes a good deal of sense, but I wonder if there are better ways to determine whether an event actually happened. I remember reading Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography by John Dominic Crossan a few years ago where he explained how he uncovers the "facts" of the historical Jesus:

My method locates the historical Jesus where three independent vectors cross. That triangulation serves as internal discipline and mutual corrective, since all must intersect at the same point for any of them to be correct. It is like three giant searchlights coming together on a single object in the night sky.

The first vector is cross-cultural anthropology, based not just on this or that society but on what is common across history to all those of the same ecological and technological type...

The second vector is Greco-Roman and especially Jewish history in the first quarter of Jesus' century...

The third and most difficult vector is the literary or textual one...

These all seem useful and valid ways of looking at historical accuracy or truth, even if I find it doubtful that the methods themselves are entirely trustworthy. In other words, I'm not sure if anyone can without uncertainty rely on them individually or even in conjunction. In any case, I can't remember if he made any points about the originality of Jesus' story.

This was the only boook I ever read on the subject outside of the New Testament and I only remember it vaguely.

On a somewhat related note, I see that I have a copy of The Meaning of Jesus by Borg & Wright on my bookshelf which I don't ever recall reading but I do recall purchasing. I remember reading something you wrote on the subject of the historical Jesus on the DADL-OT a few years ago and I found your discussion of it fascinating. So I picked up the only book they had at the local Barnes & Noble by Wright and/or Borg since I believe you quoted them.

I really should read some more on this topic and dealing with historical research in general, methinks. I don't have any problems imagining that a story might be made up and similar or parallel events actually take place after the story was originated.

Um, WHAT contrast?

The contrast between reality and fiction. [Hmmm... I think I'm beginnning to understand what you are saying a bit better. But to continue with my line of argument -- ] The mere fact that something happens in reality would make it different from a completely similar thing that was only imagined. It's the difference between the practical and the theoretical.

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Darryl A. Armstrong wrote:

: It's like those oft referenced monkeys working on Shakespeare's plays.

Well, no, because we haven't got an infinite number of monkeys, just one or two.

: : Then on what basis would you believe that the story was about an

: : actual event in history?

:

: Good question. I don't know. Do we base historical accuracy on

: originality?

I am not sure what this question means. What do you mean by "originality"?

: I remember reading Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography by John Dominic

: Crossan a few years ago where he explained how he uncovers the

: "facts" of the historical Jesus . . .

Haven't read that one, but I HAVE read The Historical Jesus (the "big Jesus" book, to which the book you read is his "little Jesus" book) and The Birth of Christianity and a few of his smaller efforts, and what you quote here sounds very familiar. Thing is, if we're talking about the resurrection, Crossan has openly stated that he simply does not believe that people ever come back to life after they have died -- all his theories are influenced by his belief that this never, ever happens.

: On a somewhat related note, I see that I have a copy of The Meaning of

: Jesus by Borg & Wright on my bookshelf which I don't ever recall reading

: but I do recall purchasing. I remember reading something you wrote on

: the subject of the historical Jesus on the DADL-OT a few years ago and I

: found your discussion of it fascinating. So I picked up the only book they

: had at the local Barnes & Noble by Wright and/or Borg since I believe

: you quoted them.

Yes! I have often said that if there was only one book a person could read on this subject, then that should be it -- a fascinating and, thankfully, productive debate and dialogue between two scholars who are also friends and, in some sense at least, fellow believers.

: The mere fact that something happens in reality would make it different

: from a completely similar thing that was only imagined.

True. But it makes a big difference whether the resurrection was an event that became a story or whether it has never been anything BUT a story. So, if we are going to believe the story, then it would help if there was sufficient reason to believe that the story actually reflected a real event.

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Peter:

I am not sure what this question means. What do you mean by "originality"?

I think I use that word too much... tongue.gif

Thing is, if we're talking about the resurrection, Crossan has openly stated that he simply does not believe that people ever come back to life after they have died -- all his theories are influenced by his belief that this never, ever happens.

Yeah, I remember him saying that in the book. Rather narrow-minded of him, wouldn't you say?

Yes! I have often said that if there was only one book a person could read on this subject, then that should be it -- a fascinating and, thankfully, productive debate and dialogue between two scholars who are also friends and, in some sense at least, fellow believers.

Looks like I've got some reading to do!

True. But it makes a big difference whether the resurrection was an event that became a story or whether it has never been anything BUT a story. So, if we are going to believe the story, then it would help if there was sufficient reason to believe that the story actually reflected a real event.

I cannot argue with you there. Touche!

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Hope no one minds me reviving this thread, and I hope my query doesn't seem too impious, but I'm wondering if anyone here can point me to any sources on how Christians throughout the history of the Church have understood the sexuality of Jesus. Jesus was human; humans are sexual beings; ergo Jesus was sexual, even if -- like many other humans who have opted for celibacy -- he never acted on his sexuality, or he channeled his sexuality into something other than sexual activity. Plus, Jesus spoke about sexuality and celibacy, and I imagine the Church Fathers and various other thinkers have had some things to say about that, too.

The occasion for my asking this is the fact that I am currently about halfway through reading Nikos Kazantzakis's The Last Temptation in preparation for an essay that I have to write in the next month or so on how the book and film versions of that story have dealt with this subject, and I will probably be looking at the quasi-romantic elements in Jesus Christ Superstar and the CBS mini-series Jesus and any other life-of-Christ movies that have broached this subject as well. (Hmmm, dare I get into the gay-Jesus play Corpus Christi, too?)

So far, it seems to me that both the book and film versions of The Last Temptation play on the idea that there is a conflict between "spirit" and "flesh" (with "spirit" being automatically good and Godly, while "flesh" is automatically bad and un-Godly), and Kazantzakis's sympathies seem more Gnostic than Christian, to me; even IF sex were exclusively of the flesh and not of the spirit (and I am not convinced that that is the case), I would still say that flesh is good because God made it and because God became flesh in the form of Jesus Christ.

Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

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So far, it seems to me that both the book and film versions of The Last Temptation play on the idea that there is a conflict between "spirit" and "flesh" (with "spirit" being automatically good and Godly, while "flesh" is automatically bad and un-Godly), and Kazantzakis's sympathies seem more Gnostic than Christian, to me; even IF sex were exclusively of the flesh and not of the spirit (and I am not convinced that that is the case), I would still say that flesh is good because God made it and because God became flesh in the form of Jesus Christ.

Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

It is that Pauline sarx/pneuma dichotomy that really left the door open for Gnostics to find a way into Christianity. Paul certainly has some anti-flesh comments, even if one doesn't seem him as primarily anti-flesh. This has certainly given sexual warrrant to a good deal of sexual repression, which may be a key reason why Jesus' sexual nature has always been taboo (and why so many were upset about the film version of The Last Temptation (and I imaging the book also, but I'm not up on what opposition the book met.)

The March 22, 2002, issue of Commonweal focused on Christology (mostly from a Roman Catholic view since Commonweal is a Catholic periodical (certainly a bit left of center for Catholic, but Catholic all the same). "WHO DO YOU SAY I AM?" by Robert A. Krieg (available online if you can access infotrac through your library system) builds his article around Christology from above and from below (i.e., focusing on the divinity or the humanity.) That might be an article that touches on what you're talking about.

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I've been reading Kazantzakis this year: not Last Temptation yet, but Zorba, his autobiography, and I'm partway through The Greek Passion. That last named, in its English title, is a great sum-up of the central paradox and conflict of the author's life. As he notes at the top of Last Temptation, he's obsessed with the spirit / flesh conflict, and not just spiritual as in "religious," but also as in "ideas" versus the organic, animalistic flesh. The Greek Passion is about a village that puts on a passion play, but underneath surge the Greek passions: that lusty, Mediterranean love of life that finds its climax in the Bacchanalia (aka pagan carousing and orgies led by the god Dionysius) as against the Greek love of learning and ideas, made metaphor in the god Apollo. Nietzche wasn't the only one facinated by the Apollonian-Dionysian tug-of war, and Kazantzakis, a bookish sort from Zorba-like peasant stock, bounced from extreme to extreme in his life and in his work.

The conflict as it plays out in Last Temptation is particularly facinating and, if you take the story as the author says to, less as a telling of the Gospel than as a vehicle for staging this classic conflict, there's much to think and talk about and even like in this work. If you can't do that and take Last Temptation as the author's version of "what really happened" or constantly compare to the Biblical Gospel -- if you're a Christian, at least -- the work is going to upset you and much of what's worth talking about (at least to me) will be missed in your response to the "monkeying" with the story. Not that I want to defend all that "monkeying," but I guess I've worked at cutting the authors (all three) as much slack as I can in trying to connect with the film -- which remains problematic for me, but rich and insightful in many ways.

Obviously, I need to get to the book version of Last Temptation ASAP. In the meantime, has anybody seen the film version of The Greek Passion, called Christ Recrucified? It played here in town briefly a couple months ago and I'm so sorry I missed it.

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