Monday, December 7, 2009

Movies! - "It is accomplished."

The best thing about The Last Temptation of Christ is that it reminds us that the whole notion behind Jesus is actually a pretty interesting one. So often, adaptations of his story pussyfoot around, and his followers are too concerned with making him be "perfect" than they are exploring the basic concept where you have a man who also happens to be God. Scorsese's film takes that issue head-on and asks what it must have meant to be a mortal man who was also an immortal god.

It's definitely my favorite of the few Jesus movies that I've seen. I certainly prefer it to The Passion of the Christ. While I personally feel that Mel Gibson's film was good for what it was, what it was didn't really have much appeal to me. A Passion play concerns itself solely with the suffering and execution of Jesus. It's a wee bit too heavy on the death obsession for my tastes. It's kind of like if Hamlet consisted solely of the last scene and you dragged it out for two hours. Martin Scorsese's film is more about ideas and exploring the Jesus story from a new angle.

Of course, there was a big hoopla when it came out, as many people protested it without seeing it. The main reason why they got upset is because it depicts Jesus having a wife and kids, which of course implies that he had sex. What they failed to take into account was that it was all a hallucination as Satan was trying to get him to see what a comfortable and happy existence he could have if he only gave up on his mission of redeeming humankind. In other words, the movie was not trying to say that Jesus had sex. Shoot, the sheer fact that Christians get so hung up on the fact that Jesus didn't have sex is one more reason why I can't buy into their religion. As I said before in my comparison of Odysseus to Jesus, I think that Jesus could never lay claim to fully living a human life if he's never had sex. Whatever though, that's not the point of this film.

One thing that I like about the film is that it starts off by stating that it's not a direct adaptation of one of the Gospels. Instead, it's more inspired by the stories and starts with them as a way to explore the character of Jesus. There are many things that he says and does that will seem familiar to those who are familiar with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but it doesn't all play out exactly the way you'd think that they would. For instance, his relationship with Mary Magdalene is definitely expounded upon, as it seems as though the two would have had a relationship if it had not been for his divine mission.

The thing is, the completely perfect Jesus is completely uninteresting to me. No, I'm not saying that he has to be a meth addict male prostitute who sleeps with Roman soldiers. He's definitely compelling when he's a better man than what his society calls for him to be. Still, it makes no sense to say that he's "perfect" especially in light of what he does to the money changers at the temple. That's probably one of my favorite scenes in the film, and it shows that he has a temper. Call me crazy, but that sort of a thing is a pretty human characteristic, which is why I think that as an atheist it still resonates with me. The film, however, takes this idea of a conflicted Jesus even further:
I'm a liar. A hypocrite. I'm afraid of everything. I never tell the truth. I don't have the courage. When I see a woman, I blush and look away. But inside I have lust. For God, I smother the lust, and that satisfies my pride. But my pride destroys Magdalene. I never steal or fight, or kill... not because I don't want to but because I'm afraid. I want to rebel against everything, everybody... against God!... but I'm afraid. If you look inside me you see fear, that's all. Fear is my mother, my father, my God.
Considering this film's reputation, I bet that there might be some readers out there who would consider it typical that this would be my favorite Jesus movie considering how unconventional it is. There definitely is something to that, as I don't view Christ as some kind of a sacred cow who needs to be treated with an almost saccharine banality. I see him as a myth who can be redefined for the times. (And he has been redefined. Read your history if you think that the Christians of today are essentially the same as the earliest Christians, or even the Christians of a few generations ago.) This film does just that, but it certainly isn't one that's solely for the atheists and agnostics. It's for any Christian with an open mind as well.

I remember when it came out that there was some criticism of how it was the "Hollywood Jews" who came up with such a film in order to tarnish Jesus. It wasn't until I became more of a movie fan when I learned that, well, not only is that blatantly anti-Semitic, but it's also patently false. Martin Scorsese, the director, is a Roman Catholic. I believe (and I could be goofing this up a bit) that the screenwriter is a Calvinist while the author of the novel is Greek Orthodox. Not exactly the types you'd see at a Matzo Ball convention, would you? My point in bringing this up is that it is a movie that's by Christians and for Christians. This doesn't limit my appreciation for it, as this sort of a thing encourages one to make up their own mind as to what Jesus means to him or her. While it certainly deserves another blog altogether, I'd say that as an atheist, Jesus has come to mean much more for me than as he ever did when I was a believer.
What's also good is how the film handles Judas. Obviously, that name is synonymous with treachery - right up there with Brutus. He's supposed to be the villain, but with any thought as to what the death and resurrection story of Jesus means, you quickly realize that makes no sense. The film depicts him as being a somewhat conflicted and reluctant follower of Jesus. He's also the most loyal, which is why Jesus personally asks him that he be the one to betray him. When the film reaches its climax, it's a vision of Judas that gets him to finally accept his destiny and die on the cross, thus proclaiming that "It is accomplished!"

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