The Last Temptation of Christ: explaining Scorsese’s “weak” Jesus

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This article reveals the meaning and the story of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, explaining the plot, the ending and the events described. We recommend you to read it only after watching the movie, and not before, in order to preserve the pleasure of the first vision.

Although the move says explicitly that it’s not based on the Gospels (it comes from the homonymous novel by Nikos Kazantzakis), and although Scorsese’s Jesus always supports the word of God, it’s no surprise that The Last Temptation of Christ received so many attacks from the Vatican and the Christian community. Because the concept of Martin Scorsese is at least controversial: a Jesus overwhelmed by his doubts and his weaknesses, a “human condition” that gives scandal, interacting with the role of Messiah as an ordinary man (even with less determination than some of his disciples).

It is a dangerous perspective, undoubtedly provocative. Nevertheless, this movie hides an important and in some ways successful ambition: it forces the spectator to enter into the paradox of Jesus, divine and human at the same time, and it uses this paradox to challenge the conscience of us in front of the Word of God. Perhaps the “unsure Jesus” depicted in the film cannot teach many lessons, but it’s certainly effective in representing the human weaknesses, the difficulties of the sinful man in being the son of God. Because it lets us identify with a figure close to us: what would we humans do, if we received a mission directly from God during our earthly life? Would we be able to put it into practice? Even more: would we be willing to accept it?

The weak Jesus thus becomes a mirror of the condition of the human being when the word of God descends upon him. Of course, there are images that are unacceptable for a Catholic, like Jesus building crosses for the Romans, helping them while the soldiers crucified the Jews, or even worse consuming an unlikely marriage with Mary Magdalene, despite of any good intentions behind them. The film is fundamentally divided into three phases: the first is the doubt, when Jesus is not yet completely willing to accept the role of Messiah, he’s tormented by doubts and fears and he’s not fully confident about his actions; the second is the mission, where Jesus follows the Word of God as narrated by the Bible; the third is the fall, where Jesus abandons the sacrifice of the cross and lives the earthly life that a part of himself believed to deserve, accompanied by a guardian angel who then turns out to be Satan, fundamentally falling into the temptation of the devil (from which he will be forgiven by God in the last moments of the film).

It’s true that the man-Jesus is an oxymoron, an impossible paradox that can only produce contradictions. But once accepted the construction of the paradox, once isolated the deviations from the Gospels as direct consequences of the first hypothesis, what remains is a man who interrogates himself about the life that God wants for him. And this is something important for every good Christian, every believer. Something that has always been very dear to philosophy: how can humans be worthy of the trust and responsibility that God asks us? What is the way out when we lose strength, when we feel that we can no longer bear the burden of our divine nature?

“My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Father, will you listen to me? Are you still there? Will you listen to a selfish, unfaithful son? I fought you when you called, I resisted! I thought of no more. I didn’t want to be your son! Can you forgive me? I didn’t fight hard enough. Father, give me Your hand. I want to bring salvation! Father, take me back! Make a feast! Welcome me home! I want to be Your son! I want to pay the price! I want to be crucified and rise again! I want to be the Messiah!

The impossible identification produces the catharsis of the sinner, and this is enough to legitimate the role of the movie, even for a Christian. The answer to our doubts, the strength to win our weaknesses, the faith in our destiny, they all have one origin: God. It’s in the direct relationship between the son and the father that all doubts are resolved, it’s in the acceptance of that relationship that the strength comes. Although it represents a paradox close to blasphemy, The Last Temptation of Christ has the merit of explaining the personal paradox of every good Christian in front of God. How truly offensive is the image of Jesus’ weakness, if his representation is oriented to make us reflect on our nature?

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