"The Last Temptation of Christ" (1988)
(R) Score: 4.0 Stars (****Out of Four Stars)
"The Passion of the Christ" (2004)
(R) Score: 4.0 Stars (****Out of Four Stars)
The subject of more non-fictional features films than any other entity in history, Jesus Christ is also one of the most difficult characters to write for, produce or — portray.
This situation becomes all the more problematic with the two dozen or so movies concentrating on the Crucifixion, or — the Passion.
Four "sword and sandal" movies released between 1953 and 1965 ("Ben Hur,"  "The Robe,"  "The Greatest Story Ever Told,"  and "King of Kings," ) dealt in-full or in-part with the Crucifixion and all were good in their own way. Yet those films were were products of their time; meaning, they played it too safe.
There was only so far a movie could go with violence when depicting what was arguably the most important event in religious human history.
In the planning stages for the better part of 15 years prior to production, Martin Scorsese’s "The Last Temptation of Christ" and its 1955 source novel of the same name by Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis were constant lightning rods of controversy for what was essentially a work of fiction.
The mixing of what is regarded as fact and artistic creativity is always a big gamble but when it is done with the life and death of Christ, one might as well send out embossed invitations for unrelenting scorn and ridicule.
That is exactly what Scorsese and Universal Studios received.
The charges of blasphemy and heresy were unrelenting.
To this day there are countries which prohibit the showing of "Temptation."
By comparison, the production, marketing and release of director Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" were a relative walk in the park.
Co-written by Gibson and Benedict Fitzgerald, "The Passion" received the brunt of its criticism from journalists and clerics after it hit theaters; either because of graphic content and/or purported anti-Semitism.
If the history contained in the Gospels and what is written about the Crucifixion is any kind of indicator, "The Passion" is neither too violent nor misrepresentative of its Jewish characters. Christ died a far more violent death than those depicted in other films (including "Temptation") and — based on scripture and other writings — Jewish clerics and politicians, present at the time, forced the hand of Pontius Pilate in sentencing Christ to death.
For screenwriter Paul Schrader (along with uncredited script doctors Scorsese and Jay Cocks), including the sub-plot of the novel where Christ (Willem Dafoe, replacing original choice Aidan Quinn) is talked down off of the cross by a cherubic female angel (actually the Devil) and is told to live a full life had to be a no-win scenario.
The entire point of the movie was to suggest doubt and innate human nature and to not include it would have rendered the story mute. The inference that Christ would have not died on the cross and lived to old age (to many) was incomprehensible. To deny that Christ was at least half-human and susceptible to human failings is also difficult to fathom.
"Temptation" barely made a profit against its paltry $7 million budget and, even with video/on-demand receipts, it is still considered to be a major financial failure. Conversely, "The Passion" went on to become the highest-grossing "R" rated movie of all-time (until displaced in 2018 by "Deadpool 2" and then again in 2019 by "Joker").
To date, "The Passion" has grossed over $600 million globally.
"Temptation" and "The Passion" take radically different paths to reach the same conclusion. Is Jesus being tempted by the flesh worse than him dying by unspeakable levels of torture?
There was a man named Jesus Christ who died on a cross nearly 2,000 years ago with the mission of cleansing and forever forgiving human sin. While dying was the last act and the ultimate sacrifice, it was preceded by years of behavior intended to lead by example.
Is it a sin to suggest Jesus was tempted by sin?
One doesn’t have to be a Christian to be moved and influenced by Christ.
His was an all-encompassing message easily understood by faiths of all kinds.
Even those without religious affiliation (which might be Christ’s ultimate point) can benefit from his most obvious and basic teachings. Love (or at least respect) one another, live by the "Golden Rule," connect with God (or the entity you might perceive as God) — which is now referred to as being "spiritual" — and operate on this Earth with good intent.
Last month during an interview with Fox Nation, Jim Caviezel – who portrayed Christ in "The Passion" - confirmed there will be a sequel written by Randall Wallace ("Braveheart") and directed by Gibson titled "The Resurrection of the Christ" which is due for a theatrical release in 2021.
Originally from Washington, D.C., Michael Clark has written for over 30 local and national media outlets, is currently the only newspaper-based film critic providing original content in the Atlanta Top 10 media marketplace and co-founded the Atlanta Film Critics Circle in 2017. Over the last 25 years, Mr. Clark has written over 4,000 movie reviews and film related articles and is one of the scant few conservative-minded U.S. film critics. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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