This movie is adapted from the novel, “The Last Temptation of Christ”, by Nicholas KAZANTZAKIS. (Barbara Hershey, who plays Mary Magdalene, actually introduced Scorsese to the book while he was directing her in “Boxcar Bertha”)  KAZANTZAKIS states:

This book was written because I wanted to offer a supreme model to the man who struggles; I wanted to show him that he must not fear pain, temptation or death—because all three can be conquered, all three have already been conquered. Christ suffered pain, and since then pain has been sanctified; Temptation fought until the very last moment to lead him astray, and Temptation was defeated. Christ died on the Cross, and at that instant death was vanquished forever. 

The film opens with an abridged quote from  the book:

THE DUAL SUBSTANCE of Christ—the yearning, so human, so superhuman, of man to attain to God or, more exactly, to return to God and identify himself with him—has always been a deep inscrutable mystery to me.  …My principal anguish and the source of all my joys and sorrows from my youth onward has been the incessant, merciless battle between the spirit and the flesh…. and my soul is the arena where these two armies have clashed and met….

Continuing in the book… “Every man partakes of the divine nature in both his spirit and his flesh. That is why the mystery of Christ is not simply a mystery for a particular creed. It is Universal. The struggle between God and man breaks out in everyone, together with the longing for reconciliation.”

Adapted from the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis (“Zorba the Greek”), the film tells the story of Jesus grappling to understand who he is, and his mission in this world.  He faces the temptations of the devil, and of the worldly life.  As he awakens to his destiny, we join him on the journey to bring God’s word to Israel and all of humanity.  He is caught between political forces who want to see him as the “messiah”, who will deliver Israel from the grasp of the Romans, and those who seek a “Christ”, or spiritual savior.  In his struggle, his power and meaning seem even greater.  His death on the cross is depicted in a way that allows us the experience the depths of agony, and then the highest imaginable joy.


 The novel describes a time when Israel was full of anticipation, when  one person after another was claimed to be the messiah who would deliver them from Roman rule.  But the Romans struck down each one.  There was a strong movement of political zealots, insurgents against an occupying force.  Judas is one of their leaders.  Scorsese states, “I grew up trying to balance Christian teachings and the law of the streets.  Judas reflects this struggle.  The challenge for him is “            …Judas has to do it out of love… it’s easy to be violent…..”

In 1983, the film was prepared for production in Israel.  But it was cancelled because a major exhibitor would not show it  because of pressure at the time from the Religious Right. Some reviewers complained that much criticism came from people who hadn’t seen the movie, but the criticism had started before it ever got made! 

One explanation of the argument against the movie comes from Gregory and Maria Pearse:

it is utterly impossible for a Divine Envoy to become a man, for a simple reason that He can never cross the barrier of the difference of species. Man belongs to a Spiritual species, while the Son of God is of a Divine species. One can never become the other. … His inner core always remains Divine and so He perceives all things from a Divine perspective, never from the point of view of a human being - even when He has to undergo hardships and struggles for the sake of mankind.

So for some, it was considered highly offensive, and incorrect, to present Jesus as having any sort of human fallibility.

ROGER EBERT  writes in his review:

Christianity teaches that Jesus was both God and man. That he could be both at once is the central mystery of the Christian faith, and the subject of "The Last Temptation of Christ." To be fully man, Jesus would have had to possess all of the weakness of man, to be prey to all of the temptations--for as man, he would have possessed God's most troublesome gift, free will. As the son of God, he would of course have inspired the most desperate wiles of Satan, and this is a film about how he experienced temptation and conquered it.

Screenwriter Paul Shrader asserts: “It is a form of blasphemy to use the character of Jesus as a metaphor for man, when he is God.  But that is the conundrum of Christianity when Jesus is presented as fully man and fully divine.  This is a controversy that goes back to formative phase of Christianity. “

Finally in 1987 a new production was begun in Morocco.

Harvey Keitel as Judas has been the subject of debate because of his NYC accent. Scorsese chose to depict  Colloquial language, Generally choosing a “formal” British accent for Romans, and various other accents (American, Canadian, Southern, New York,etc for the common people, such as those Jesus associated with.  Scorsese’s research showed that  Galilean accent was strong, ridiculed in Jerusalem.


As you watch the final scene, you might consider  this story as providing a sort of harmonization of several differing versions of Jesus’s last words on the cross.


In Luke, he says “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."[Lk. 23:34] and "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!"[Lk. 23:46]  In Matthew and Mark he says, “"E′li, E′li, la′ma sa‧bach‧tha′ni?" [Mt. 27:46] [Mk. 15:34] (Aramaic for "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?").

In John, he says "It is finished."[Jn. 19:30]  , also translated as “It is accomplished.”


An imdb reviewer stated, “this is the sort of film that has the power to convince the irreligious or non-Christians out there (of which I am one) of the importance, beauty, depth, and truth of Jesus' vision of a world filled with love and compassion.”


Martin Scorsese’s direction (Oscar Nomination) brings alive the life and times of Jesus. Willem Dafoe stars as Jesus, Harvey Keitel as political Zealot Judas, Barbara Hershey as Mary Magdalene (Golden Globe nomination), with notable appearances by Harry Dean Stanton as Paul, and David Bowie as Pilate. Peter Gabriel provided the score. Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ, which won a Grammy in 1990 for Best New Age Album



Voice of Satan/flame in desert: Voices of Scorcese and Leo Marx blended

Final Temptation: …”happening in his mind..” .. an hallucination.


In book: He faints.


At the very end of the film, before the closing credits, the screen fades into solid white at the point where Jesus dies on the cross. According to director Martin Scorsese, this was unintentional. The camera used in the shooting was damaged and leaked light onto the film. The fade to white wasn't discovered until after the film was processed.

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