A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Last Temptation of Christ is based on a novel (thought to be radical by some religious institutions) by Nikos Kazantzakis, published in 1953. The author departs from the traditional gospel story of Jesus Christ and his disciples. Because of that, when it was released in 1988, there was considerable controversy about the film's portrayal of Jesus and some elements of the story (Jesus's self-doubt, confusion about his role as the son of God, his sensuality). Other long-established orthodoxies were challenged as well (depictions of the disciples and Mary Magdalene). The film has many graphically violent scenes and no shortage of blood, brutality, screaming anguish, and death. Frontal nudity, both male and female, appears in a number of sequences, sometimes paired with frenzied sexual activity. Many scenes may be disturbing to audiences of any age and are not meant for children.
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What's the story?
In THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST a distinctly humanized Jesus Christ (Willem Dafoe) begins to build his ministry and preach the gospel of love and compassion. Set in a time leading up to his crucifixion, Jesus struggles against the aggression of the forces of the Roman Empire on a quest to conquer the Holy Land. He attempts to protect the land's citizens while bringing a new and relevant spirituality into their lives. At the same time, supported by a growing band of disciples, Jesus battles the demons and weaknesses within himself: self-doubt, a complex and difficult relationship with God, and the temptations of the sensual world around him. In opposition to most doctrine about the Christ figure, in this film (and the novel upon which it's based) Jesus must make a momentous choice between a life of the spirit and a life of "the flesh."
Is it any good?
In a film infused with artistry and passion, director Martin Scorsese has created a new kind of religious epic. The film is original, intense, and technically solid. The integrity of the music, production design, attention to time and place, and portrayal of the masses of people who inhabited that part of the world all contribute to the film's authenticity. Certainly, having based his film on a novel thought radical by many, Mr. Scorsese doesn't expect his audience to accept the premise as truth but has offered another way of imagining and exploring the life of Jesus Christ. The film's violence and sexuality may make some uncomfortable. A few odd-sounding dialects may distract. But it's another impressive effort from a master filmmaker. Not recommended for kids; mature teens only.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the brutality in this movie. How did it make you feel? How do you determine when a film is too violent?
How was this portrayal of Jesus different from others you've seen? In what ways did this Jesus seem more like a real person? Why do you think the filmmakers made this choice?
This movie had staunch critics who wanted to prevent its release and later protested in front of theaters. What do you think they objected to? Define "censorship." How do you feel about it?
- In theaters: August 12, 1988
- On DVD or streaming: April 25, 2000
- Cast: Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey
- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, History
- Run time: 164 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Golden Globe
- Last updated: November 11, 2020
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