The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Published: May 30, 2010 |Updated: Dec 29, 2010

Synopsis

The Last Temptation of Christ is an exploration of the dual nature of the Christ: His divinity and his humanity. It is a portrait of a man with challenges and temptations we can all relate to who eventually conquers his inner demons through his enormous resolve and love for his Father. This 1980s Scorsese classic also shows us the true meaning of brotherhood and how even the son of God needed a men's group to accomplish the will of his Father among the living and the dead.

Jump straight to the powerful ideas

Genre
Drama
Production year
1988
Director
Martin Scorsese
Male actors
Willem DafoeHarvey KeitelPaul Greco

General spoiler alert!

» The triumphant power of the will

Preface: I'm not a Christian and am not so well versed in the Gospels. I therefore ask, if I were to write something that misrepresents the Gospels in any way, for your forgiveness. That said, this movie is explicity *not true* to the Gospels and any misrepresentation of them may be based on intentional creative liberties taken by the makers of the movie.

Wanting God to go away

Jesus is a carpenter who, out of his desire to make God hate him, makes crosses for the Romans. He hopes that if he falls from grace, God will leave him alone. He has whipped himself before bedtime, fasted for three months. At first, "it worked," he says. "And then the pain came back. And the voices. They call me by name: Jesus".

When God speaks to him, Jesus tells us, the feeling begins "very tender, very loving." But then, alas "the pain starts. Claws slip under my skin and tear their way up. Just before they reach my eyes, they dig in." His mother asks "Are you sure it is not the Devil?". "I'm not sure," replies Jesus. "For if it is the Devil, he can be cast out," she says. "But what if it's God? You can't cast out God, can you?" asks Jesus. This dialogue reminds me of my own life in which it is often hard to distinguish the voice of the ego (Devil) from the voice of the higher self (God).

It's early on in the story to take a bird's eye view and see how this applies to our own lives, but pardon me as I do it anyway. God is speaking to Jesus. And He is speaking to us. Perhaps we like to label His voice something slightly more mundane - intuition perhaps. But no matter the word, the fact is that impulses arise in us frequently that call us to a higher road on which we must do things which are out of the ordinary for us. They may even be scary, uncomfortable and put us in risk of humiliation. Maybe you have heard a silent whisper deep inside of you for years, telling you that you need to make a dramatic change in your life? It could certainly be! Well, why aren't you making it?

The degree to which you obey this voice is the degree to which you will experience love, joy, and vitality in your life. There is a certain inner experience that comes from doing that which is authentic to the higher self. Get to know that intimately. It is indeed the degree to which you will experience true spirituality. The degree to which you ignore this inner voice, however, is the degree to which you are wasting your life. And you'd better be damned sure that your soul knows when you are wasting your life. Its way of telling you that you are off course is your depression, anxiety, and intangible feelings of something missing. When we learn to listen, such feelings are pure gold. They are the compass needle of the soul.

We live in a spiritually handicapped culture for these symptoms of the emerging spiritual crisis that leads to our true spiritual liberation are not welcomed. They are not recognized as inner guidance. Instead, they are medicated against. In our society, we deaden exactly that which is showing us the way to true happiness, love and freedom. There are no two ways about it - it is fucked up. We arrange our entire lives around our favourite ways of distracting ourselves from this inner voice.

We don't trust our intuition, we want it to go away. Like Jesus, we want God to go away, for the presence of His voice inside of us is too hard to bear. That much truth and love is hard to bear. Imagine the responsibility of accepting that force into our lives. Every time the voice speaks, we must surrender to it and follow its direction. We lose our freedom to fuck off and be an ass! But what takes its place is far more valuable.

Were we to listen to our inner guidance, our lives would have to change. Big time! For the better of course, but from the perspective of our small selves, it's too much to hold. So we don't change. Is not the idea that you are the chosen one so scary to you that you'd rather keep on living a nice enough life that is comfortable, but in no way significant enough to leave you inspired? But if not you, then who? I say, we are ALL chosen ones. But few are those who participate in the giving of their true gifts.

Overcoming fear

Jesus confesses to a disciple of a desert master that he is "afraid of everything," and continues "I don't ever tell the truth. I don't have the courage. When I see a woman, I blush and look away. I want her, but I don't take her and that makes me proud for God. I don't steal. I don't fight. I don't kill. Not because I don't want to but because I'm afraid." Jesus is paralyzed with fear. He is, in a manner of speaking, disconnected from his balls, his inner red knight.

Now there are all kinds of silly new agers that talk about "Christ consciousness", which is supposedly this divine state of being in which Jesus was not afraid and did not feel pain. New age hippie bullshit, I say. Nice idea to have a life free of pain. Good place to hide out in, disengaging into lala land. No wonder so many new age men lose touch with their masculinity. *This* is a Jesus I can believe in, and in a tent under the desert moon, he is visited by snakes, a symbol which marks the entrance to Mary Magdalen's brothel in an earlier scene. They speak with her voice. She is a beautiful woman for whom Jesus has a lot of affection, and since Jesus wants to fuck beautiful women, Satan uses her voice whenever he wants to conquer his will.

Let's look briefly into the nature of Satan. Sure, there are those who would have it that there is true and personified evil in the world. Perhaps - what do I know. But having a Buddhist background myself, I'm more drawn to the image of Buddha under the Bodhi Tree fighting off the demon Mara, which is nothing but a mythological symbol for his mind poisons. Mara is to Buddha what Satan is to Jesus and in our conquest to defeat the inner demons that ravage the life of any person that ever lived, it is useful to see Satan as the alluring siren call of our own ego. "For God to come in, the Beast must come out." The Beast is our ego. God is our higher selves. We must overcome our egos to realize an authentic spiritual life. And the most efficient way of overcoming the ego is to do that which scares us.

We rebel against this idea so much. I have done plenty of rebelling. Plenty! "Is there no other way?," we may ask. The wishful thinking of another way, free of fear and pain, is what gives rise to all the trinkets and spiritual gizmos that is everywhere in New Age. "I'm not going to do that which scares me, but if I put this amulet under my pillow and put pictures of that which I desire on my refrigerator, it will surely happen as I envision it".

It is exactly this kind of nonsense that pushes many men out of spiritual life. New Age is a place run by women and feminine men, for women and feminine men. But there is no true salvation in burning incense, chanting mantras, wearing lucky charms and crystals unless we actually do the REAL work of the soul. There is only one way - conquering our fears HEAD ON. For the masculine man, that is a true spirituality. It has meat on the bones.

After meeting John the Baptist, Jesus shows us how to REALLY do it, in spectacular fashion, as he enters the desert to commune with God and conquer the Devil. He draws a circle in the sand and sits down, vowing not to move until God speaks to him. Imagine the courage! The parallels to Siddharta Gotama (The Buddha) vowing not to move until he reaches enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree is apt. Their liberation lay in the strength of their resolve. They actually meant it. They were willing to DIE on that spot. There really is nothing more than an act of will that separates us from them. We have weak wills. We can't even eat a dinner without distracting ourselves with a book or TV show. So I say, start with vowing to eat a dinner without distraction. Leave it to people of the calibre of Buddha and Jesus to vow to not move on their life.

To War Against Satan

In the desert, Satan tempts Jesus with a wife and family as well as great power. Having overcome the temptations, Jesus takes up the axe and returns to society, ready to strike down the tree of Satan at its roots. He returns to his disciples, who are in conflict in their master's absence, to find that John the baptist has been killed by a drunken King Herod. Jesus is royally pissed off and invites his disciples to a war. "John baptized with water, and they killed him," Jesus says with a penetrating gaze. "Now I baptize with fire!" (The symbology here warrants a journey into Gnosticism. Stay tuned for an article on this soon.)

Jesus starts working his miracles, casting the Devil out from the mentally ill, paralyzed and diseased. He even resurrects Lazarus, the brother of the two women who took care of him when he returned from the desert. Word of Him spreads and the movement grows, though many predictably think he is insane.

When I observe this Jesus, I cannot shake the feeling that there is something quite "ordinary" about him. It is maybe because Willem Dafoe is not fully able to transmit God's presence through his acting, but I think the filmmakers intend it. This I like. It makes him one of us. And what I become present to is that Jesus and his disciples form an ancient men's group. They come together to create a better world. They're not so different from the guys who today gather around the world to go deeper into their souls in service of their greater life mission and the people whom they love. And when Satan is the enemy, you need a pretty kick ass men's group.

The Last Temptation

When Jesus is on the cross, the movie takes an unexpected turn. An angel shows up and helps him off it. She takes Jesus by the hand and together they go to a beautiful vantage point overlooking green, rolling hills. Mary Magdalen ascends the hilltop, and it turns out she is there to marry him. Some years pass and then, alas, she dies. The angel whispers to Jesus "there is only one woman in the world. One woman with many faces," and Jesus takes another wife: Mary, sister of Lazarus. Just before we come to accept this new reality - Jesus as a normal man - Judas enters the picture. The movie has shown Judas to be the strongest and most faithful of all the disciples, quite unlike in the Gospels, and now he is pissed off. "Traitor!," he screams, complaining that Jesus broke his heart when he abandoned the cause. And then he points out to Jesus that the guardian angel is Satan himself. Jesus has been tempted away from his Messianic calling by Lucifer, and with his last remaining breaths, he crawls out into the night. Jerusalem is burning. Jesus is bleeding. He raises his hands to the sky, and prays:

This entire segment is representative of the battle between the spirit and the flesh that underlies the entire movie. With his prayer, the detour into the tempting world of mortal men (a journey which I see as having happened only in his own psyche) ends, and his divine destiny is accomplished.

Conclusion

The Last Temptation of Christ tells of a different Jesus than the Gospels. Strangely, I believe more in this one than that one. But then, I don't consider myself a Christian. Nevertheless, I fully recognize the enormous value in that which he has to teach us: Disciplined willpower in service of a higher calling. He starts off a tortured man, but through his enormous dedication to spiritual liberation and his willingness to give his life in the process, he gets that which he seeks. Truth be told, if we were willing to dedicate ourselves with similar resolve, we could very well achieve the same results - total spiritual liberation. But we do trick ourselves most of the time.

Jesus teaches us another important thing, that even if we should stray from the path, it is never too late to return to that higher road. But when God calls, we must answer. Otherwise, we are falling prey to the temptations of the Devil, in whatever form you may believe him to exist. Cast out the Devil. Dedicate yourself to following God's voice. For, truly, it is your own. All you must do is remove all the garbage distractions from your life and listen to that silent whisper, on the other side, where all the noise is gone.

Powerful ideas from The Last Temptation of Christ

  • If Jesus needed a men's group, so do you. Find one or start one yourself.
  • Only with a strong resolve does spiritual liberation occur.
  • It is never too late to repent and change direction in life.
  • The one who speaks his mind and heart authentically (Judas) shows a greater respect than the one who pays lip service.
  • Women, power and a family are Man's greatest temptations. This does not mean that they should not be embraced. It does mean that you shouldn't lose yourself in the process of doing so.
  • Learn to listen to your inner voice. How? Reduce the amount of distractions in your life. Structure your day so that you don't check e-mails as often. Make sure your detours onto Facebook and Twitter are infrequent. Really focus when you are working. And make sure you can eat a dinner in silence without losing your mind.

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