The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

R | 163 mins | Biography, Drama | 1988

Director:

Martin Scorsese

Writer:

Paul Schrader

Producer:

Barbara De Fina

Cinematographer:

Michael Ballhaus

Production Designer:

John Beard

Production Company:

Testament Productions
Full page view
HISTORY

The film begins with the title cards displaying the following prologue: “The dual substance of Christ – the yearning, so human, so superhuman, of man to attain God…has always been a deep inscrutable mystery to me. My principle anguish and 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 – Nikos Kazantzakis, From the book The Last Temptation of Christ .” Following the prologue, a title card reads: “This film is not based upon the Gospels but upon this fictional exploration of the eternal spiritual conflict.”
       The end titles contain a “Special Thanks” to the following individuals and organizations: Boris Leven; Leo Marks; Nass El Ghiwane for inspiration; Biblical Archaeology Review Magazine ; The Archive of Contemporary Music; The National Sound Archives, London; and Pierre Toureille, Ocora-Radio-France.
       A 30 Sep 1987 Var article quoted director Martin Scorsese as saying that “he wanted to make the film since [Barbara] Hershey gave him the novel on the set of Boxcar Bertha in 1972.” Scorsese had studied to be a priest, according to a 17 Apr 1988 LAT article. Though Paul Schrader was credited as screenwriter, the 12 Aug 1988 LAT review reported that both Scorsese and Jay Cocks had also contributed to the script.
       A 6 Jan 1984 LAT article stated that the film was initially scheduled to shoot in January 1984 in Israel, when Paramount removed its financial backing at the last minute. Having already spent $2 million, Paramount approached ... More Less

The film begins with the title cards displaying the following prologue: “The dual substance of Christ – the yearning, so human, so superhuman, of man to attain God…has always been a deep inscrutable mystery to me. My principle anguish and 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 – Nikos Kazantzakis, From the book The Last Temptation of Christ .” Following the prologue, a title card reads: “This film is not based upon the Gospels but upon this fictional exploration of the eternal spiritual conflict.”
       The end titles contain a “Special Thanks” to the following individuals and organizations: Boris Leven; Leo Marks; Nass El Ghiwane for inspiration; Biblical Archaeology Review Magazine ; The Archive of Contemporary Music; The National Sound Archives, London; and Pierre Toureille, Ocora-Radio-France.
       A 30 Sep 1987 Var article quoted director Martin Scorsese as saying that “he wanted to make the film since [Barbara] Hershey gave him the novel on the set of Boxcar Bertha in 1972.” Scorsese had studied to be a priest, according to a 17 Apr 1988 LAT article. Though Paul Schrader was credited as screenwriter, the 12 Aug 1988 LAT review reported that both Scorsese and Jay Cocks had also contributed to the script.
       A 6 Jan 1984 LAT article stated that the film was initially scheduled to shoot in January 1984 in Israel, when Paramount removed its financial backing at the last minute. Having already spent $2 million, Paramount approached Universal and Warner Bros. to take on the production, but both studios passed. The article cited difficulties with casting, the film’s budget, and protests from some Christian groups who regarded the film as “blasphemous,” as the basis for Paramount’s decision. In addition, a 28 Sep 1987 DV article pointed to United Artists president Salah Hassenein, an opponent of the film, as an influence on Paramount’s decision. Both Robert DeNiro and Eric Roberts had turned down the role of “Jesus,” and the studio rejected Christopher Walken, who was willing to play the role, before Aidan Quinn was officially cast. At the time Paramount dropped out, the cast also included Barbara Hershey as “Mary Magdalene,” Harvey Keitel as “Judas,” and Sting as “Pontius Pilate.”
       A 29 Nov 1984 DV article reported that Jack Lang, the Culture Minister of France, offered $300,000 to the production if the film re-launched “as a European venture with a French majority producer.” However, a 20 Mar 1985 Var news item stated that Lang withdrew the offer after Cardinal Lustiger, the Archbishop of France, intervened.
       Finally, a 28 Sep 1987 DV news item reported that Universal agreed to distribute the film in the U.S. as a “negative pickup.” Based on Universal’s commitment, independent financiers provided the production funding, which was later reported by the 10 Aug 1988 Var review to be $6.5 million. Scorsese, along with the cast and crew, agreed to work “for scale,” which helped lower the cost from $12 million, reported by a 6 Jan 1984 LAT article. The 28 Sep 1987 DV news item also announced that Willem Dafoe had been cast as “Christ.”
       According to a 15 Dec 1987 HR article, shooting took place in Morocco, in desert locations and Marrakech. According to an 8 Oct 1987 DV news item, Paul Sorvino turned down a role due to scheduling conflicts. Another last-minute casting announcement in the 22 Oct 1987 DV reported that Sting backed out of the film “because of concert conflicts,” and was replaced by David Bowie.
       According to a 17 Jun 1988 press release, Universal Pictures promised to screen The Last Temptation of Christ for “leaders of the Christian community,” some of whom had been circulating an early draft of the screenplay amongst their members to elicit a negative reaction to the film. A 13 Jul 1988 LAT article reported that certain Christian leaders, including Tim Penland, Bill Bright, the Reverend Jack Hayford, and the Reverend Lloyd John Ogilvie, publicly asked Universal to destroy all elements of the film, claiming it was blasphemous. An 18 Jul 1988 DV article stated that Bill Bright offered to raise the $10 million budget of the film to pay for all existing prints, in order to destroy them.
       Universal released the film on August 12, 1988, six weeks earlier than previously planned due to mounting protests, as stated in a 10 Aug 1988 Var article. According to a 12 Aug 1988 Var article, 25,000 Christian protestors picketed at Universal Studios on the day of the film’s release. In addition, several exhibition chains, including General Cinema Theaters, Edwards Cinemas, Luxury Cinemas, and the Florida-based Wometco, refused to screen the film in any of their theaters. Reports of the protests helped fuel a relatively strong opening weekend, according to a 16 Aug 1988 HR article, when the film earned $402,211. A detailed account of the controversy is chronicled in the book Hollywood Under Siege: Martin Scorsese, the Religious Right, and the Culture Wars by Thomas R. Lindlof.
       The film opened to mixed reviews. Janet Maslin of NYT described The Last Temptation of Christ as an “exceptionally ambitious, deeply troubling and, at infrequent moments, genuinely transcendent film.” Willem Dafoe’s performance was generally lauded, as were most others, with the exception of Harvey Keitel, who the LAT review referred to as “unnerving,” stating, “He opens his mouth and you would swear what comes out is Robert De Niro. To Scorsese, he may sound like the neighborhood but that neighborhood doesn’t seem to be Galilee.”
       According to an 8 Dec 1989 DV news item, Scorsese, along with Paolo Portoghesi, the director of Italy’s Biennale Festival, was acquitted on a charge of “contempt of religion” made by Italian officials after the film was shown at the Venice Film Festival. A 3 Aug 1988 Reuters news item reported that Italian director Franco Zeffirelli had removed his own film, The Young Toscanini , from the festival after seeing The Last Temptation of Christ and calling it “truly horrible” and “completely deranged.” Ultimately, the film earned less than $10 million at the box office, according to CNBC.



The summary and note for this entry was completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Adam Tate, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, with Janet Staiger as academic advisor.
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
29 Nov 1984.
---
Daily Variety
28 Sep 1987.
---
Daily Variety
8 Oct 1987.
---
Daily Variety
22 Oct 1987.
---
Daily Variety
18 Jul 1988.
---
Daily Variety
8 Dec 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Dec 1987
p. 1, 61.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Aug 1988
p. 1, 85.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Aug 1988
p. 16.
Los Angeles Times
6 Jan 1984
p. 1, 10.
Los Angeles Times
17 Apr 1988.
---
Los Angeles Times
13 Jul 1988.
---
Los Angeles Times
12 Aug 1988
p. 1.
New York Times
12 Aug 1988
p. 1.
Reuters
3 Aug 1988.
---
Variety
20 Mar 1985.
---
Variety
30 Sep 1987.
---
Variety
10 Aug 1988
p. 12.
Variety
10 Aug 1988
p. 1, 18.
Variety
12 Aug 1988.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Martin Scorsese Picture
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d cam op
2d cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
3d asst cam
Generator op
Generator op
Key grip
Key rigging grip
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
2d asst ed
Apprentice ed
Negative cutting by
SET DECORATORS
Asst set dir
Prop master
Set dressing propman
Const coord
Asst const coord
Const foreman
Carpenter
Carpenter
Plasterer
Plasterer
Painter
Standby painter
Stage hand
COSTUMES
Ward supv
Asst ward supv
Seamstress
Seamstress
Seamstress
Seamstress
Ward man
Ward truck driver
MUSIC
Orig score comp
Mus supv
Assoc mus ed
Asst mus ed
African percussion, Orig score performed by
Qualli voice, Orig score performed by
Armenian doudouk, Orig score performed by
Egyptian kanun, Orig score performed by
Drums, Orig score performed by
Brazilian percussion, Orig score performed by
Bass guitar, Orig score performed by
Drums, Orig score performed by
Penny whistle, Orig score performed by
Turkish ney flute, Orig score performed by
African percussion, Orig score performed by
Trumpet, Orig score performed by
Armenian doudouk, Orig score performed by
Addl percussion, Orig score performed by
Egyptian percussion, Orig score performed by
Senegalese voices, Orig score performed by
Percussion loop, Orig score performed by
Senegalese voices, Orig score performed by
Egyptian percussion, Orig score performed by
Guitars, Orig score performed by
Hammond organ, keyboards and addl voice, Orig scor
Violin/Viol, Orig score performed by
Persian kamanche, Orig score performed by
English choir boy, Orig score performed by
All other orig rec, drums, voice and keyboards by
Mus track engineered by
Folk mus research by
SOUND
Supv sd ed
Dial supv
Re-rec mixer
Foley supv
Foley ed
Foley ed
Foley ed
ADR ed
ADR ed
1st asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Foley artist
Foley rec eng
Sd mixer
Boom op
Cableman
Dolby consultant
Post prod facilities
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff supv
Spec eff tech
Spec eff driver
Opticals
Title des
Title des
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Make-up supv
Make-up artist
Make-up artist
Make-up artist
Make-up artist
Make-up asst
Hair supv
Hairstylist
Hair asst
Hair asst
Hair asst
Make-up driver
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Addl casting
Rome casting
London casting
Extra casting
Scr supv
Loc mgr
Loc mgr asst
Unit mgr transport
Prod accountant
Accountant
Cashier
Prod coord
Prod secy
Office secy
Asst to Ms. De Fina
Asst to Mr. Scorsese
Prod asst
Prod asst
Honey wagon attendant
Dailies adv
Travel by
Moroccan representative
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
Stuntman
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis (New York, 1960).
DETAILS
Release Date:
1988
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 12 August 1988
Production Date:
October--December 1987
Copyright Claimants:
Universal City Studios, Inc. Cineplex Odeon Films Canada, Inc.
Copyright Dates:
24 July 1989 24 July 1989
Copyright Numbers:
PA423043 PA423043
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Technicolor®
Lenses/Prints
Cameras, lenses and lighting equipment by Arri, Munich
Duration(in mins):
163
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
Canada, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
29344
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Jesus of Nazareth writhes on the ground in pain, and speaks of a “feeling” that he has been experiencing, and voices that have been speaking to him. Though Jesus has tried fasting and whipping himself, the pain and voices persist. At his home, Jesus, a carpenter, works on a cross, commissioned by the Romans for a public crucifixion. Judas bursts into Jesus' shop and chastises him, shouting, “You're a Jew killing Jews!" Jesus insists that he is struggling, but he is not sure with whom. Judas responds, “I struggle. You collaborate.” Angry, Judas leaves the shop and attacks several Roman soldiers. Later, Jesus carries the finished cross to the crucifixion of a criminal. His mother, Mary, follows, pleading with upset citizens who throw stones at her son. Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, spits on him. Jesus arrives at the crucifixion site and helps restrain the condemned man. At night, Jesus writhes in pain again, his mother at his side. She later confronts her son about his pain, asking whether God or Satan is the cause. Jesus cannot answer. While walking along the rocky shore of a river, Jesus endures another attack of pain, and repeats the name “Magdalene.” In town, Jesus senses "one of God's angels" and follows a man into Mary Magdalene's brothel. He waits until all clients have left the establishment, and asks Mary Magdalene for forgiveness. Indignant, she offers Jesus her body instead, but he refuses it. Mary Magdalene admits to feeling tenderness towards Jesus since childhood, and that he is all she ever wanted. Later, Jesus wanders and comes across a remote village. An elderly man recognizes him and invites him into his hut for ... +


Jesus of Nazareth writhes on the ground in pain, and speaks of a “feeling” that he has been experiencing, and voices that have been speaking to him. Though Jesus has tried fasting and whipping himself, the pain and voices persist. At his home, Jesus, a carpenter, works on a cross, commissioned by the Romans for a public crucifixion. Judas bursts into Jesus' shop and chastises him, shouting, “You're a Jew killing Jews!" Jesus insists that he is struggling, but he is not sure with whom. Judas responds, “I struggle. You collaborate.” Angry, Judas leaves the shop and attacks several Roman soldiers. Later, Jesus carries the finished cross to the crucifixion of a criminal. His mother, Mary, follows, pleading with upset citizens who throw stones at her son. Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, spits on him. Jesus arrives at the crucifixion site and helps restrain the condemned man. At night, Jesus writhes in pain again, his mother at his side. She later confronts her son about his pain, asking whether God or Satan is the cause. Jesus cannot answer. While walking along the rocky shore of a river, Jesus endures another attack of pain, and repeats the name “Magdalene.” In town, Jesus senses "one of God's angels" and follows a man into Mary Magdalene's brothel. He waits until all clients have left the establishment, and asks Mary Magdalene for forgiveness. Indignant, she offers Jesus her body instead, but he refuses it. Mary Magdalene admits to feeling tenderness towards Jesus since childhood, and that he is all she ever wanted. Later, Jesus wanders and comes across a remote village. An elderly man recognizes him and invites him into his hut for the night. The next day, Jesus discovers that the elderly man died the evening before, and that he had encountered the man’s spirit. Jesus speaks with Jeroboam, a member of the village, who believes that Jesus is blessed because God makes himself known to him. Jesus describes himself as a liar and a hypocrite. He laments the fact that his sexual repression makes him proud and that pride, in turn, hurts Mary Magdalene. Because he is controlled by fear, Jesus cannot rebel against the Romans. Jesus worries Lucifer is inside of him, telling him that he is God Himself. That night, Jesus wakes to find two cobras slithering near him. Jeroboam inspires Jesus to take inspiration from this vision, telling Jesus to “go back and speak to people and share your heart.” Jesus asks Jeroboam what he should say to people, and Jeroboam replies, “Just open your mouth.” Judas arrives in the village and claims that he has orders to kill Jesus but will not act on them. Jesus explains to Judas that he feels pity for everything, and that if Judas does not kill him, he will go forth and talk to people. Judas agrees to follow Jesus on his path, but threatens to kill him if he strays. In town, persecutors throw stones at Mary Magdalene. Jesus intervenes and asks the mob who among them has never sinned. Zebedee steps forth to claim that he is pure of soul, but Jesus calls out Zebedee’s many sins. Jesus speaks to the people and asks them to follow him on a path to "justice.” Though Mary Magdalene wants to join, Jesus instructs her to stay and tell others about him. Jesus gathers followers, and, away from town, they build a campsite for the evening. Judas and Jesus converse about their differing priorities: Judas wants freedom for Israel, first and foremost, while Jesus wants freedom for the soul. They make plans to visit John the Baptist to determine whether or not Jesus is the Messiah. Later, Jesus bites into an apple, then removes the seeds and throws them into nearby soil. He then has a vision of a fully-grown apple tree. The next day, Judas and Jesus find John the Baptist preaching to a group of followers by a river. Jesus convinces John to baptize him. That night, John instructs Jesus to go to the desert to speak to God. Jesus walks into the desert, where he draws a circle in the sand, refusing to leave until he sees a vision. That night, a cobra appears and speaks to Jesus, tempting him to experience physical love. Jesus resists. Ten days later, a lion appears, claiming to be Jesus' heart. The lion tempts Jesus to acquire political power, but Jesus refuses. Later, Satan appears in the form of a burning flame and suggests Jesus team up with him, so that they can rule the living and dead. An apple tree appears. Jesus bites into an apple and discovers the fruit is filled with blood. An ax appears, and Jesus uses it to chop down the tree. His mission complete, Jesus wanders out of the desert and stops at the home of Martha and Mary, two women he has never met before. He rests and is physically restored. Mary, the stranger, tells him that he should stop fasting and praying, and have children instead. Jesus learns from the women that John the Baptist was killed. At the campsite, his followers debate whether or not Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus invites his followers “to a war” in which he will baptize by fire. Jesus removes his heart from his chest, inspiring awe, and instructs his followers to give away their sheep and leave their families. In the next two days, Jesus travels around with his group, casting out devils and working cures. At Nathaniel’s wedding, Jesus turns water into wine. In town, Jesus invites the people of Nazareth to follow him to Jerusalem, but they reject him. As Jesus walks with Mary Magdalene and his followers, his mother appears, asking him to return to Nazareth, but Jesus acts as if he does not recognize her. Jesus visits the grave of Lazarus, who has been dead for three days. Jesus and his followers remove the burial stone. Jesus summons Lazarus in the name of God and raises him from the dead. Jesus and his group visit a temple, where Jesus observes money-changers taking profits from worshipers. With fiery anger, he destroys their operation, and fights with a rabbi who defends the system. Saul, a Jewish citizen, grabs Judas outside the temple, confronting him about the validity of Jesus as Messiah. Saul visits Lazarus to determine whether or not Jesus is fraudulent. Seeing Lazarus alive, Saul stabs him to cover the trace of the miracle. Later, Jesus reveals to Judas that Isaiah came to him last night with a written prophecy saying Jesus must willingly die. Jesus and his followers march back to the temple to fulfill the prophecy. Provoking descent, Jesus destroys merchants’ stands, then claims to all that he is the Messiah. Blood appears in the center of Jesus’ palms. Roman soldiers attack the Jews, but Jesus and Judas are able to escape. In a nearby cave, Jesus asks Judas to betray him to fulfill the prophecy. Upset, Judas reluctantly agrees. Jesus and the apostles gather for a last supper. There, Jesus passes around bread and tells his followers that it is his body. He passes around wine, saying that it is his blood. Later, Jesus prays, weeping and asking God if he really must die. Soon after, Judas arrives with the Romans. Pontius Pilate ridicules Jesus and condemns him to crucifixion. Roman soldiers mercilessly beat Jesus then force him to wear a crown of thorns. Jesus carries his cross through an angry crowd to Golgotha, the site designated for his crucifixion. Jesus prays for mercy from his mother and Mary Magdalene before he is nailed to the cross. Raised into position, Jesus suffers on the cross. Suddenly, he can no longer hear the crowd yelling, and a silence takes over. A young girl identifies herself as Jesus’ guardian angel and tempts him from the cross, claiming that he has proven his devotion to God. The guardian angel removes the crown of thorns, and the nails from Jesus' hands and feet. She claims the sacrifice was a dream, and that Jesus is not the Messiah. The guardian angel then leads him to a lush mountainside where Mary Magdalene approaches, dressed in a white gown. Jesus and Mary Magdalene marry. At home, Mary Magdalene washes the blood from his wounds. Jesus makes love to her, and they conceive. One night, Mary Magdalene mysteriously dies. The guardian angel tells Jesus that God killed her, but that there is “only one woman in the world…with many faces.” She tells Jesus that Lazarus’ sister, Mary, is “Magdalene with a different face.” The guardian angel takes Jesus to the home of Martha and Lazarus’ sister Mary, and Jesus recognizes them as the women who took care of him after his time in the desert. Jesus settles down with Martha and Mary, Lazarus’ sister, in a polygamous setting. Later in his life, the guardian angel asks Jesus if he is satisfied with her or has any complaints. Jesus admits that he is ashamed “of all the wrong ways [he has] looked for God.” Jesus sees Saul, who has changed his name to Paul, preaching about Jesus, the son of God who rose to heaven three days after his crucifixion. Jesus tells Paul he is a liar. Paul remains steadfast in his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, but Jesus claims he is only a man of flesh and blood. Paul tells Jesus that it does not matter, because people believe in him and that is good enough. Later, Jerusalem burns. At the twilight of his life, Jesus lies on his deathbed, comforted by the guardian angel and his two wives. Jesus’ former followers, Peter, Nathaniel, and John, arrive at his home. Behind them, Judas appears, angry that Jesus fled from the cross years ago. Judas reveals that the girl is actually Satan. Jesus crawls from his bed to the burning ruins of the city, begging God for forgiveness. He accepts that he is the Messiah and wants to complete the sacrifice. Jesus, no longer old, is returned to the cross. Overjoyed, he shouts, "It is accomplished,” and dies. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.