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Banned in the U.S.A.

Friday, November 20, 1992
The Last Temptation of Christ
Martin Scorsese, USA, 1989

Again, pickets and boycotts: the furor from the religious right over Godard's 1985 Hail Mary was nothing compared to that provoked by Scorsese's mini-epic about the King of Kings. Based on the Kazantzakis novel, The Last Temptation of Christ is not so much a reappraisal of Christ's martyrdom as it is a fleshing-out of the possibilities of his spiritual journey. In Scorsese's film, Christ is a troubled and unlikely savior. Willem Dafoe's earthy portrayal of Christ has him wrestling-body and soul-with the fearsome burden of divinity. In the most disputed sequence of the film, an agonized, gruesomely crucified Christ succumbs to a tormented hallucination in which he weds Mary Magdalene and sires her children. This arresting vignette crystallizes the profundity of the last temptation: Christ's sacrifice is made meaningful in his renunciation of human desire. The Last Temptation of Christ was met by vehement attacks focused on the film's alleged blasphemy-condemnations voiced by religious leaders, many of whom had never seen the film.

• Written by Paul Schrader, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. Photographed by Michael Ballhaus. With Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey, Harry Dean Stanton, David Bowie. (163 mins, Color, 35mm, From Kino International)