Wednesday, April 13, 2005

I watched The Last Temptation of Christ this afternoon, so that's two long films about Jesus I've watched in the last year. Not bad for an agnostic/atheist huh? But I much prefer this to The Passion of the Christ any day of the eternity. The main reason why Scorsese's film succeeds where Gibson's overrated epic flops is that whatever it is Mel drags through the streets and nails up on the hill it isn't human. It's an artifact, it's the son of God. And it's not human, so I don't care. It brings salvation? It can stick it up it's arse.

But the Jesus of Last Temptation is human, resolutely so. He's an epileptic Roman collaborator as the film opens and almost every step of the way needs the support of his friends and followers, most obviously Judas. When they travel to see John the Baptist, it's Judas that encourages him to approach John, it's Judas that controls the other disciples when their faith in Jesus wavers. And it's Judas that Jesus loves and trusts enough to ask the ultimate sacrifice of, the betrayal. And at the end, when Jesus has lost to the devil, it's Judas that rouses him to ask God for another chance. This makes a much more meaningful story to me, where humankind reaches salvation through conscious effort, not as mere spectators to a heavenly conjuring trick.

The Jesus of Last Temptation, it seems to me, is a human being who becomes divine, not a divine being sent down to instruct us. The latter has, to me, nothing of value to impart, I might as well seek instruction on how to be a human from a cow or a dog. The Jesus of Last Temptation would make me believe, if I were a Christian, that salvation is both possible and something to strive for, the message The Passion is that it is not something humans can attain, so there is no point attempting to reach it.

Which is not to say Last Temptation is absolutely perfect. It's a little bit too long, though it only really drags in the last half hour. And why does Mary Magdalene die if the devil allows Jesus to have a happy life with the other Mary? Is it because Magdalene was too closely associated with his life as the Messiah? In which case why lead him to her from the cross anyway? Then there's the question that since Jesus effectively fails the final test by allowing the Devil to take him from the cross, why does God allow him to return to it at the end and complete his task? Is it perhaps that this devil is the helper of God, and goes to all that effort to show Jesus why the cup cannot pass to another? It's a confused bit of mythology that doesn't really get explained in the stampede for the end credits, I think the best thing is to rationalise it as a Jacobs Ladder experience for the Son of Man to accept his part in God's plan.

And it has David Bowie in it too! In probably his second most important role after Jareth the Goblin King, as Pontius Pilate! Hot piss!

So, why do Christians want to believe their savior is inhuman? Why do they howl with outrage at the idea that his faith may waver? I just don't understand...


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