Oh, I’m sorry–did I hurt your feelings? Are they hurt because it’s Easter Sunday and I mentioned the words “sex” and “Jesus Christ” and “Mary Magdalene in the same sentence? Let me guess, you probably think that Christ was this Aryan-looking dude who was soft as a lamb and who did magical things like raise the dead and turn water into wine; who never EVER thought about sex–let alone have it.
Well, in Martin Scorsese’s 1988 adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ 1953 novel The LastTemptation of Christ, Christ does, in fact, have sex–with Magdalene. And he hallucinates, while dying on the cross, the life he might have led had he not been burdened with Messiah-hood. Everyone in the film looks filthy; Israel–shot on-location in Morocco–looks raw and barren; and all images are framed by Peter Gabriel’s brilliant electronic rock score.
It’s certainly nothing like the tacky Hollywood religious epics of the 1950s–garish liturgical postcards come to life–but more like Old Testament-lite, with a dash of Woodstock.
Interesting fact: Scorsese attended Divinity school and studied to be a Catholic priest, so he does know what he’s talking about.
Each Easter, I re-watch this masterpiece–one of Scorsese’s best–and I remember why I love it: It’s the first depiction of the Christ story that truly made sense to me. Here was Christ as a befuddled man of flesh and blood–conflicted, frustrated and allured by the same temptations that all men face.
Scorsese and Kazantzakis use Christ as a paradigm to examine man’s eternal spiritual conflict. And it works. The film is not based upon the scriptures, but rather rifts on them and dusts them off for modern audiences. I’ve learned more about Christianity from this film than anything the old Greek ladies back in Sunday school taught me.
When The Last Temptation of Christ was released, Scorsese received death threats, the Church condemned the film, fundamentalists boycotted–the whole nine yards.
During this year’s viewing, I couldn’t help but think of yoga. In fact, I had a yoga-piphany: I like to think that yoga belongs in temples and ashrams, not in gyms and fitness studios, but I realized that many modern practitioners may need modern influences to relate to this 5,000-year-old spiritual practice.
My Easter resolution: try not to emulate the fundamentalists who condemned Scorsese’s flick; be more open to contemporary interpretations of yoga.
When the dead hand of tradition rocks the cradle, the baby falls asleep. I fell asleep all those years ago in Sunday school and I needed a badass like Scorsese to churn things up. And while I don’t care to practice yoga with Rihanna playing in the background, scads of people clearly do. And maybe it’s a necessary touch for yoga to stay fresh and alive–to keep it relatable in modern times.
Namaste and Happy Easter. Enjoy your eggs and chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps.
Special thanks to Roger Ebert, another Christian, who hit the nail on the head in his 1988 and 2008 essays on the film.