The Last Temptation of Christ
Based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis and directed by Martin Scorsese, Jesus works making crosses for the Romans, but he turns to God and preaches and heals and challenges people until he is crucified.
Jesus (Willem Dafoe) lies on the ground under a tree and feels discomfort. While working as a carpenter he thinks about his fasting. Judas (Harvey Keitel) is at the door, and Jesus asks him who he is and why he is following him. Judas asks Jesus if he is ready. Judas does not want him to build any more crosses. He says he is the only one the Romans can get to make crosses to kill Jews. He calls Jesus a coward. Jesus says it is his life. Judas holds the head of Jesus and makes him look at him. When Jesus says he will still build the cross, Judas slaps him. He says he struggles, but Jesus collaborates. Judas walks out.
Judas kills a Roman soldier in a revolt. Jesus puts on a torture-belt and carries a cross bar on his shoulders for the Romans while Jews criticize him. Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey) walks up to him and spits in his face. A Jewish rebel is chained and dragged. Jesus puts the bar down and connects it to the other board. He nails a sign saying “Sedition” on to the cross while the Roman soldier explains why the man was condemned to die. Jesus ties the arms of the young Jew to the cross with ropes. Then he hammers spikes into his wrists.
Jesus is writhing on the ground. He thinks he makes crosses so that he God will hate him. Mary (Verna Bloom) tells her son Jesus that the devil can be cast out, but Jesus asks what if it is God.
Jesus walks by a lake and looks around as if someone is following him. He falls down on the ground and writhes thinking of Magdalene.
Jesus walks into a town and sees a woman with painted breasts. He thanks God for bringing him where he did not want to go. He follows a young man as if he were an angel to guide him. They go in a building and sit on the floor. He sees Mary Magdalene having sex with an African. He sees a woman cooking with snails on her arm. He closes his eyes. After sunset he is still there, and he walks toward Magdalene who asks who is out there. She sees Jesus who asks her to forgive him. He says he has done many bad things, and he is going into the desert. She says it is not that easy, and she asks him not to ask her. He says God can change this. She says she hates both of them, and he tells her to blame him. He wants her forgiveness and will pay his debt. She says pay or go away, and she turns away. He asks Mary if she remembers, and she says no. She says if he wants to save her soul, this is where it is. She uncovers her body and says she hates him. She tells him to save her body and puts his hand on her. He starts to leave, and she asks if he is a man. She tells him not to look at her, and she gets dressed. She says he breaks her heart. She remembers when they were children. She only wanted him then and nothing else. She asks him to stay and promises she will not touch him.
Jesus walks in the desert and sees a few huts. An aged master (Roberts Blossom) beckons him and welcomes him to a hut. Jesus asks if they always pray that late at night. The old man says it is a funeral for the master of the monastery who died. Jesus asks if he should pray with him, and the old man tells him to sleep. Jesus lies down.
Jesus and other men look at the body of the old man, and Jesus is told he died last night. They carry the body to a grave, and a man says his work is completed. They commend his remains to God.
On a mountain a young man says that God recognized Jesus for something. He says he is blessed because God makes himself known to him. He does not hear God and is not sure he feels him. Jesus says God wants to push him off the cliff. The young man says we all sin. Jesus says he is a liar and a hypocrite. He desires women; but he does not take them, and that makes him proud. He wants to rebel against God, but he is afraid. The young man says the more devils we have inside, the more we have to repent. Jesus says that Lucifer is inside him and tells him he is not the son of King David. He says he is not a man but the son of man and the son of God and even God. Jesus asks the young man if he wants to ask him anything else.
In a hut Jesus wakes up and sees a cobra come out of a hole in the ground. He hears a female voice saying he is forgiven. Jesus tells the snake to leave him. The young man tells Jesus that God blessed him. He tells Jesus that he is to leave and speak to people. Jesus asks what he should say. The young man asks him if he loves mankind.
At night Jesus comes out of the hut, and Judas tells him he has orders to kill him. Jesus tells him to do it because he won’t fight God anymore. Jesus says that Judas wants what he wants. Judas asks him to help him understand God. He asks if there is a secret and asks him to tell him. Jesus says he feels pity for everything, even ants. He says everything is part of God. Judas asks if he is afraid to die. Jesus asks why he should because death is an opening. Judas asks what he is going to do, and Jesus says he is going to speak to people. Jesus says maybe God did not send him there to kill him but to follow him.
Judas walks with Jesus but warns him if he strays from the path, he will kill him.
They come to a village and see men stoning Mary Magdalene. Jesus stands by her, and they argue with him. He says he does not want this. A man says she went with Romans on the Sabbath and broke Moses’ law and must die. Jesus picks up two stones and asks them if any of them has never sinned. He tells that person to come there and throw these. Zebedee (Irvin Kershner) comes forward and takes a stone and is about to throw it; but Jesus tells him God saw him with that widow. He drops the stone. Jesus leans down and helps Mary stand up and walk with him away from the men who follow them. Jesus thinks about God’s miracles and wonders what will happen if he says the wrong thing or the right thing. He calls them to come closer so they can hear and says he has something to tell them. They all sit on the ground. One says he came from Nazareth, and no prophet comes out of there. Jesus tells them a story of a farmer who had seed that fell on the ground, and birds ate it; some fell on rocks and dried up; but some fell on rich soil and grew into wheat that fed an entire nation. He asks if they can hear him. He says he is the farmer. A man asks what the seed is, and Jesus says it is love. He tells them to love one another. A man says people are starving. Jesus says God used to jump on him, but one morning he came to him like a cool breeze and told him to stand up. He asks if they are hungering for justice. He says whoever hungers for justice will be blessed. They will have the real value of love. He says God will comfort them. He describes the merciful and peacemakers who will be blessed because heaven is theirs. He says those who laugh now will cry later. The rich will be poor forever. They shout at him, and some run away. He says he said love. Zebedee tells his sons they have to work, but John (Michael Been) and James (John Lurie) say they are staying. Magdalene asks Jesus to let her come with him too to help. He tells her to stay there and talk to people. He takes off her sandal and wipes off her foot.
By a lake fisherman return with their catch. Peter (Victor Argo) speaks to James and Andrew, and they look at Jesus.
Jesus walks with a few men, and their numbers increase.
At night Peter and others try to lie down near the fire to keep warm. Judas sits by Jesus and says they are good men but are weak. He asks him where he found them. Judas says he kills people who are bad or do the wrong thing. He says he told him to turn the other cheek, and he won’t do that. Jesus says they both want the same thing. Jesus says he wants freedom for the soul. Judas says they have to free the body first. Jesus says if you do not change the spirit first, then nothing will change. Judas asks how you change, and Jesus says with love. Judas says he decided to wait before killing Jesus because he thought he might be the one. Jesus asks how he can be the Messiah when he wanted to kill the people who were stoning Magdalene. Judas tells him to go see John the Baptist in Judea. Jesus asks Judas to stay with him. They sleep next to each other. Jesus wakes and starts to eat an apple. He sees an apple tree.
People are singing and seem to be in a trance. Many are naked as they stand in the river. They hear John the Baptist (Andre Gregory) preaching. Judas tells Jesus he sounds like a Messiah. Judas tells Jesus to let John see him. Jesus realizes he has seen him before in a dream dressed in white. The Baptist turns around and asks Jesus who he is. Jesus asks if he recognizes him. He asks what Isaiah said, and John says he said to prepare the way of the Lord. John asks if that is him. He asks Jesus why he is there. Jesus says he came to be baptized, and he takes off his robe. John baptizes him and then embraces him.
At night John the Baptist tells Jesus that love is not enough. He says the tree is rotten and must be cut down. Jesus says he is a heart and can only love. John says that God demands anger. He says the day of the Lord is there. God gave him the ax, and he gives it to Jesus. He asks Jesus who he will listen to, and Jesus says he will listen to God. John says then he has to go to the desert. They embrace, and John warns him to be careful.
Jesus walks alone in the desert. He makes a circle on the ground with a rock and says he will not leave that circle. He asks God to show him his path. If he wants him to stay there and die, he will do that too. He sits in the center of the circle and meditates. When it gets dark, he sees a cobra. He hears a voice, and they converse. Jesus says the devil is there to trick him. He is asked why he is trying to save the world. He should save himself. He is offered breasts and being in bed together. Jesus cries.
Ten days later Jesus realizes that he is no longer hungry. He sees a lion who congratulates him. Jesus asks who he is. The lion says it is his heart which is greedy. The voice calls him a liar. He says he can have whatever power he wants. Jesus challenges him, and the lion disappears.
A flame wakes up Jesus, and he is asked to remember when he was a little boy. A voice tells him that he is a god. He is asked to join this spirit and rule the living and the dead. He says they can be strong together. Jesus calls it Satan, and the flame disappears. He sees a tree and picks an apple and takes a bite but spits it out. The flame says they will see each other again. Jesus picks up an ax. John the Baptist appears and tells him not to be afraid. He is the one and tells him to take the message to anyone. Jesus uses the ax to chop at the apple tree.
Jesus walks from the desert to a house where two women are working. He says he is a foreigner and that he is tired. Later he is given more wine. Jesus thanks Mary and Martha for taking him in. He is asked if he has a wife, and he says no. He says he will never have a home. Mary tells him that God wants him to make children, not fast and pray. Martha reprimands Mary and reminds her of the Baptist. They talk about how the King had his head cut off.
At night men discuss whether they will kill everyone who has been baptized. They wonder if they should wait for Jesus there or go back to Galilee. A man quotes the last words of the Baptist to Jesus to come out of the desert and return to mankind. He asks them what if Jesus is the one. They discuss whether Jesus could be the Messiah. Judas stands up and says they are waiting there, and Peter agrees with him. Suddenly they see Jesus, and Peter asks him about the Baptist. Jesus says he baptizes with fire. Judas asks if that is what the Baptist told him. Jesus says he is inviting them to a war. He pulls a heart out of his chest and tells them that God is inside us. The devil is outside us. He says they will fight the devil wherever he is—in the sick, the rich, and even in the temple. He tells them to leave their families. He holds up an ax and says he believes in it. He asks who is with him, and Judas comes forward.
In the day Jesus predicts that he will cast out devils, and on the third day he will be perfected. Jesus touches strange people to heal them. Judas holds him. Jesus uses his spit and a powder to heal a blind man. Jesus tells him to go to the temple. Judas tells how he made a blind man see.
Jesus, Judas, and Magdalene go to a feast, but a man says she does not belong there. Jesus explains that heaven is like a wedding to which everyone is invited. The man says that is against the law. At the wedding Jesus and his disciples are eating. A man asks Jesus for wine, and Jesus tells him the water has become wine and go look. The man finds that it is wine. Jesus dances with others.
Jesus sees men coming out of a synagogue and speaks to them that God sent him to bring them the news that God is here now. A man asks him to do miracles. Jesus says the Messiah does not need miracles. He is there to tear down everything around them and replace it with the new. He warns them that rot will eat away their hearts. He says there will be a new ark, and he will decide who goes in and out. A man says he is insane, and another throws a rock that hits him. Judas and Peter hold Jesus back as he shouts at them. He says Jerusalem is falling.
Jesus walks and says the poor and the crippled need his help. He says they are going to build a new Jerusalem. His mother Mary comes to him and asks him to come back. He denies that she is his mother. He says he has no family but his father in heaven. He asks who she is really and kisses her forehead. Then he turns and walks away. She cries, and a young woman comforts her.
Two women kneel before Jesus, and he asks when he was buried. He is told two days ago. He tells them to roll away the large stone. Jesus goes to the cave opening and puts out his hands. He calls Lazarus in the name of the prophets and in the name of God. Jesus kneels and prays. Suddenly he sees an outstretched arm. Jesus takes the dirty hand, holds it, and pulls Lazarus out of the tomb. Lazarus removes the cloth from his face and embraces Jesus.
Jesus leads his disciples into Jerusalem, and they see people doing business with money. He sees a Roman statue, and blood flows in a gutter. Jesus asks a man how the exchange is today and if he is making a good profit. Jesus picks up his box and throws it against the wall. He overturns their tables and frees birds. He throws coins into the air. Jesus says his father’s house is a place of worship, not a market. A priest asks him what he is doing. He says they cannot pay the temple with foreign coins, and they must be exchanged for shekels. Jesus says he is the new law, and the priest says he is chaos. Jesus says he is God, and the rabbi calls it blasphemy. Jesus says he is the saint of blasphemy. He did not come to bring peace but a sword. He predicts the temple will be torn down. He says they are not special because God is not an Israelite. He and his disciples leave the temple. People ask him to help them, but he says God won’t cure them. Saul (Harry Dean Stanton) takes Judas aside and asks why he did not kill Jesus. Judas asks if he heard what Jesus said. Saul calls Lazarus and asks him how he feels. Lazarus says he likes the light. Saul asks what it was like and which is better, life or death. Lazarus says they are not really different. Saul offers his hand, and Lazarus takes it. Then Saul stabs him with his knife and walks away with two men.
At night Judas says they killed Lazarus because he was proof of a miracle. Jesus asks Judas if he wants to go back to their revolution. Jesus says that Judas is the strongest of his disciples. Jesus asks if he knows why he came to Jerusalem, and Judas says because that is where the revolution is going to be. Jesus says he dreamed of Isaiah and quotes his prophecy. Judas does not understand. Jesus says he is the one who is going to die. Judas says then he is not the Messiah. He asks what good that would do. He says they need him alive. Jesus says he has been followed all his life. He has to die willingly on the cross. He says he has to go back to the temple. Judas does not believe him.
Jesus leads people back to Jerusalem, and his disciples discuss what they will do. One says he will do anything but be crucified because it is so terrible. Peter asks Jesus for them if angels will meet them. Jesus puts his arm around Peter as they walk.
As they come into Jerusalem, Judas shouts, “King of the Jews!” People hold up palm branches, and Jesus rides on a colt. He gets off and walks toward the temple knocking down the things people are selling. He prays and asks God to let him die there while he has the strength. He shouts that God is already there, and he is going to baptize everyone with fire. People shout, and temple guards appear with weapons. Peter tells them to follow him. Judas tells Jesus to give his signal now. Peter and others urge him and say otherwise they will die. Jesus sees that his hands are bleeding, and he tells Judas to stay with him. Judas puts his arm around Jesus and leads him back away from the temple. The two go alone into an alley, and Jesus sits down. Jesus tells him that he has to die on the cross. He says they are bringing God and man together, and it cannot happen unless he dies. He reminds Judas that he said he would kill him if he moves one step from the revolution. He says God will do it through Judas. Jesus says he will die, but after three days he will come back in victory. Judas asks if Jesus could betray his master, and Jesus says no. He says God gave him the easier job. Judas cries and asks about the others. Jesus says he will tell them tonight.
That night Jews are celebrating the Passover. In a room Jesus and his disciples share a meal. Jesus takes the bread and passes it among them as his body. He pours wine into a bowl and says it is his blood. He drinks and tells them to do this to remember him. They pass the bowl and drink from it. Peter sees it is blood. Judas stands up and goes out. Jesus says he wants to tell them something.
Later that night Jesus tells his disciples to wait in the garden, and he goes aside and prays. He admits he does not know which world is more beautiful. He picks up dirt and says together they are going to die. He says he never asked God to choose him. He says he opened the Red Sea for Moses and helped others, but he is asking him to be crucified. He cries and asks if he has to die. He asks if there is another way. He asks God to take the cup away. He looks up, and one disciple drinks from a bowl and hands it to Jesus who asks for strength and drinks from it. The other disciples are asleep, and Jesus asks if they could not stay awake. Judas arrives with Roman soldiers and kisses Jesus and hugs him. A disciple uses a sword and is arrested. Jesus says if you live by this, you die by this. Jesus tells Judas to take him with him because he is ready.
In his palace Pilate asks Jesus if he is the king of the Jews, and Jesus assents. Pilate asks if he can do miracles and if they are good or bad magic. He asks for a demonstration or a trick. Jesus says he is not a magician. Pilate says he must be another Jewish politician. He says he is more dangerous than the Zealots. Pilate orders him to say something. He asks what he told people on the streets, and Jesus tells him what Daniel taught about how a new kingdom will replace Rome. Jesus says his kingdom is not on Earth. Pilate sits next to him and says he wants to change the way people think and feel. Jesus says people will change by love. Pilate says they don’t want things changed, and he tells him what will happen to him on the place where there are thousands of skulls.
Naked Jesus is being beaten by Roman soldiers, and he is whipped on his back. A crown of thorns is put on his head. He is shown to people who have gathered. A man tells Peter that he knows him, but he denies that he is a follower and runs away.
Jesus is carrying the cross bar on his shoulders through the streets.
On the mountain of crosses people are waiting. Jesus is followed by Roman soldiers, and the cross bar is taken from him. His robe is removed. He sees his mother and feels sorry for being a bad son. The soldiers lay him on the cross and tie ropes around his arms. Nails are pounded through his wrists into the cross bar.
The cross is erected in a hole in the ground and made secure. He sees a crucified man on his left and on his right. The three Marys are watching him. Jesus prays to God that the people liking his death are forgiven. He cries out to his father and asks why he has forsaken him. He looks up at a cloud and no longer hears anything. He sees a child on the ground below him, and the child is his guardian angel who came down to help him. The angel tells him that God has tested him and is happy with him. He is to die in a dream and will be allowed to live his life. The angel removes the crown of thorns and pulls out the nail from his feet and the nails from his hands, kissing them. The angel leads him down the hill, and he asks if he does not have to be sacrificed. He asks if he is not the Messiah, and the angel says he is not. He asks about his disciples, and the angel says they ran away. The angel takes him to see a view of the land. They see a wedding ceremony, and he asks who is getting married. The angel says he is getting married. Mary Magdalene comes to Jesus, and he asks her why she is crying. She says she is thanking God for bringing him to her. She hugs him.
In a stone cottage Mary washes the blood off of his body with white cloths. He closes his eyes, and she kisses him. He makes love to her, and she says they could have a child. The angel is sitting nearby.
Mary is pregnant. The wind blows open the door, and she gets up and closes it. She sees a light and smiles.
Jesus weeps and cries over Mary who is lying down. He gets up, and the angel asks where he is going. He leaves the cottage with an ax, and the angel says that God killed her. He chops the ground in agony and falls on the ground. The angel comforts him, but he says it wasn’t right for God to take her. The angel says he cannot complain that God let her die. The angel says there is only one woman in the world with many faces. The angel says that Mary, the sister of Lazarus, is still alive. The angel leads him and tells him this is how the savior comes. Martha tells Mary to look, and she speaks to Jesus and sees he is real. Jesus invites the angel to come in. The angel apologizes for Magdalene and says Jesus will always be protected. Mary invites Jesus in, and he sits by her and embraces her.
Children play, and Jesus works as a carpenter. The angel asks if he has any complaints. He says no and says he is ashamed of the mistakes he made and the wrong ways he looked for God.
Jesus is sleeping in the day time, and a woman says that Mary will not be back until later. She says it is too hot out there. The angel tells him there is only one woman in the world. He stands up.
Jesus is carrying a child and is with his family. He hears a man preaching, puts the child down, and says he will be back later. On a pedestal Saul is preaching about how he persecuted those who broke the law of Moses. He thought he was doing God’s will. He says the high priest sent him to scourge Damascus, but on the road he was blinded by a light and heard a voice that asked him why he was persecuting Jesus. Saul says he made him see. He opened his eyes and was baptized as Paul. He says that Jesus was the son of God, and his mother Mary was a virgin. He says he was punished for their sins. He was tortured, crucified, and died, but three days later he rose up to heaven. He says he conquered death, and all our sins were forgiven. The world of God is now open to everyone. Jesus asks Paul if he ever saw Jesus after he was crucified. Paul says he heard him and that his disciples saw him. Jesus says he is a liar. Paul goes after him, and Jesus says who he is. He says he lives like a man now. He is enjoying his life for the first time. He warns him not to tell lies about him, or he will tell them what happened to him. Paul says he is making people unhappy. People need to believe that Jesus was resurrected. Jesus says he will tell everyone the truth. Paul asks who will believe him. He says people will kill him. He says people need God and Jesus Christ, the son of God, the Messiah, not him. Paul says he is glad he met him, and he says his Jesus is more powerful than he is. Paul walks away, and Jesus goes back to his family. He tells them to never leave him because he is happy.
Jesus is older and talks with the angel. He remembers when Mary planted the vines. The angel says they have to move on. He has done well. They hear screaming, and women say they are killing everyone and that Jerusalem is on fire.
Jesus lies on a bed near two women and the angel. Aged Peter comes in, and Jesus opens his eyes. Jesus asks what happened to him, and Peter says he got old. Jesus says he was the best shepherd because he had no sheep. Peter says he missed him. Jesus sees John who says they cut his face. He says they destroyed the temple as he predicted. Jesus sees Judas and invites him to come in. He says he missed him. John says he was fighting in Jerusalem. Judas calls Jesus a traitor and says his place was on the cross. He says he got scared and ran away. He says they did what they were supposed to do, but he didn’t. Peter tells Judas to have respect. Jesus says he does not understand. Judas says he broke his heart. He had the world in his hands. He asks him to remember how he begged him to betray him. Jesus tells him not to be afraid. Judas asks what he is doing there with women and children. He says what is good for man is not good for God. Peter notes that his wounds in his hands and feet are bleeding. Judas says now there is no more Israel. Jesus says God sent a guardian angel to save him. Judas mentions Satan, and the fire appears. Judas tells him to die like a man; there is no sacrifice and no salvation. Jesus writhes on the floor and hears the voice of Satan who tells him to die and finish his life. Jesus crawls up steps.
Jesus climbs a hill and asks his father to listen to him. He asks if he is still there. He asks him to listen to a selfish son. He says he did not want to be his son. He asks him to forgive him because he did not fight hard enough. He wants to bring salvation and asks God to take him back. He says he wants to be crucified and rise again.
Jesus is suffering on the cross. He smiles and says it is accomplished. He hears sounds and sees light.
This spiritual drama presents an alternative vision of how Jesus lived before his mission and why he did what he did. While on the cross he experiences in a long fantasy the aspects of living that he missed because of his spiritual quest. The rebellious attitudes of the Jews to the Roman occupiers are depicted, and Jesus has to face many temptations, some of which are presented symbolically.