“And Lead Us Not Into Temptation”
Father Antony Gabriel
I wish I had heeded these words and not fallen pray to all the media hype regarding Martin Sorcese’ latest travesty “The Last Temptation of Christ” based on Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel. Primarily, I wanted to see the film since I use this author and book in the class I teach at McGill University and was interested in the director’s interpretation.
How many news articles, television and radio talk shows carried this film as its main topic, God only knows. I was visiting New York State, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. during the middle of August and it seemed that this film dominated the media competing only with the Republican National Convention. And the protests. When I finally decided: “okay, let’s see what this is all about,” I took a couple of friends and went while visiting Washington, D.C.
What did I see? Protestors and police. Police were even taking our tickets! I mused to myself that “crime must be down in Washington, D.C….” I later learned from my wife who saw the film here in Montreal, the police were given the same awesome responsibilities. What incongruity. A film on Christ and we need police protection. And from whom? Demonstrators: Evangelical Christians! It is really laughable.
I believed it then as I do now — this was all staged, concocted hype to boost ticket sales. How many people would spend the money for a religious movie? I dare say a very few. Someone, somewhere got the motion of media manipulation regarding this film and they were off and running because I am sure all the clamoring only served to raise the interest level for those who wanted to see what all the noise was about.
My initial reaction was here we had a grade B movie —low cost by Hollywood standards — based on a novel written some years ago by a “rebellious” Greek who fell out of communion of the Orthodox Church because of his religious and political views.
Sorcese captured in part a sense of Kazantzakis novel, regarding the last temptation of Christ but he certainly missed the opportunity to do justice to the philosophy of this author on his interpretation of Christ’s teachings. Any artistic work is an incarnation of the soul of the artist and The Last Temptation reflects the inner struggle of Kazantzakis in the person of Christ. Secondly, in view of the novel, Christ knew who He was. The battle that was being waged in His soul was the burden of responsibility as to who He was! Sorcese missed the essential point of Kazantzakis literary fantasy as do the clamoring crowds.
What angered me was the low quality of the film and the unmanly characterization of Christ — certainly not true to Kazantzakis portrayal in his novel where one senses a real battle in the soul that is truly heroic.
Christians and Jewish relations are supposed to be shaken by this film. The faith of millions of Christians is reportedly dashed by the portrayal of a human Christ. I hope that people are smarter than that. It is a bad film which has too many weaknesses as to almost insult ones intelligence. I’ll give you one example. During several scenes in the film beginning with the opening, we heard chanting to Middle Eastern music. Do you know that throughout they were chanting in Arabic, the Muslim call to prayer. And some five centuries before the advent of Islam!
I think its quality speaks for itself — “Much Ado About Nothing…” This is a film based on a novel not the Gospel.
Finally to return to the novel itself, the author in the Prologue states:
The dual substance of Christ — the yearning, so human, so superhuman, of man to attain God or, more exactly, to return to God and identify himself with him — has always been a deep inscrutable mystery to me. This nostalgia for God, at once so mysterious and so real, has opened for me large wounds and also large flowering springs.
If we are to be able to follow Him, we must have a profound knowledge of his conflict, we must relive his anguish: his victory over the blossoming snares of the earth, his sacrifice of great and small joys of men and his ascent from sacrifice to sacrifice, exploit to exploit, to martyrdom’s summit the Cross.
This book was written because I wanted to offer a supreme model to the man who struggles; I wanted to show him that he must not fear pain, temptation and death —because all three can be conquered. Christ suffered pain, and since then, the pain has been sanctified. Temptation fought until the very last moment to lead him astray, and temptation was defeated. Christ died on the Cross, and at that instant death was vanquished forever.”