Released this week in August 1988, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ is, by its very design, a challenging work of art. It’s a film that engendered considerable controversy three decades ago and even now when people talk about it, there’s a tendency to apply conventional Western thinking and set up a false — or at least greatly oversimplified — dichotomy between the film’s detractors and its supporters.

It doesn’t really give a full or fair picture to have someone who self-identifies as non-religious defend the film as a grand artistic achievement while summing up the controversy with fiery old stories of picket lines that formed outside movie theaters and death threats Scorsese received. What gets dismissed there is the whole spectrum of moderate responses from a wide contingent of people who wouldn’t necessarily fall into one of two camps whereby you either love the film as a passionate cinephile or hate it as an overzealous fundamentalist.

Like Scorsese’s other, more recent religious film, the quietly devastating Silence, The Last Temptation of Christ is a movie that stirs profound ambivalence (going by the Google definition of “ambivalence” as “the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something.”) Over the years, my struggle with the film has been one of biblical proportions, like the Old Testament figure of Jacob wrestling the angel.

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The Last Temptation of Skywalker

(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films that inspired or help us better understand George Lucas’s iconic universe. In this edition: The Last Temptation of Christ.)

Roger Ebert famously called movies machines of empathy. He said that you can watch a film and walk in the shoes of another person and see what their plight was like and feel it for yourself. In some cases, with some audiences, that effect backfires and it’s a curious thing. Some audiences don’t want to feel those things or walk in the shoes of that particular character in that particular way. They don’t like how the character reacts to the situations before them because it’s not how they would react, or maybe they find them inconsistent with the character.

I think this is a phenomenon we’ve seen with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, thanks to its intriguing and complex treatment of Luke Skywalker. As I watch The Last Jedi and the strident backlash behind the character, I looked back into film history and found an example that I think is instructive to helping understand some of the rejections of the film. That film is Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.

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david bowie

This week we lost two great artists far too soon. On Sunday night, we were saddened by the loss of actor and musician David Bowie. Today, we heard about Alan Rickman‘s passing. The two men were beloved, and so far we’ve seen nothing but an outpouring of passionate responses to the legacies they leave behind.

Ahead you can read directors Martin Scorsese and Cameron Crowe remember David Bowie and the time they spent with him.

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remembering david bowie

It is 2004 and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars has just convinced a depressed, confused and impossibly lonely high school student to not take his own life. It is 2015 and “Heroes” blasts through the speakers as the same man, now older and happier and glad to be alive, joins the love of his life on the dance floor for their first dance as husband and wife.

The soundtrack to the decade between these two events in my life is defined by David Bowie, the most remarkable performer of the 20th century and an icon who cannot be summed with any kind of ease. He was a musician and an actor, an artist and an entertainer, a sinner and a saint, otherworldly but knowable. By listening to his music and watching him on screen, I couldn’t help but feel like I knew him. Like so many others, I felt I could see through his mystique and this alien, this seemingly mystical presence, was the friend I needed. I listened to him and couldn’t help but feel like he was listening back.

David Bowie has passed away at the age of 69, leaving behind a couple dozen incredible albums, enough amazing stories to fill a few thick books, and a surprising film career that was just as malleable and unpredictable as his discography. There’s no way of knowing how many lives he saved, but I can count at least one. The least I can do in return is pay tribute to his contributions to the world of film, of which there are more than you may realize.

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the last temptation of christ
Martin Scorsese‘s The Last Temptation of Christ is now available for free viewing on Hulu . While I don’t recommend that you watch the two hours and 43 minute movie on your computer, the option is now available to you. Scorsese’s account of the life of Jesus Christ is based on the controversial 1960 novel of the same name. The film departs from the commonly-accepted Biblical portrayal of Jesus’ life, and depicts him as a man who was still subject to every form of temptation that humans face. The movie was shot on a small budget of $7 million over the course of 58 days in Morocco. I have embedded the movie after the jump. Feel free to discuss the film in the comments below.
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