"The Last Temptation of Christ" caused an ecclesiastical flap on its release in 1988. Director Martin Scorsese's biblical epic was considered blasphemous in its attempt to portray the Son of God as a mere mortal. And not to mention the moment where Jesus (William Dafoe) fantasises about making love to the prostitute Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey). The furore that surrounded those few frames diverted attention from the bigger picture, a powerful film that has stood the test of time.
Adapted from Nikos Kazantzakis novel, Scorsese presents a Christ who is torn between his divine destiny and human consciousness. On the cross, he fantasises about how his life might have been if he wasn't the saviour of man. The controversial 20-minute sequence depicts him as husband, father, and even adulterer - if only implied.
The familiar Gospel stories are retold with a fresh perspective. Jesus the carpenter is a troubled soul who makes the crosses on which delinquent Jews are hung; Judas (Harvey Keitel) is depicted as a man of principles rather than a traitor and the miracles are at times underplayed.
Dafoe's Jesus as a heroic revolutionary is convincing, although as Jesus the enlightened he doesn't quite hit the mark. Michael Ballhaus's breathtaking cinematography recreates the arid climate of biblical times, while Peter Gabriel's score dispenses with choral hallelujahs for more percussive rhythms.
Blasphemous? No. This thought-provoking film remains a key work by Scorsese, a courageous and imaginative take on one of the greatest stories ever told.