August 15, 1988 [The Last Temptation of Christ]

Sharon, matter-of-fact Catholic that she is, said that the only problem with The Last Temptation of Christ is that it says it's about Christ. Any other name, she insists, would have smelled sweeter.

I understand her point--I can even imagine the movie, a miracle-making, troubled Paracletian fire-starter who balks at martyrdom until he accepts himself and his fate--despite the errors that will be made in his memory, the politics of God smearing the words he'd written in blood on the cup he drank from.

And Mark says it works perfectly well as a metaphor for the life of an artist--Scorsese himself, most likely, a Promethean complaint stretched like wings drying in the desert sun, waiting to fly far from the pain of giving.

But when Willem Dafoe, calling himself "Jesus," is asked in the desert whether he loves humanity, he replies that he feels sorry for us--and is told that may be enough. And the temple split in two, and all that pleading, scowling search for justice fell in a sweeping wall of dust, and Dafoe took his heart out of his chest and held it out in mercy; and that is infinitely--literally infinitely--better than justice, which winds like a quick snake in and out of holes in the sand. Justice is a reward, mercy is a gift. Scorsese does not do justice to Jesus, but he shows more mercy than most have thought necessary, and gives him back to himself, the sorrow of the forsaken mingled with a kind of love I do not understand, but desire.


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