The film basically puts the story of Jesus into scenes, with alterations. For one, Judas plays a primal role in his personal life, and turns out to be quite a character in the end. Jesus does perform his miracles, and go over his more known teachings and miracles. What makes the film interesting is the internal struggle that he has throughout the film, those struggles bordering the lines of controversy, to a point of screaming "Blasphemy!" onscreen. The film showed Jesus' weaknesses and doubts, that such a responsibility was placed on his shoulders. He has never failed to question God's presence until the end. The film showed the man behind the son of God, his humanity: his inability to fully accept and have faith in what he does.
*spoilers ahead* If you're quite familiar with Jesus' story: the beginning and the end might be the only parts that might pique your interest, because the moment he accepts his calling, the stories are similar to those in the Bible. I did find the second death of Lazarus interesting, because it showed a possibility of what happened to the person, and that there were people who were really willing to go through lengths to disprove Jesus and his miracles. There's also the scene in the temple of Jerusalem, where instead of starting to destroy the temple, Jesus began to bled through his palms. While this symbolized his needing to die on the cross for sins of mankind, the fact that he did not destroy the temple had people enraged and turned their backs on him.
Willem Dafoe would not have been my first choice for Jesus, but I thought that he did a good job embodying his character - the happiness, calm, peace and weaknesses. He was supported by Harvey Keitel, and Barbara Hershey, who gave a good performance. The film was really focused on Dafoe, and the story, hence it's mostly filled with contemplation and actions. If you're familiar with the biblical tales, it's the well-known teachings that are played out.
Scorsese presents the film in a manner that addresses the different aspects of the novel. I've never read it, but the themes were strongly present. It ended in a good, appeasing tone (the whole part was just a dream) - it wasn't vague or poetic, rather it was Jesus receiving his calling wholeheartedly. I haven't seen a Scorsese film that doesn't clock in long periods of time, though this one could use some brevity. *end spoilers*
I was actually expecting it to be a lot more controversial, but some of the issues raised seem to be taken out of context, in terms of the film. I cannot vouch for the source material - but while it did raise some issues, the film shouldn't really be taken into religious context, spiritually speaking. I do think that this could make an interesting discussion piece.
Final Word: Unless religious films are targeted to religious sectors, works like this would always get backlash. Should this have been made? I think Scorsese had his reasons and his points.
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Barbara Hershey
Director: Martin Scorsese