Not only that, but Pollock also secured half of the $6. 5 million budget. The next thing that they all had to agree on was the budget itself. Scorsese understood that this was not going to be a popular film in high demand and therefore had to compromise by keeping the budget to a minimum (Dougan 83). Once these major issues had been addressed, preproduction resumed once again. It was then 1987 and the country was still in the midst of the more conservative Reagan administration.
The fanatics had a field day and began to protest a product that they had yet to see and probably would not ever see.
Because Scorsese had anticipated this type of reaction, he was prepared to spend a decent amount of time with the press explaining his purpose for creating this film and maintaining his right as an American citizen to his own creative expression (Connelly 127). Marie Katheryn Connelly expresses in her book on Scorsese, “Although Scorsese’s efforts to make The Last Temptation of Christ were sincere, the result is a flawed work.
Ironically, all the study, decision making, and personal meaning invested in the making of this film alienated viewers. …
They often distance rather than enhance the viewer’s spiritual experience” (128). Steven D. Greydanus states that the sheer imagery throughout the film is not only overwhelming but overpowering, diminishing the context and dramatic purpose. Greydanus refers to Roger Ebert’s review of Spike Lee’s Bamboozled in which he criticized the film’s use of actors in blackface makeup, even when the actors themselves are black.
Ebert, just like Greydanus, had a problem with the sheer image, maintaining that even though the blackface makeup was intended as a critique of racism, the image itself overwhelmed the context.
Although Rev. William Fore, the head of communications for the National Council of Churches, said that “it’s a shame that some Christians appear to be so unsure of their faith that they can’t stand the thought of people seeing something different” (Harmetz). In other words, why is everyone so shaken up over one person’s imaginative suggestion of Christ’s struggle between spirit and flesh? Universal Studios even defended its picture by saying that what the protesters were claiming was inaccurate and exaggerated and that people have the right to choose for themselves whether or not they want to see the film.
In a direct public defense through advertisements, Universal printed a letter sent to Campus Crusade for Christ Director Bill Bright, who offered $10 million for all existing copies of the film (with full intention of destroying all of it). The letter pretty much stated that Bill Bright was out of his mind and totally un-American by even trying to censor what the public has the right to decipher for themselves (Gorney). Even Rev. Fore laments at the attempt of real censorship within the Christian church (Anderson). The question then becomes, was producing and releasing this film the smartest move on the part of Universal?
If they expect to get their money back, they have to be sure that people will go see the films that they release. Therefore, why would they release a film about the Savior of the Christian Church and make a mockery of him? Even Tom Pollock admits that it would be imprudent to make an irreverent and heretical movie because “Christians are a natural constituency of the film. ” In fact, Universal even went so far as to hire a Christian movie marketer, Tim Penland, to make sure that the Christian backlash would not be as hostile as they predicted.
Penland agreed to market their film to the Christian community with the understanding that there would not be any sex scenes and that he has to approve of the final version of the film. Not only that, Scorsese was supposed to screen the film for a number of Christian groups for their reactions and feedback and make the appropriate changes in the film (Farah). About three months later as the film came closer to its release, very few of the qualifiers that Tim Penland had set were held up by Scorsese and Universal. Therefore, Penland resigned his position and then led a campaign of ministers in protest of the film.
The protest encouraged Christians across the nation to boycott any business owned by MCA if the film was released (Harmetz). This sparked protests all over the nation led by many different ministers in all different types of denominations. This was one area that most of the denominations seemed to agree, that Christ should not be depicted in this manner. One example included a sixty-one person signed ad in an issue of Hollywood Reporter in protest of the film as well as a press conference held in Universal City made up of ministers who opposed the film. Dr.
James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family ministry called for a boycott on his radio broadcast that airs on 1200 stations across the United States (Wood). The most impressive protest was the gathering of 25,000 people the day before the release of the film in Universal City completely surrounding the corporate offices of Universal Pictures. They carried signs and sang hymns; some individuals spoke to the crowd on a speaker system. Although no incidents were reported to the police and no violence came from the passionate demonstration against Universal Pictures and The Last Temptation of Christ (Medved 26).
However, Medved goes on to say that the press misconstrued the main points of the protests. The press seemed to focus on some of the more negative forms of protest including the actions of Rev. R. L. Hymers, who was disowned by every major denomination in the Christian Church including his own Baptist denomination. Meanwhile, the more passive resistance led by some of the more respected church leaders throughout the United States were virtually ignored. Not only that, but Medved goes on to say that the press also misconstrued the main points of the protests.
Sure they were against the sex scene between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but they were also against a listed twenty other elements within the film that are sheer lies (29). The largest and most crucial objection to the film is one that when understood correctly, the objection to the film as a whole seems much clearer. Christian belief agrees that Jesus was both human and divine, a sort of dual nature; however, Christ did not share human fallenness and fallibility. So as Genesis states, man was made in the image of God, yet man fell from God’s presence when Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree.
Therefore, Christ had to come and live a perfect life and then be crucified for our sins. Christ was in the presence of God throughout his life here on earth because he was perfect, incapable of sinning. Our true “Hell” is separation from God for eternity; Christ, at the point of crucifixion, was separated from God (sent to Hell) and defeated Hell’s eternal grasp to rise again. He did not have to die on the cross because he did not deserve it; however, he did so anyway and has passed his grace upon us so that we can live with him for eternity (Greydanus).
Scorsese, and Kazantzakis, were naturally exploring in an area of Christianity that is very difficult to understand. The true nature of Christ’s humanity is one that hardly makes sense when there is so much evil in the world. Even Greydanus states that “there is nothing objectionable about trying to evoke or express in art the humanity of Christ. A work of art, a film or novel or painting, that evokes truth of Christ’s humanity is a good and noble thing, even if it doesn’t directly address the subject of his divinity.
” Jesus was “capable of suffering weakness, loneliness, fear, exhaustion; of becoming exasperated with his disciples, or of having a good time at a wedding party,” which was clearly and effectively depicted throughout Scorsese’s film. However, Christ was incapable of sinning or experiencing burning, passionate desire and lust toward anyone or anything; and he was definitely not capable of suffering doubts about his divinity (Greydanus). With these facts in mind, what should the studio have done?
What should Scorsese have done? How should the Christian community have responded? First of all, the studio does not necessarily need all the facts to determine whether or not to make a film. The studio heads probably had no idea of knowing how the Christian community was going to react because they honestly believed that Scorsese was a knowledgeable Christian who had hoped at one time to enter seminary and become a priest. However, the Christian community barely recognizes Scorsese as a Christian.
Just because someone grows up in a particular background, does not mean they have a firm grip on the dynamics of the doctrines they claim to believe. Scorsese considers himself a very religious man, yet he actually doubts his true religious ties. In other words, he considers himself a Catholic because of his ancestral background, yet he does not agree on all the principles of Catholicism. Was there anything that Scorsese could have done differently? That is an interesting question. According to his beliefs at the time, the answer was no.
What about the rest of the Christian community? Most of the ministers throughout the Christian Church were very quick to condemn anything that would show Christ in a negative light. Specifically, they despised the fact that Christ was not depicted as they felt he should and therefore might lead people in the wrong direction of what truly happens in the Bible. Other Christian leaders were not so quick to judge. In fact a few of the ministers tried extracting positive points of the film and focusing on those areas.
Rev. Fore states that Scorsese touches on a very real doctrinal question, which is whether Jesus being the Messiah depends on an act of will or not. Rev. Fore does not necessarily agree with the side that Scorsese chose, but he does not condemn the film because that is the way Scorsese understood the concept at the time. Rev. Fore later noted that the other ministers’ objections, especially by those who had not seen the film, only brought more attention to the film and the studio (Anderson).
Ted Baehr, editor of Christian-based Movie Guide, even stated that people should wait until they had a chance to see the film before making a conclusion to help ward of prejudice where none might exist (Farah). Even several Greek and Easter Orthodox priests said that they would not make a final decision until they had a chance to see the movie (Harmetz). In short, the Christian community could have done a better job of being more like Christ and not so quick to judge, regardless of how despicable they may have felt about the film in the long run.
Overall, Scorsese’s attempt at reproducing a highly controversial book and his continued pushing of the envelope was quite successful in creating The Last Temptation of Christ. His motives for creating such a film were his own and his right to do so was valid. However, in every aspect of life there are lines that can be drawn and there are times when people can inadvertently cross those lines while trying to ride them as close as possible. This was Scorsese’s moment of stepping a bit too far. This was Scorsese’s moment that set him apart from any other filmmaker.