The Last Temptation of Christ
No doubt about it, The Last Temptation of Christ is a controversial film. But what interests me even more than the film is the controversy and especially the movie industry's defense. The media has had a field day depicting the protesters as bigots and fanatics, yet their tactics are no different from those of activist entertainers over other issues.
The most important issue is the truth. Defenders of Last Temptation accuse the protesters of censorship. But it isn't censorship to demand that a historical person be presented honestly and accurately. Jesus Christ is not a character in a play or a novel who can be reinterpreted at will. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, all these interpretations of Christ are unhistorical. The Bible says what is says and can't be changed or added to. These new interpretations come from suppression of some information, exaggeration of other information, and outright invention when all else fails. Christians are justifiably outraged when Jesus is misrepresented on the screen, and saying that controversial scenes are part of a dream sequence is a copout. Many of Last Temptation's defenders are liberal Democrats. Imagine how they would react to a film with dream sequences about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s alleged womanizing. Imagine how they would react to a film with dream sequences about John F. Kennedy's alleged affair with Marilyn Monroe, his alleged dealing with the Mafia, or his alleged plots to assassinate Castro. I believe Jesus Christ deserves at least the same respect as Martin Luther King, Jr. or John F. Kennedy.
Some defenders of Last Temptation say that boycotts and protests of the film threaten freedom of expression and are fascist. But boycotts and protests have long been the legitimate tools of labor unions and civil rights groups. Some liberals in Hollywood once advocated that the movie industry refuse to distribute films to segregated theaters to help the civil rights cause. If liberals can boycott (or is it "embargo"?) theaters, so can we. Also, no one accused the Black Hills Treaty Council of fascism for opposing the filming of the novel Hanta Yo which the council said misrepresented the American Indians. I can remember many liberals hailing it aa a great victory against prejudice when the producer Al Ruddy agreed to present a highly romanticized version of the Mafia (excuse me, "organized crime") in The Godfather. If it's right for Blacks, Jews, women, and even homosexuals to protest how they are portrayed in films, then it is right for Christians.
Some defenders of Last Temptation profess bewilderment or even alarm at the intensity of the protest. Yet I have seen many of these same people get very intense over causes they consider important, even sacred, be it civil rights or disarmament. Recently, some celebrities have lobbied and protested the colorization of classic black and white films. Interestingly, they use the same language and attitudes as Christian protesters. They accuse the colorizers of being motivated only by money and holding nothing sacred. They are not calmed by offers to make both color as well as black and white versions available so the people can make their own choice. They deplore the exploitation of something they consider sacred. I hope they realize that Jesus Christ is at least as sacred to us as a black and white version of The Maltese Falcon is to them.
We Christians are justifiably angry to see the Son of God being misrepresented on the screen. I urge everyone to go to the Gospels to see Jesus Christ as He truly is. I wish NIKOS KAZANTZAKIS and MARTIN SCORESESE had the same restraint and humility as PHILIP DUNNE, screenwriter of David and Bathsheba, The Robe, and Demetrius and the Gladiators. DUNNE refused to script The Greatest Story Ever Told, saying: "I simply didn't feel qualified toput words in the mouth of One Whom hundreds of millions devoutly believe to be their Savior."
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