Absolute Bowieginners: The Last Temptation Of Christ - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Absolute Bowieginners: The Last Temptation Of Christ

Christopher Morley is not the messiah...
After going back to the London of the Fifties, last time out, we can now turn our attention to a little religious study of sorts as we contemplate David Bowie taking on the mantle of Pontius Pilate in The Last Temptation Of Christ, Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of yet another novel - something of a recurring theme in consideration of David’s cinematic career - this one from the pen of Nikos Kazantzakis circa 1955.

Why, then, was the film so provocative as to draw a negative reaction from certain sections of the Christian faith? Well, for starters Jesus finds himself in the pickle of being tempted by at least one of the seven deadly sins - lust - while being fully aware of God having rather big plans for him. Not only that but his internal struggles with said spiritual conflict actually lead him to collaborate with the Romans to make sure Jewish rebels get a rather nasty date with the cross. Enough to get even the steeliest vicar hot under the dog collar.

Oh, and he’s had a relationship with Mary Magdalene - who in this version of events is a Jewish prostitute. Careful now, down with this sort of thing etc. She’s the one who inspires him to start down the path of becoming a preacher, and Judas Iscariot is presented here as a friend who has a change of heart & joins him in his ministry across Judea, having originally been sent to kill him for the crime of the aforementioned collaboration with the Romans.

Just to give any regular pew-takers further cause for concern, Christ is even shown briefly as being tempted by Satan after a solo trip into the desert as a test of the strength of his connection to his heavenly father.

Luckily the spirit of John the Baptist is on hand to act as a guide and help lead him away from a potentially violent path. Christ heads back to society, nursed to health by sisters Mary & Martha of Bethany - who’ll have cause to thank him after he raises their brother Lazarus from the dead as possibly the most impressive of his early miracles.

All this after he’s performed the party trick of taking out his own heart & holding it in his hand, a rather literal demonstration that he’s chosen to go down the road of love & matters of the spirit. Next stop, Jerusalem! And another step on the path to dying for the sins of mankind - driving the money lenders from the temple. It's what he does beforehand that seals his fate, though. Having stopped on the steps to wait for a sign from dear old dad up in the sky, he starts bleeding - stigmata. A sign, for sure - the one which confirms he’s got to sacrifice himself to save everyone else, nicely confirmed by Pontius Bowie telling him he has to shuffle off this mortal coil as he’s just too big a threat to the Roman Empire & it’s just bad form….

Ever the trooper, it's Jesus himself who’s persuaded Judas to hand him over to the chaps in togas - the latest inversion of the basic cornerstone of the faith, as according to the Bible Iscariot was persuaded to hand him over for a nice bit of silver.

What happens next doesn’t divert from the Good Book, at least. Christ does don the crown of thorns & get stuck up on the cross, but while he’s enjoying a rather static view, he has a chat with his guardian angel, her Earthly form being that of a young girl. And she’s got news for him. He is the son of God, his dad’s pleased with him but he’s not the Messiah. He’s hardly a naughty boy either, mind. Perhaps taking Mary & Martha’s earlier advice that the way to please the man upstairs is to maintain a home, marry & have a family, he makes an honest woman of the other Mary - Magdalene - after his guardian angel helps him down from his rather lofty perch. Before too long they’re expecting the grandson or daughter of God, but just when Jesus thinks he’s got it made Mrs Christ dies suddenly.

Well, it is based on the Bible, after all. Nothing comes easy even to the most faithful - as anyone who paid even a tiny bit of attention in Sunday school could probably tell you! But having an angel on your side does take the edge off a bit at least, and after a bit of TLC he picks himself up & takes not one but two new wives in the shape of Martha & her sister. Probably a bit greedy, but never mind.

As you might expect, or rather the two sisters do quite literally, the three of them have plenty of children in the process of living out their lives in peace. Something to do between sermons if nothing else. A little older & probably worn out from all that bedroom action, Jesus comes across Paul the Apostle preaching about him coming back from the dead & rising to heaven - as is also recorded in the Bible.

Just to put more strain on the already thin patience of paid-up members of the God Squad, presumably, Jesus himself attempts to contradict this by pointing out that last time he checked he wasn’t really all that dead, but Paul reckons it’s the story the world wants to hear regardless of the fact it’s a bit of a porky pie - and so tabloid journalism is born. The evil that men do under the Sun, & all that.

Now then, it just wouldn’t be Biblical without a deathbed revelation, even if you don’t make it past Genesis - one of whose members, St Peter Gabriel, supplies the music here. Having summoned his followers to said bed (not in the oo err missus sense, perish the thought & a few hail Marys) one of them’s got something to tell him.

Remember the angel who helped Jesus off the cross? That was the Devil all along! And to make it right, only one thing to do. Go back to where you were originally crucified then let it happen as intended. At least that’ll appease your old dad, who’ll reward you with safe passage up to heaven for resisting the titular last temptation of cheating death, getting married & having kids (we’ll ignore the fact that actually makes three temptations), you cheeky scamp….

Although Bowie's role as Pontius Pilate is a brief cameo - 3 and a bit minutes in a 163 minute film - historically it may be the most accurate portrayal of the governor of Judaea, Bowie's take a downtrodden approach, a man weary of and numb to his position. Scorsese had originally envisioned Sting for the part, but the Police frontman passed, making way for the one-time Thin White Duke. From his recollection, though, Scorsese wasn't disappointed by his second choice...
“I had the chance to work [with Bowie] on The Last Temptation of Christ, in which he appeared as Pontius Pilate, and for me it was sheer joy.
I was a little taken aback when we first met: he was such a quiet and concentrated and thoughtful man, and he was truly humble. He was a great artist and he left behind a remarkable body of work.”
Indeed he did, and next time we proceed into the city of David’s meeting of minds with a fellow David, Lynch, for Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me in yet another cameo.

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