Although Theologically and Culturally Inaccurate ‘Last Days in the Desert’ is Well Made Christian Fiction

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Ewan McGregor The Last Days in the Desert

Ewan McGregor is Christ and Satan in ‘Last Days in the Desert’

I have always been skeptical when religious fiction is often transformed from genre to theology. Christian Fiction has had some severe implications on theology dating back to Dante Alighieri’s The Devine Comedy during the Avignon Papacy all the way to The Left Behind Series by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye beginning in the mid-1990s, especially where various denominations decide to accept these artistic interpretations as doctrine.

When the Last Days in the Desert was offered to me for review, my skepticism arose yet again as to how theologically accurate it would be, how much detail would be given to the cultural and historical aspects of the region and could they do justice to a Holy Book canonized in the fourth century who only took into consideration books that had been in use since the Apostolic Age.

Writer/Director Rodrigo García, has been able to tap into the post-modern interpretations of Christendom that will find its audiences with high church Vatican II Catholics and low church Evangelical Protestants; as throughout the last two millennia Christians have often wondered what other temptations did Christ face beyond these 11 passages within the Gospel According to St. Mark 4:1-11(NKJV):

1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’
and,
‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”
8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”
11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

García was able to take these 11 passages, stretching them out into 98 minutes of what if Jesus wasn’t alone, but met a family in the wilderness that struggled with illness, the will of the father, the growing independence of the son and all the while still facing those temptations from the devil.

Ewan McGregor plays both Jesus and Satan in a subtle display of all beings are created in God’s image. Jesus makes his way into the family’s life searching for water before heading to Jerusalem in order to begin his ministry.

The Boy (Tye Sheridan) obliges Jesus, who offers to work for the water by helping the family build the home on the edge of the cliff. As Jesus fills his water skin, he notices the Mother (Ayelet Zurer) is dying inside the tent and for his help with the house, the Father (Ciarán Hinds) offers him shelter. Jesus gets to know the family, the desires of the son to move to Jerusalem in order to make his own way, the father who cannot relate to his son and the mother’s dying wish for both to be happy with their lives.

What makes for a beautiful film that was extremely well acted can be overshadowed with some post-modern behaviors for those of us with a religious studies background. The tattoos on the Mother’s hands would indicate that they are Kenites, as that was the tradition of Zipporah’s people in Midian. For those unfamiliar with Zipporah, she was Moses’ second wife after he discovered he was a Hebrew and was exiled to the desert.

Another major issue was the use of cremation. In traditional Judaism, cremation is forbidden as it was a practice of the pagans and would not occur by anyone who had a monotheistic faith during antiquity. First indicated in Genesis 3:19 that humanity will return to the ground and reiterated in Deuteronomy 21:23 anything else will deny the mitzvah that it entails.

However, the biggest issue for me, was negating the historical and cultural significance of the separation of men and women during the first century. Jesus was allowed to sleep in the tent that was divided by a sheet, next to the dying mother. The imagery indicates that hospitality is essential to Middle Eastern culture, but no man would let another man, clergy included, share a tent with his wife as he and his son slept outside in the elements.

In the Gospel According to St. John 2:2 where Jesus address the Virgin Mary as “Woman,” it was unheard of to acknowledge a female, including your own mother, in public, let alone granting her a title. To call her “Woman” was essentially calling her the mother of humanity ie the new Eve; so for Jesus to sit in mixed company would have been a bigger deal than depicted in the film, just as it was described in the Holy Bible, but to sleep in the same tent would have been unheard of and he would have never accepted the offer, especially during a fasting period, which he makes clear to his hosts.

Speaking of the fasting period, in high church Christianity, you are not supposed to discuss fasting, even Jesus told his followers in the Gospel According to St. Matthew 6:17-18, to fast in secret and not appear to be fasting to others. The idea of humble bragging is considered sinful in Christianity.

Last Days in the Desert is Christian Fiction and should not be taken as a theological foundation, but unlike The Last Temptation of Christ, this film is not intended to offend but question both the faithful and nonbelievers. If any form of discourse comes from this film, then the filmmakers have met their objective. It is beautifully shot, extremely well acted and definitely worth your money.

Last Days in the Desert opens on May 13, 2016.

Editor’s Note: For a more in depth review on the film itself click: ‘Last Days in the Desert’ is Artfully Composed and Thematically Redundant on May 11th.

Last Days in the Desert
  • Review Score
3.7

The Verdict

Last Days in the Desert is Christian Fiction and should not be taken as a theological foundation, but unlike The Last Temptation of Christ, this film is not intended to offend but question both the faithful and nonbelievers. If any form of discourse comes from this film, then the filmmakers have met their objective. It is beautifully shot, extremely well acted and definitely worth your money.

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