He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Who knows what went on out there? We have such scant details on one of the most provocative periods in Jesus’ life. Mark gives only one verse to describe this window of Jesus in the desert. I’ve meditated on Jesus alone and vulnerable in a barren land. Jesus in a place where no one wants him. No miracles, crowds or disciples in sight.
Two weeks ago I saw an advance preview of Last Days in the Desert, an engrossing film by director Rodrigo Garcia, that brought the desert to life. This is a film for those whose faith often drives them into the world of imagination. Those who are restless for what the Biblical texts don’t say and who hunger for the human Jesus as much as they long for the cosmic Christ.
Last Days in the Desert left me slack-jawed. The pace is slow and languid. No action figure drama here. The unfolding pace is one of the immediate attractions to the film. You start to intuit that identity and mission take time. This is just Jesus his humanity so naked, simple and beautiful. Jesus figuring out the next step. Battling the voices of doubt, fear, and desires, sure. But also determining how to be and act in the midst of God’s silence and human need.
Ewan McGregor (of Trainspotting fame) plays the roles of Jesus and Satan. Brilliant. Since Satan in this film reveals a certain understanding of how God works and a peculiar wishfulness for the Father’s affections. I use the word Father deliberately since much of the drama pivots on the interactions of a family of three Jesus meets in the desert. The dynamics of fathers and sons are central to the psyche of Jesus and to the suffering family Jesus befriends.
This is a rich portrayal of Jesus that will not find a home easily. Like The Last Temptation of Christ, this film demands to be taken as literature. If you are looking for a “Bible film” then this isn’t it. But if you want a film that draws you deeper into the mystery that is the God-Man, then this is pretty wonderful.
And if you’re wondering why I’m writing what seems to be a fan review, it’s because the distribution of the film itself is in doubt. While I saw it at a Chicago viewing, it will only be widely available if people get behind it. For those in Chicago, you have the good fortune to attend the opening Thursday, May 12 followed by an interview with the director/writer Rodrigo Garcia and Ewan McGregor.
The advance screening I attended was packed. I would imagine the May 12, 2016 event to be sold out as well. I suspect you will leave with the film staying in your mind the way it’s stayed in mind. Enjoy.