By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
While “The Last Days of the Desert” might not be one of the worst of the “Jesus” film genre, it would definitely be a short walk to the bottom from where it stands.
For those unfamiliar, before his crucifixion, it is said Jesus fasted in the desert for forty days, during which Satan challenged and tempted him. “Last Days” creates an imagined chapter from those days, in which Jesus (played by Ewan McGregor) comes across a family of three in turmoil. Staying with them for the night, the devil (also played by Ewan) makes a deal: if Jesus can create a scenario where each of them get what they want and are happy, then he will allow Jesus to carry on his trip unperturbed by his influence.
It doesn’t really work out.
This sounds like a great idea for a film: having Jesus caught in the most human situation imaginable as he soon faces his own mortality. It’s a shame that idea landed with these filmmakers. The word ‘pretentious’ gets thrown around a lot, but here is where it is truly valid: a film that pretends to play with deep ideas and concepts but any cursory glance reveals to be hollow and shallow.
McGregor does a fine job as both Jesus and Lucifer, playing off himself well. His vision of Jesus is similar to Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah,” a man struggling to interpret the words of mysterious, unresponsive God. Lucifer is allowed to be more of taunter and tormentor than an all-powerful super-villain, bitter than God has forsaken him (they also play with the notion that he can see alternate versions of people’s lives, which is interesting). McGregor’s Lucifer also questions whether Jesus’ interest in the family is actually just to delay what he knows is waiting for him at the end of his trip.
But that’s just what the actor brings to the role through his performance. Mostly, we just watch the two bicker on about God’s intentions and morality, with very little of it building toward anything important or tying into the main story. In fact, the family ultimately adds nothing to this film. What do they show us about Jesus? What do we learn? Nothing. It feels like a filler episode in a TV series, but there are not ten more shows to give this little sliver more meaning. By the end of it, we are in the exact same place we left off.
But tell the director that, because he seems to think he has an insightful commentary on his hands. He forces in dreams sequences, symbolic hummingbirds and long conversations about whether God has a face. We also get “sweeping” desert vistas, courtesy of Emmanuel Lubezki. Given he is coming off three Oscars, his mediocre and uninspired work here feels like his career sprinting into a brick wall.
There’s also a 4-minute pause for fart joke. Really. And the final shot is so obnoxious, so utterly stupid, it transitioned me for being simply bored to offended that the director has the gall to take on a topic as epic and interesting as the life of Jesus.
Regardless of your faith, this film is utter tripe. It has nothing interesting to add to say about the life of the man or the religious prophet. It couldn’t be bothered to be an interesting story. At 90 minutes, it feels like a slow drag. Just don’t bother.