Last Days in the Desert set about 2000 years ago, Yeshua (the Hebrew name for ‘Jesus’) is a holy man wandering about in the wilderness waiting for God’s guidance. Played by Ewan McGregor, Yeshua meets a father (Ciaran Hinds) and his son (Tye Sheridan), who are trying to make a living off the barren land. As Yeshua becomes involved in their family issues, he also has to contend with the regular taunting and tempting of Satan (also played by McGregor).
RATED: Last Days in the Desert is rated M for mature themes and nudity.
AUDIENCE: Although the subject matter makes Last Days in the Desert sound like it is for fans of Jesus or the New Testament, having the same actor play Jesus and Satan on-screen will turn off plenty of Christian viewers. So this unusual drama is mainly for lovers of independent American cinema.
WHAT’S GOOD: Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia has done something bold and notable by daring to make a movie about what Jesus was doing during the famous 40 days he spent in the wilderness. The gospel records in the New Testament about Jesus’s life only provide a small amount of information about what happened (see Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-15 and Matthew 4:1-11). Given it was a time when Jesus faced off against the Devil himself, no wonder it caused Garcia’s imagination to fire up. I’m surprised someone else hasn’t tried to make a movie about this incredible 40-day period in human history.
WHAT’S NOT: As controversial as Last Days in the Deserts seems to be, what it turns out to be is an interesting but dull journey into not very much. Garcia never set out to make a faithful biblical adaptation and the way he paints Jesus as an aimless holy man desperate to hear from God doesn’t match what the Bible reveals. As a result, Garcia pretty much ignores the divine aspect of Jesus and, instead, projects his own human flaws, failings and questions on to his on-screen character of Jesus. Rather than seek to stir up controversy, Garcia’s decision to have McGregor play both Jesus and Satan seems to be an attempt to represent how all humans can be both good and bad. But while the Jesus/Satan double act isn’t anywhere near as offensive as you might fear, it’s also not as stirring or debate-worthy as it might have been.
SPIRITUALLY SPEAKING: Despite its lack of meaning or impact, Last Days in the Desert does do one thing very well – raise stacks of issues and thoughts about Jesus. Who was this man who was in a wilderness area for 40 days, being confronted by Satan? What difference does it make that he was human but that he also was God in human form? While Garcia would have made a better movie if he had used the Bible’s details and teachings about who Jesus was and what he was about, Last Days in the Desert still should cause viewers to investigate more about this incredible man of God.
RELEASE DATE: Out now on Blu-ray and DVD