Last Days in the Desert

Posted on May 12, 2016 at 5:45 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images and brief partial nudity
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Disturbing images, sad death of a parent
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 13, 2016

Copyright 2-16 Different Drummer
Copyright 2016 Different Drummer
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that after he was baptized, Jesus entered the desert and spent 40 days fasting and praying. It was only when he left the desert that he was ready to take up his ministry. We do not know much of what went on, but two of the gospels say that during that time he was tempted by the devil.

Writer/director Rodrigo Garcia (“Nine Lives,” “Mother and Child”) wanted to explore that moment when the divine and the human sides of Jesus were both tested. With three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (“Gravity,” “The Revenant”) giving a burnished glow to the bleak and beautiful California desert, he tells the story of the last few days in the desert, as Jesus struggles with his destiny and spends time with a family with its own problems.

Ewan McGregor plays both Jesus (called Jeshua) and the devil. If God has made us in his image, then why wouldn’t the devil try to tempt us by having us see ourselves in him? But the real interaction here is with a family, a father (Irish actor Ciarán Hinds), a mother who is dying (Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer), and a son (Tye Sheridan) who live in an isolated hut. Like fathers throughout the millennia, this one thinks he knows what is best for his son, and it is doing what he has done. He is losing his wife and cannot bear to think of his son moving away. But like sons throughout the millennia, this one disagrees with his father. He wants to try life in the city. They cannot even talk to each other about it.

Don’t worry that this is going to be Jesus arriving like Dr. Phil or even Oprah to straighten everyone out. One of the wisest choices of the film is that Jesus, who will soon be performing miracles and instructing his followers is here in this place to listen and try to understand. There is no question of curing the mother or sitting the father and son down to try to negotiate or even get them to acknowledge the legitimacy and good intentions of each other’s positions. Jesus seems to understand that this is as close as he will ever get to what it is like to be in a family and he is there to listen, to observe, and to learn.

The quiet beauty of the film adds a meditative power, and McGregor’s performance reminds us how essential the human qualities of Jesus’ experience were in making possible the miracles that followed his time in the desert.

Parents should know that this film includes brief nudity and a sexual situation, sad death of a parent, some disturbing images, and spiritual struggles.

Family discussion: What did Jesus learn from the disagreement between the father and son? Why were Jesus and the devil played by the same actor?

If you like this, try: “The Gospel of John” and “Risen”

Related Tags:


Drama Epic/Historical Movies -- format Spiritual films
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