‘At the Movies’. Ilene Serlin. The San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal. Vol. 8. No. 3. 1989. pp. 67-76
The essay is about ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’, a film by Martin Scorsese, based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis. The author works as a psychologist in a treatment center for Catholic nuns and priests.
Arguments / Thesis statements
The essay begins with the argument that, accepting one’s fundamental humanity is the only way to attain healing from all sorts of psychological problems faced by people especially the spiritual leaders such as unresolved early family traumas, including abuse and terrible loneliness, co-dependency issues or depression, work holism, excessive need to help and please others, inability to feel o r express themselves, sexual splitting etc.
The further arguments in the essay includes, the confusions raised between the psychological and spiritual issues such as co-dependency being masked as altruism, inability to form relationships as celibacy and excessive idealization as piety creating unreachable images of Christ, self or others.
The essay is an attempt to discover parallels between Christ’s spiritual journey in the film and the stages of the therapeutic process with developing religious individuals.
The context of the film reminds us of a spiritual search expressed not calmly through study of text and logic, but bodily through action, emotion and movement.
Christianity during the transcendent confusions of the age of modernity and post-modernity, lost its earth, passion, and body to a great extent. It became more masculine and spiritual and lost the feminine and the soul.
One of the main purpose of Christ in this film is overcoming any duality between spiritual heaven and bodily earth.
The essay differentiates the behaviour of Western man, in contrast to the Eastern recognition, for example the notion ‘life is suffering’. Much of Western progress is geared towards trying to protect man from suffering, whereas Eastern traditions recognize suffering as the path of wisdom.
Emotions can be contained and transmuted and the cycle of action reaction, acting-out, can be broken if we shift from external to internal reality. The essay further points out the benefits of Confession, pointing out from St. Augustine to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
The eternal struggle between body and soul is a major split faced by Christ throughout the film and the novel. A thin line between sexuality as sacred and sexual as sinful is also suggested.
Mary Magdalene, as a figure, remains a necessary catalyst at each moment that Jesus is given an opportunity to sharpen his spiritual power. From the psychological point of view, Christ teaches about internalization. From a therapeutic move, to internalize means to withdraw one’s projections, blame, envy and power from others, and instead to confront these within one’s own soul. A literal separation from concrete body, personal history, and attachments is necessary for the spiritual development.