Talking to your father is like talking to a rock!
Now I am going to start this off by stating that I am not religious. I do not follow any faith and whilst I believe that there probably was a person called Jesus at around this time 2000 years ago, I don’t believe that he was a son of a theoretical deity, and that he was simply a man that was so far ahead of his time that the only explanation that people could come up with is that he was divinely touched. That’s my opinion.
The reason I mention this is that I have no idea if the story of Jesus’s interacting with a family in the desert is in the Bible or not, I have no interest in really finding out and the only reason I mention this is that if anyone is overly religious reads this, nothing I say is designed to offend you, so please don’t take my beliefs or review of a film as an attempt at causing upset.
But anyway, regardless of religious beliefs, I am not put off at all from watching films featuring religious characters if the story is decent enough, and the trailer for “Last Days in the Desert” got me intrigued enough to watch the film, and so I sit here in anticipation of not being entirely sure what type of film I’m about to watch.
Yeshua (McGregor – just for clarity, the character is only ever referred to by this name, and not Jesus) is making his way to Jerusalem after a lengthy fast in the desert. Despite being hungry, Yeshua is otherwise fine physically, but he is haunted by visions of the Devil (also McGregor), who goads him along the way about his poor relationship with his father. After a few days Yeshua meets a young man (Sheridan) and agrees with his father (Hinds) to work in exchange for water and shelter. They are building a house for the young man, simply known as “Son”, whilst also caring for “Mother” (Zurer).
“Son” reveals that whilst he is happy to help build the house, he doesn’t want to stay there as he wants to see the world, but his father is adamant that he should stay and build a community with his parents. The devil eventually reveals to Yeshua that “Son” is the result of an affair that “Mother” had, unbeknowst to “Father”.
As time goes on Yeshua becomes friends with the family, but his becomes morally conflicted when “Son” starts to become more active in his desire to leave, which eventually causes an accidental tragedy.
Is it a religious film?
Whilst the story obviously revolves around a religious figure, I wouldn’t really class this as a religious movie as it’s about one man’s moral conundrum and dealing with an evil presence. Take away the character’s name and this could have just been a very normal, generally enjoyable drama film.
All of that being said, this has to have had one of the most needless and pointless endings that I’ve ever seen in a film. The final shot, which I’m going to spoil, even though it isn’t really a spoiler, is of two men overlooking the desert that the film has been set in, and taking pictures of each other. It takes you completely out of the preceding 90odd minutes of your life, and there isn’t a single justifiable reason for ending a film that was otherwise very well done in such a manner.
However, that is the only major negative that I can think of for “Last Days in the Desert”. It’s not a blockbuster style film, but it’s rather the type that I love, a character driven piece. There are only five characters in the film (well, ones that have any lines or aren’t taking pictures of themselves), but you get to know these five characters relatively well, and for me the most interesting one was that of the Devil. The reason for that is that whilst he is trying to antagonise Yeshua, he reveals his weariness with everything and how eternity has become boring in it’s predictable nature. This presented an interesting side to a character that I thought I was easily going to be able to predict.
He was one of many parts that surprised me about the film, not least of which is that it isn’t overly preachy, if preachy at all. You’ve got Jeshua and the Devil occasionally referencing God, but other than that there isn’t a lot of religious stuff going on, hence the comment earlier about even though the central character is a religious icon, you don’t feel like it’s a film driven by religion.
Acting wise everyone is pretty solid, everyone is very competent and you believe all of the characters because of the respective performances, even if there is one bizarre scene in which “Son” farts and Jeshua starts laughing, which was strange beyond belief. McGregor’s role as the Devil is pretty interesting given it’s the antithesis of the other character he’s playing, and the two look exactly the same in terms of style and clothing, so it’s an interesting method of portraying two very different characters, but McGregor nails it.
The pacing is excellent for the film that it’s trying to be, and the soundtrack aids in this. Don’t get into the movie expecting 100mph action, suspense or thrills. It is a very slow film, so much to the point where there are long spells in which nothing is being said or done by anyone.
A film featuring religious characters that isn’t overly religious is a breath of fresh air, and whilst the film is very slow in parts, I found myself enjoying it for the near 100 minute run time. I think that you can enjoy this regardless of whether you’re religious or not, and I get the feeling that it has a relatively low IMDB rating because the Christian community didn’t get the exact story that they wanted.
It’s not perfect by any stretch, and I still for the life of me can’t figure out why they included a shot of people taking pictures right at the end, but it’s not the first time I’ve seen such a stupid decision in a film.
I would recommend “Last Days in the Desert” if you’re into character driven films, but if you don’t then don’t bother as you’ll end up very disappointed.