Review: Last Days in the Desert
(M) Ewan McGregor, Ciaran Hinds, Tye Sheridan
Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness. But you probably already knew that. Even if you know very little about the guy who went on to do what is celebrated at Easter, you’ve surely heard about his 40-day wilderness expedition.
Have you ever wondered what Jesus was doing in the wilds, though? And wasn’t Satan out there as well, tempting him or something? Some details are revealed by Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-15 and Matthew 4:1-11 but, you know, what was that battle of wills actually like?
Out on DVD and Blu-ray in time for Easter 2017, Last Days in the Desert is an odd new movie that imagines a yarn about one of the most famous yet mysterious stages of Jesus’ life. Starring Ewan McGregor as Yeshua (Hebrew name for Jesus), Last Days in the Desert has the Son of God fasting and praying in the middle of Middle Eastern nowhere. Amazingly, while he’s out in the wilderness, he runs into a small family who are trying to live off the barren land. Yeshua gets involved with the strained relationship between the father (Ciaran Hinds) and his son (Tye Sheridan), as Satan lurks and tries to wind him up. Oh, I should have mentioned that Satan is also played by Ewan McGregor.
Jesus and the Devil played by the same actor! Whoa. That’s provocative. But Last Days in the Desert turns out to be not terribly controversial, even with writer-director Rodrigo Garcia concocting that Jesus/Satan double act. Hard to be controversial when the on-screen Jesus is clearly a fictional character, one that is barely based on any of the biblical records about him.
Garcia never aimed to make a “biblical” movie. As he told Christianity Today, Last Days in the Desert was based on what Garcia thought it might have been like to be Jesus in the wilderness.
“I think when you write — at least for me — every character is me,” Garcia admitted. “Whether they’re young or old, male or female, Jesus, demon, whatever they are, I can only see them in terms of what I know — or what I think I know — about what it feels like to be alive.”
Last Days in the Desert is a meandering drama with few words, thin plot and not much of a point. Part of the reason it’s a curious but empty journey is because Garcia ignores what the Bible reveals about Jesus.
If he had mined the gospels, for starters, he could have hit paydirt about Jesus the divine human. He could have drawn upon stacks of information and examples about the full person of Jesus, a bloke who really has more to offer than Garcia limits him to on-screen.
Instead, because Garcia has projected himself on to Jesus, he’s sold him short by only emphasising his human aspect. McGregor does a fine job of being a dusty holy man wandering the wilds but his character’s vague search for meaning and guidance from God could have been grafted on to any mortal being.
Last Days in the Desert doesn’t soar to heavenly heights, mainly due to it bringing down The One who was told by God BEFORE his wilderness trip that “You are My beloved Son, I take delight in You.” (Mark 1:11)