Sundance Review: Last Days In The Desert Is Bad Bible Fan Fiction
Title: Last Days In The Desert
Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Screenwriter: Rodrigo Garcia
Principal Cast: Ewan McGregor, Tye Sheridan, Ciarán Hinds, and Ayelet Zurer
Summary: Ewan McGregor is Jesus—and the Devil—in an imagined chapter from his 40 days of fasting and praying in the desert. On his way out of the wilderness, Jesus struggles with the Devil over the fate of a family in crisis, setting himself up for a dramatic test.
There is this trope that happens in independent movies that the best way to get critical acclaim is to have a single actor in one location talking to themselves. There is also this growing faction where people are starting to play with bible stories to try and drum up buzz for their movies. I saw the summary for Last Days In The Desert and had a feeling it was going to be one worth checking out. I had a feeling this could be one everyone was going to be talking about.
Last Days In The Desert is basically alternate universe fan fiction only with the bible, and it doesn’t take advantage of the dual roles played by Ewan McGregor.
There are several ways that this movie completely drops the ball in ways that are impossible to ignore. There is the uncomfortable realization as soon as the secondary cast comes in that we have a very blatant whitewashing. There are a lot of people who fail to remember that Jesus was originally from the middle east. The pictures that we’re all so common with are from the renaissance era of art which is where the white, brown eyed, strangely Italian looking Jesus that we’re all so familiar with. The rest of the cast at least looks ethnic so McGregor seems to stand out. It’s very distracting and takes away from the rest of the movie.
The second major problem is the way it is set up. When I read the description of the movie and I heard that we had dual roles, I thought they would do something similar to the way that Gollum and Sméagol were filmed during the Lord of the Rings trilogy, i.e. that they would have McGregor having conversations with himself and using only different camera angles to tell the difference between the two. The only physical differences between Gollum and Sméagol are facial expressions while Jesus and the Devil aren’t nearly so interesting. They decided to just green screen a second McGregor in more jewelry and I was quite let down by this. It seems like such a lazy way to go about having a dual role. There are so many movies that have done this before where the different camera angles thing is much more engaging, though I suppose it would make Jesus look more like a schizophrenic than a prophet.
The story is basically bible fan fiction. These are all new characters with a father, mother and son and the father and son are having trouble communicating with each other. I have no problem with fan fiction, people have been adapting the bible for their own since the beginning of the film industry. However, these characters don’t mean anything to us because the filmmakers can’t really add someone new to the story of the bible so we know everyone is either going to die or just vanish in the end so there isn’t any investment. You have to care about characters to make any form of tension work. There were also a bunch of strange moments of nudity that didn’t need to be there for any reason. The Devil appears to Jesus in the guise of the wife nude and it means nothing because this temptation never happened because we know it didn’t.
Last Days In The Desert was one of the bigger disappointments for me at Sundance 2015. There was a lot of potential with McGregor working at the two roles, but the movie goes with the laziest execution of this idea. The extremely obvious parallels between the two stories sucks all of the tension out of the story because we know how one ends so we know how the other ends. It makes the ninety-eight minute runtime drag on forever and solidifies it as a movie not really worth your time.