Continuing our series on screen portrayals of Pilate that I began in 2011 during Holy Week. The posts on portrayals of Pilate by Rod Steiger, Richard Boone, Barry Dennen, Hristov Shopov, Telly Savalas, Frank Thring, Stephen Russell, Greg Hicks, Cyril Richard, Stephen Moyer, Dennis King, Brian Mitchell, Leif Erickson and Peter Firth may be viewed here, here, here, here here , here, here, here, here , here , here, here, here and here.
Perhaps the oddest portrayal of Pilate is by David Bowie, who passed away recently, in the enormously controversial film, The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), which was based on the 1957 novel of the same name by Greek novelist Nikos Kazantzakis. I have a hard time being offended by either the novel or the film because Kazantzakis’ take on Christ is so bizarre, and so contrary to the historical record, that it occurred to me that the novel was not really about Christ, but a totally fictional construct by Kazantzakis in which only the name of Jesus remains the same. The scene at the top of the post where “Pilate” interrogates “Christ” (Willem Dafoe), is typical: the dialogue is completely made up and is conducted listlessly by both “Pilate” and “Christ”, rather as if they were participants in a college bull session that had gone on too late into the wee hours of the morning. One expects one of them to say, “We better turn in, or we will never get up for class.”
I actually found the interaction interesting between the two fictional characters, but it bears zero relationship to the historical Pilate and the historical Christ. The Last Temptation of Christ, due to its completely fictional nature, fails even as blasphemy.