Last Days In The Desert (Sundance 2015)

5 Feb

Ewan Mcgregor plays the characters of Satan and Jesus in this Biblical adaptation of Matthew 4. If you recall from Sunday School, this is the part in the New Testament where Jesus fasted for 40 days and becomes tempted by Lucifer to use his godly powers to feed himself. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia, and shot by the Academy Award winning Emmanuel LubezkiLast Days In The Desert is a magnificent display of one man’s search for meaning and spiritual fulfillment. Unfortunately, the audience is left searching for meaning as well, as the plot of the film becomes so thinned out it is lost in the vivid details of the desert scenery, proving Last Days to be nothing more than an exercise in style over substance.

The film starts with Jesus wandering majestical desert scenery after a long prayer. “Father, where are you?” he asks, questioning his role in God’s mighty plan. After a few surreal encounters, our wanderer stumbles upon a small unnamed family who has just left Jerusalem in order to excavate nearby rocks. The family is lead by a patriarchal figure played by Ciaran Hinds, who dying wife (played by Ayelet Zurer) and questioning son (Tye Sheridan) come to Jesus in the middle of a crisis. Jesus decides to try and help this family, as a way to resolve his continuing annoyances from the Devil and reconcile with his Heavenly Father. Sheridan and Hinds’ characters are also in the midst of a father-son dilemma; the older wanting to stay secluded from society in the desert, and the younger wanting to go and learn a trade in the city.

There are few cinematographers working today who have quite the legacy of Lubezki (Google “best cinematography” and you will get at least three of his films on the first page), and his brilliant eye works wonders for the desert scenery. Long, empty, and distant shots of towering sand dunes are contrasted with busy close-ups of desert wildlife. With such few characters to work with, Lubezki is left with the daunting task of using nature to evoke emotional responses. We see a bloodthirsty pack of wolves, violent rivers, sinister insects, and jagged cliff sides.

While it does look grandiose and vivid, the content and story of Last Days In The Desert remain hollow and frustratingly empty. Though the film clocks in at 98 min, the extreme long shots and lack of dialogue make it feel more like 150. Garcia never gives the audience enough substance to chew on, and that could be perhaps the his biggest sin here.

Rating: 5/10 

Similar to: Wings of Desire (1987), Days of Heaven (1978), Clean Shaven (1993) 

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