- Actors: Ewan McGregor, Tye Sheridan, Ciaran Hindis, Ayelet Zurer
- Director: Rodrigo Garcia
- Disc Format: Color, Dubbed, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
- Language: English
- Subtitles: English, Spanish
- Dubbed: Spanish
- Region: Region 1
- Number of discs: 1
- Rated: PG-13
- Studio: Broadgreen
- DVD Release Date: August 2, 2016
- Run Time: 98 minutes
As a meditation on the delicate relationship between father and son, Last Days in the Desert is an obvious addition to filmmaker Rodrigo Garcia’s body of work. Having made a TV film about this dynamic, a feature focusing on the similarly significant connection between mother and daughter, and several other narratives which investigate relationships rather than plot development, there is far more than religious consideration to make this a fitting addition to Garcia’s filmography. Fans of this skillfully poetic filmmaker are likely to be pleased with the way that Garcia utilizes the biblical narrative to construct a fictional film containing his signature style and familiar themes. Those who enjoy the typical transparency and clumsy evangelism of most faith-based filmmaking, however, may be disappointed by the liberties taken with the adaptation of a brief biblical passage and a certain level of ambiguity which forces audiences to ruminate on meaning for themselves.
Filling in the gaps from the biblical text with an imagined series of events, Last Days in the Desert follows Jesus (played by Ewan McGregor) through his 40-day fast in the desert. The beginning of his journey is primarily taken alone, though he has several interactions with demonic presences. One comes in the form of a serpentine woman cackling alone in the wasteland, though most are depicted through the thoughtful conversation of fallen angel, Lucifer (also effectively played by McGregor). The temptation Lucifer brings to Jesus is all the more effective because he makes an argument based on logic rather than fear, within dialogue which could easily represent the doubt those with faith may often struggle with. I know that these are questions that I have also asked, and I appreciated having them addressed rather than glossed over with the typical faith-based sermonizing.
Personally, I would rather watch a dozen faith-based films by Garcia rather than being forced to endure five minutes of God is Not Dead or any of the Kendrick Brothers’ films. Too much of Christian ideology as represented by faith-based entertainment is insistent on telling audiences what they must believe, whereas Garcia’s film gives viewers ideas to think about for themselves. There is no forceful assertion of an overall message, or even an attempt at accurate historical depiction. That is not to say that the fictional account is unfaithful to the biblical text, but simply that Garcia is unsatisfied simply telling us what we already know or showing us the same biblical stories seen depicted on screen dozens of times before.
The fictional portion of Garcia’s narrative mostly comes in the interactions Jesus has with a small impoverished family living in the desert. The elderly father (Ciarán Hinds) and his teenage son (Tye Sheridan) disagree about the path the son will take, as the mother (Ayelet Zurer) slowly dies of illness. While the son longs to explore the possibilities of a life in the city, the father stubbornly longs for his offspring to remain in the desert and the mother remains caught in the middle.
As Jesus spends time with this family, he is challenged by Lucifer to find a solution each will be pleased with. This almost feels like an additional temptation from the devil, as well as further evidence that even Jesus was not always fully aware of the larger plan his father had. Some may see this as blasphemous or at least wonder why Jesus doesn’t simply use his own God-given gifts of miracles to produce a happy ending, but I found the human depiction of Jesus to be far more relatable. This also continues the theme of father/son relationships, as Jesus’ efforts to bridge the gap between the young boy and his father simultaneously exposes his own struggle to follow the difficult path laid out by God. With Last Days in the Desert, Garcia may not have given religious audiences the film that they wanted, but it very well may be the movie that they need.
Entertainment Value: 6.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8.5/10
Historical Significance: 6.5/10
Special Features: 0/10