Last Days In The Desert


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"We knew we were dealing with a minimalist score and how we could put it against all these landscapes and Ewan McGregor playing Jesus was a wonderful challenge."
"García's cautiousness clogs up the human drama."

Rodrigo García's Last Days In The Desert is less a Biblical epic than a low-key near-secular meditation on loneliness, the pressures of responsibility and father/son dynamics structured around the last days of Jesus' temptation in the desert. As you might expect, however, from a director who has frequently focused on women's stories (Mother And Child, Nine Lives, Albert Nobbs), he also makes room for a maternal perspective.

Ewan McGregor is the latest blue-eyed incarnation of the son of God (less of these, please) - referred to as Yeshua here - and we're introduced to him as he wanders landscapes that, for his Star Wars fans, are likely to recall Tattooine (in fact, southern California is impressively stepping up to the plate as Jerusalem). Borderline delirious from fasting, he has a periodic companion, the Devil, who appears in the form of Yeshua himself. This sort of double casting could easily slip into accidental comedy but García takes a sparse, almost monastic approach to dialogue that lends these encounters a sense of tension and mystery and leaves us to decide whether "the Demon" (as he is referred to in the credits) is hallucination or hard fact. Oh, and forget Prada, this devil wears jewellery.

Copy picture

As Yeshua contemplates returning to civilisation, or more accurately, imminent death, he happens upon a family of stone-cutters living on the fringes of the desert. The father (Ciaran Hinds), sick mother (Ayelet Zurer) and son (Tye Sheridan). The trio are dealing with an altogether more earthly problem than Yeshua - the father is desperate for the boy to stay and continue the family in situ, the boy wants to head for the lights of the big city, mum tacitly sides with the boy - but of course the themes of obedience and filial responsibility mirror that of the prophet.

Yeshua decides to try to help, goaded as he does so by his devilish double, as things begin to head in a tragic direction. The director's restrained approach works wonders in terms of atmosphere, with beautiful, lingering shots of the landscape from cinematograper Emmanuel Lubezki being overlaid with an equally evocative string-driven score by Dani Bensi and Saunder Juriaans. But García's cautiousness clogs up the human drama. He offers up possibilities for philosophical debate but instead of diving deep into them, he skims the surface with borderline self-help one-liners - "Failure is it's own punishment", "I'm a liar, that's the truth" - as though he is frightened that taking a stance will break the mood. Simply put, he is relying on the audience to put their own flesh back on these stripped down bones. No doubt cinemagoers will come for the acting - across the board very good - and stay for the landscapes but they won't be leaving with much to think about.

Reviewed on: 10 Jun 2015
Share this with others on...
An imagined chapter at the end of Jesus's fasting in the desert.

Director: Rodrigo García

Writer: Rodrigo García

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ciarán Hinds, Tye Sheridan, Ayelet Zurer, Susan Gray

Year: 2015

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: US

Search database:

Related Articles:

Keeping score
A heavenly role