"The Last Temptation of Christ" opened in nine cities Friday, with thousands of infuriated Christians objecting that its Jesus was filled with doubts and lust, while some critics praised it as a masterpiece.
About two dozen demonstrators picketed in front of the Ziegfeld Theater in New York City, but they were vastly outnumbered by hundreds of film-goers in a line that wrapped around the block Friday afternoon.Among the demonstrators in New York was Rabbi Yosef Friedman, an Orthodox Jew who carried a sign reading, "Rabbis Protest Mockery of Any Religion."
Hours before the film was to open, a group of directors including Warren Beatty, James L. Brooks, Peter Bogdanovich, Michael Mann, Sydney Pollack and Walter Hill called a news conference to express support for the film's director, Martin Scorsese.
"We owe a debt of gratitude to this group of somewhat misguided zealots. The film now will be seen by a lot of curiosity-seekers," said John Badham, director of "Short Circuit" and "WarGames." "What is not terrific is their effort to rewrite the Bill of Rights."
The Directors Guild of America was the latest group to enter the fray, which has spread from the studio lots to Congress to dozens of churches nationwide.
Protesters have damned the film as sacrilege, saying it portrays Christ as a deranged and lust-driven human, who while being crucified, dreams he marries and has sex with Mary Magdalene and lives his life as an ordinary man.
Cardinal Bernard Law, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, urged Catholics to boycott the film, calling it "morally offensive and repugnant to Christian belief."
"It is inconceivable to me that a person of faith in Jesus Christ would go to this movie," Law wrote in the archdiocese newspaper. "One way to be heard is by not going. Another way is to write the producers."
But proponents say the film illustrates the central mystery of Christianity, showing a fully human Jesus wrestling with doubts and temptation, then rising above them to accept his role as God's son, willingly crucified so the rest of humanity may be forgiven its sin.
Willem Dafoe, who portrays Jesus Christ in the film, said Friday that he is baffled by protesters' complaints.
"I just think this is a beautiful, powerful, positive film. Some people that for the most part haven't seen it are coming out against it - that I don't understand," he said in an interview on NBC-TV's "Today" program.