Willem Dafoe plays Jesus Christ in this extraordinarily controversial adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis's novel. The film depicts a sometimes reluctant, self-doubting Jesus, gradually coming to accept His divinity and the inexorability of His ultimate fate. The much-maligned sex scene with Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey) occurs as an hallucination experienced by Jesus as he suffers on the cross. This particular sequence was what infuriated the film's most rabid critics, but in fact it is just one of many iconoclastic musings to be found in the film and its source novel. Equally volatile are the intimations that, as a carpenter, Jesus indifferently shaped the crucifixes for other condemned prisoners long before his own fate was sealed, and that Judas (Harvey Keitel) was literally manipulated into betrayal by a Christ whose preoccuption with his own destiny compelled him to "use" others. None of these departures from the normal interpretation of the scriptures are offered as any more than theory; as such, it was accepted as food for thought by the more open-minded clerics and Biblical scholars who recommended the film.