I recently rewatched this gem for the 1st time in over 20 years- my 2nd viewing. And it thoroughly blew me away. It’s well-known already but this one directly showcases Scorsese's gravitas when it comes to spirituality.
What Scorsese focuses on in his telling of Jesus' story is of course, the crucifixion. But as opposed to Mel Gibson's 'passion'- which focuses on the violence and brutality in order to glorify Jesus' manly and heroic character as a human being- what Scorsese provides is a fictional and downright cowardly version of Jesus and adds on top, another fictional yet vivid narrative/context of living out the worldly life, of having family and kids and enjoying the happiness they provide, which the protagonist ultimately renounces in favor(?) of the cross.
[Note: The film is anadaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' controversial 1955 novel of the same name.]
By this, Scorsese succeeds in amplifying Jesus' already very "loud" message of renunciation to the max. (Perhaps because it's so obvious many still don't get it..?) It examines up close like no other, 1. what it is that one is "renouncing" when taking that vow and 2. the courage and hardship it requires and entails. This version takes the Jesus story to such a degree that it not only makes light of his teachings and miracles(IMO) but also leaves no further desire to tell or hear of the resurrection- which can be said to be in the domain of religious faith. Neither religious faith nor the resurrection is to be taken lightly but as far as this film is concerned, the choice, that of renunciation, is it. While simultaneously resonating with the Buddhist and Hindu philosophy of questioning our worldly values and renouncing them, this film's real achievement lies in that it distills Jesus’ story like a diamond, by way of fictionally dramatizing and dramatically emphasizing the choice that leads up to the truly universal message of the cross, thereby making clear as night and day, what it actually means to be a follower/practitioner, i.e., “spiritual”, for Christians and non-Christians alike.