This morning I tried to explain to a friend why the end of Last Temptation of Christ was so affecting for me, and failed. She wasn't steeped in Christianity the way I was, so the crucifixion doesn't pack the same inherent wallop for her.
Beyond that wallop (that any Jesus movie would have for me) this movie, through poetic, mystical reinventing of the Jesus narrative, reasserts one of the paradoxes that are central to Christianity. If you think someone is the Messiah who's come to usher in a new world order, and he gets killed, you were wrong and he failed, right? But Christianity takes this apparent defeat and asserts that it is, in fact, a mystic triumph. The mystic tension between common sense and this assertion gives the Crucifixion and resurrection much of its power.
In this movie, though, Jesus escapes from the cross. He has the obvious reason for doing so (getting crucified sucks) and lives a normal life, until his apostles return to blast Jesus for selling out humanity and his divine destiny. So Jesus goes back in time and returns to the cross. Jesus's last words on the cross are typically translated "It is finished" (at least in my faith tradition) but this film rejects that resigned-sounding translation in favor of the appropriately buoyant "It is accomplished!" And William Dafoe's triumphant grin is heartbreaking. I can't imagine any film asserting the triumph of the Cross with more power.
Admittedly lots of the film is a talky cinematic essay on Jesus rather than a compelling narrative, but I'm glad I watched it.