When Martin Scorsese makes a movie, attention must be paid.
His films have been nominated for an Oscar, in various categories, 80 times, and have won the Oscar, in various categories, 20 times. Now Scorsese has a new film, Silence, which will make its debut two days before Christmas — just in time to be considered for this year’s Academy Awards.
Silence stars that Hollywood A-lister, Liam Neeson, and co-stars two promising young actors, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver. As a point of information for those of us of a certain age, Garfield was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his role in The Social Network, and Adam Driver was nominated three years in a row for a Primetime Emmy Award for his role in the comedy series, Girls.
At this writing, the trailer for Silence hasn’t been released yet, and detailed information about the film is scarce — so much so that the biggest “scoop” the entertainment industry news has had so far is confirming that Scorsese has edited down his film from a little more than three hours in length to a little less than three hours in length. Why Scorsese isn’t trying get more buzz about his film is a mystery, especially when you consider that he has been Silence’s greatest champion for a long time.
Scorsese has been trying to produce Silence for almost 25 years, but ran into one snag after another. Scorsese says that during those years, he re-read Silence, the novel, countless times. The book was written by Japanese author and runner-up for the Nobel Prize for Literature, Shusaku Endo. Endo, who died in 1996, was a Catholic, and he set his story during one of the darkest periods in Japan’s history, the 1630s, when European Catholic missionaries were given the choice of leaving the country or facing execution, and thousands of Japanese Catholics were killed for refusing to renounce their religion. Neeson plays Father Cristovao Ferreira, the superior of the Jesuits in Japan, who after hours of torture apostatized, became a Zen Buddhist, married, and served as an interrogator of Christians and a witness to their deaths under torture.
Ferreira, his apostasy, and his career as a collaborator are all historical facts. In his novel, Endo introduces two fictional characters, two young Jesuit priests, former students of Ferreira, who slip into Japan to minister to Japanese Catholics who have gone underground, while at the same time hoping to find their old mentor and bring him back to the faith. When they are captured, it is Ferreira who interrogates them, and the interrogation turns into a philosophical/theological discussion. The primary question is this: to save your own life, can you give the authorities everything they want while secretly remaining a Christian in your heart? Is this cowardice? Hypocrisy? And if it is, does God care?
I’ve read Silence a few times myself, and the questions Endo raises are awfully interesting. I’m not Scorsese’s most ardent fan, but I am an admirer of Raging Bull, The Age of Innocence, The Departed, and The Wolf of Wall Street. In the novel Silence, most of the “action” goes inside the characters’ heads. I’m looking forward to seeing how Scorsese translates that to the screen.