Thursday, July 21, 2011

silence (scorsese/endo)

"Scorsese is set to shoot his long-awaited feature Silence in early 2012, with Daniel Day-Lewis starring." Sight & Sound, July 2011

From Scorsese: Faith Under Pressure
by Ian Christie, Sight & Sound, November 2006

SILENCE is a novel by Japanese writer Shusaku Endo (1923-1996), which Scorsese has had an option on for over 15 years. Set in the 17th century, it uses the story of the Jesuit missionaries who came to Japan and suffered torture and martyrdom for their faith as a basis for exploring the apparent conflict between traditional Japanese and Western Christian values. Endo was a Japanese Catholic, and Scorsese believes that he has an important message for the modern world: a message that Scorsese, the son of Sicilian Catholics and raised in New York, has been struggling to define for himself ever since he first ventured outside Little Italy.

The novel was proposed to him by one of the churchmen who gathered in 1988 to give their views on the controversial THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST - Paul Moore, then Episcopal archbishop of New York. ...

After the archbishop gave SILENCE to Scorsese it took a year for him to read it, which he finally did while he was in Japan to appear as van Gogh in Kurosawa’s elegaic fantasy DREAMS. Deeply moved by Endo's portrayal of Christian faith being tested, he arranged a deal to film the novel through the Italian company Cecci Gori and started writing the script with his longtime collaborator Jay Cocks while working on CAPE FEAR (1991). ...

By now Scorsese felt he was beginning to grasp the profound challenge Endo posed to conventional Western Christianity. "SILENCE was the answer to the void I felt after THE LAST TEMPTATION. What I found there was this great compassion for Judas and for Mary Magdalene, and the idea of Jesus not as someone who glows in the dark, but as someone who's afraid to die - remember how he reacts when Lazarus reaches out from the grave." But he was still no closer to being able to make the film. ..

It's the question of how to live one's life with compassion and, as the existentialists would say, authenticity, that has kept SILENCE on his agenda for over 15 years. It wasn't until the editing of THE DEPARTED that Scorsese and Cocks finally wrote a script he considers workable. The crux of Endo's novel appears to be the drama of torture and doubt that leads the captive father Rodrigues towards committing apostasy - publicly renouncing his faith. What Scorsese has come to realize, after living with the book and studying Endo's other work, is that "Rodrigues thinks he's Jesus, but in the end he discovers he's Judas." The starring role he has envisaged in his own story in fact belongs to the cowardly Japanese convert Kichijiro, "truly disgusting human being" who keeps falling short of his ideals and asking for forgiveness. Rodrigues is forced to recognize that Christianity true to Christ's example demands he grant Kichijiro forgiveness - and, as Endo writes, only when he overcomes his repulsion does "the face of Christ look straight into his" and fill him with shame as he realizes his failure.

This devastating work, hailed by Graham Greene as "one of the finest novels of our time", allows Scorsese to pursue his concern with "what Jesus meant" (the title of another influential Garry Wills book) in a dramatic form as challenging as Kazantzakis’s THE LAST TEMPTATION. He also thinks the issues the novel raises are more relevant than ever today. “If you have real faith, then of course you want to make other people as convinced as you are - go out and save their souls! But you can't impose your beliefs on another culture unless you understand that culture properly, which takes time and compassion. Once the Catholic Church was pretty certain of its rightness, as was Islam, and perhaps the Pentecostal Christians today. I can understand that feeling ‘it's for their own good’, but I resist it. Endo thought the Christianity that would have the most chance in Japan was the feminine side - not the God of judgment but of forgiveness. And I'm interested in how the traditional cultures of Japan, Korea and China accept the evanescence of life in the inevitability of destruction."

But the task of persuading financiers, a studio and actorsto embark on such a spiritual quest remains formidable. Might Daniel Day-Lewis be tempted to return to Scorsese's fold to contribute his unique brand of intensity to the older priest, already accused of apostasy? Might this also be a chance for Scorsese to work with younger European actors, if the new Hollywood spurns his unfashionable choice of subject? Could he find a way of stepping off the superhighway of big-budget productions to work once again on the scale of AFTER HOURS (1985) and THE LAST TEMPTATION (or indeed the ultra-low-budget TAXI DRIVER, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year)? Such decisions aren't easy for a director who has fought so long to establish his authority and keep control of his career, in a world where budgets proclaim clout. ...

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