Scorsese cites Pinoy Jesuit priest’s reaction to ‘Silence’
LOS ANGELES—In our recent interview with Martin Scorsese, the director cited a Filipino Jesuit priest’s reaction to “Silence,” after he screened the film to about 300 Jesuits at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.
Martin, considered one of cinema’s greatest directors, shared the Pinoy priest’s reaction to his film adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s novel of the same name.
He also showed “Silence,” which chronicles the journey of two 17th-century Portuguese Jesuit missionaries in search of their missing mentor in Japan, before select guests at the Vatican.
The filmmaker, who was raised a Catholic and spent a year in the seminary, and his family met with Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit, after the screenings.
With screenwriter Jay Cocks, Martin attempted to write a script in the early 1990s, but he recalled that they couldn’t figure out how to best bring Shusaku’s novel to the big screen.
In the meantime, he did other films, but he kept reading the book. Finally, in 2006, he and Jay came up with the first draft.
The finished film is worth the wait. Visually striking, “Silence” is a spiritual experience, not just because of its subject matter, but also because of Martin’s lyrical, quiet approach.
Andrew Garfield (Father Rodrigues) anchors the film, strongly supported by Adam Driver (Father Garupe)—both lost tremendous weight to play literally starving padres, Liam Neeson (Ferreira) and Japanese actors, led by Yosuke Kubozuka (Kichijiro) and Issei Ogata (Inoue).
Excerpts from our conversation with Martin:
The film makes you think about these outsiders coming to Japan and trying to introduce something different from their heritage. Is that a visceral reaction that you want the moviegoers to have? Oh, absolutely. We tried to depict as much as possible the Japanese point of view. The book was written by Shusaku Endo, a Japanese Catholic.
We knew that the film would generate a question like that. It’s one of the reasons why we made the film.
I will read you something that one of the Jesuits spoke of the other night in Rome after seeing the film (Martin brings out a printout). He’s Asian, Daniel Wong, and a Jesuit. I believe he is from the Philippines. He talked about how the Jesuits came (to Japan) with great zeal and passion, but unknowingly, perhaps with violence, as well.
Their insistence on the monopoly that they had the truth, and their disregard for the truth the Japanese had, that the Japanese had lived on for centuries, was a violent act.
So, Daniel goes on and talks about the inquisitors’ parable about Portugal and Spain. He said that the parable mentioned the colonial powers that the Japanese perceived to be behind the missionary endeavors of the Jesuits.
The link of the Christian gospel with the violence of colonialism is a wound that Asian Christianity has not yet recovered from.
Daniel went on about Rodrigues’ apostasy and how, finally, instead of dying as a martyr, which would have been some sort of trophy for Rodrigues, it’s a paradox.
What intrigued you about this story that you held on to for many years?
At one point [in the film], Kichijiro says to Rodrigues, “When I saw you and Father Garupe, I thought that God might take me back.” That’s very much a part of my life. I was trying to be in a preparatory seminary in the priesthood. I didn’t make it.
I had a mentor, Father Principe. He was down in the Lower East Side. He affected my life from the ages of 11 to 17. He gave us books to read—Graham Greene, Dwight Macdonald and many others. He was an inspiration, so I wanted to be like him.
That was when I realized in the preparatory seminary that if it’s a calling, a vocation, you can’t devote your life to a vocation just because you want to be like somebody else.
But interestingly enough for me, this book (“Silence”) was given to me the day after Archbishop Paul Moore saw “The Last Temptation of Christ.” He was the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of New York at the time.
How did you find your vocation in the movies? In 1955 in New York, there was no independent cinema. Stanley Kubrick had made a film or two. By the end of the ’50s, “Shadows” had been made. “Blast of Silence” was made. John Cassavetes came. The technology opened up and took away the burden of the studio in a sense.
That coincided with the time when I was ejected from the preparatory seminary.
How did you choose your actors? We had wonderful actors coming in, but Andrew’s audition was so good. The audition turned into two and a half hours.
I had seen Adam Driver on “Girls.” I thought he was unique and I liked his presence, his face and body language, which I don’t quite understand. Then, of course, for the man Ferreira—Liam. There was no doubt. Liam is also not afraid of this material. He went right into it. And Ciaran Hinds played Father Valignano. The Japanese casting was in Tokyo in 2009. Kichijiro was cast in 2014.
Last year marked the 40th anniversary of “Taxi Driver.” What do you remember about meeting Robert De Niro for the first time? The first time I met him was in 1969 at Jay Cocks’ apartment. Brian De Palma had put us together. De Niro had just been in a film called “Hi, Mom!” that Brian did.
De Niro looked at me and said, “I know you. You used to be friends with Joey.” He mentioned names of people I grew up with. It turns out that he was also in that neighborhood, but with a different group.
How much pressure is it being Martin Scorsese when you start a film? It gets to a point where the best thing to do is not to read anything about it, just do the work.
You said this movie is like your pilgrimage. It also feels like your cry for absolution and redemption. That’s a constant element of my life. It’s a strange thing—how does one deal with making movies and showing movies in a theater and still talk about redemption and salvation? Those thoughts never left me. It’s good to work them out.
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