As the release of “Silence” approaches, I suspect we’ll be seeing more stories like this. But this one is quite good. Here, a gifted Catholic writer looks at the gifted Catholic director for a profile in next Sunday’s New York Times magazine—and underscores how and why Scorcese’s work so often wrestles with questions of faith:
What led this great American artist to make a story of missionaries in Japan his ultimate passion project? He is known for his gangster pictures; he is a grandmaster of the profane. From the beginning, he has revealed himself to be an artist of intensely Catholic preoccupations, and the poisoned arrow of religious conflict runs straight through his career. “Taxi Driver”: a Vietnam vet as a spiritual avenger, bent on cleansing the city of filth through violence. “Cape Fear”: a tattooed fundamentalist determined to exact God’s justice. “Kundun”: a young man raised to be a spiritual master, thrust up against spirit-killing communism. Even “Living in the Material World,” Scorsese’s documentary about George Harrison, takes as its theme the conflict between flesh and spirit, between Beatle and seeker.
“Silence” is a novel for our time: It locates, in the missionary past, so many of the religious matters that vex us in the postsecular present — the claims to universal truths in diverse societies, the conflict between a profession of faith and the expression of it, and the seeming silence of God while believers are drawn into violence on his behalf. As material for Scorsese, then, “Silence” is apt, and yet Scorsese’s commitment to it has been extraordinary, even by his exacting standards. To understand that commitment, I spoke with the filmmaker, with members of the cast and the production team and with others who know the novel well — trying to grasp just what kind of an act of faith this film is.
“I don’t know if there’s redemption, but there is such a thing as trying to get it right,” Scorsese said to me, in the ungentrified New York voice familiar from the cameos in his movies. “But how do you do it? The right way to live has to do with selflessness. I believe that. But how does one act that out? I don’t think you practice it consciously. It has to be something that develops in you — maybe through a lot of mistakes.”
Read it all. It’s long, but fascinating.