Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield Are Jesuit Priests In Scorsese’s Latest Project, “Silence”

Plans are moving forward on director Martin Scorsese’s ambitious film project Silence.  After several years of delays and litigation, filming is set to begin in September for the epic story about Jesuit missionaries who risked persecution and even death to bring the Gospel to Buddhists in seventeenth-century Japan.

Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, Batman Begins, Star Wars: Episode One) will play the role of Jesuit Father Ferreira.  Andrew Garfield (Amazing Spider Man) will play the younger Father Rodriguez, who travels to Japan in search of his spiritual mentor, following reports that Father Ferreira has apostasized.  Adam Driver (Lincoln, What If) has been cast in the role of Rodriguez’ companion, Father Francisco Garrpe.

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How will Martin Scorsese depict these suffering missionaries in the Land of the Rising Sun?  The director is best known for his dark and tragic films like Raging Bull and Gangs of New York; will he effectively capture the spirit of love and forgiveness which characterizes the Christian missionary quest?

Scorsese, a Catholic, directed the controversial Last Temptation of Christ, which depicted the crucified Christ imagining another, easier life in which he’d married Mary Magdalen, who had borne his children.  I was cautioned against the film by scores of picketers who protested the showing of Last Temptation, and I did not see it during its theatrical release; but I later viewed the film as part of a graduate course on “Christ in Faith and Fiction.”  Watching the film in a university classroom, I didn’t recognize the bold sacrilege alleged by the film’s well-intentioned critics; but rather, I saw a moving depiction of the suffering Christ whose sufferings included not only the physical trauma, but also the pain of knowing that he could, should he choose, come down from the Cross and walk off into a happier life.  Scorsese stayed true to the Gospel narrative, and Christ did not succumb to that last temptation.  He died on the Cross, opening heaven to those who were drowning in their original sin.

Harper’s Magazine, in July 2011, carried an article by Vince Passaro on Scorsese’s Catholic themes.  The National Catholic Reporter‘s Joe Ferulla in turn reported on that article, which called Scorsese “one of America’s most Catholic filmmakers”:

But in the July edition of Harper’s Magazine, Vince Passaro writes passionately about how Scorsese’s strong Italian Catholic upbringing lies at the heart of the stories he tells on film. In interviews, Scorsese has admitted that one of his great themes is betrayal — and Passaro notes that in each movie, Scorsese’s turncoat ends up alone, isolated from society, a Judas who pays a heavy price. More than that, Passaro writes, Scorsese’s tragic figures demonstrate “what becomes of men who are separated from God, men who are lost.”

The great tragic flaw of Scorsese’s characters is the belief they can get by without God, and without moral choices: the violent boxer in “Raging Bull,” the crazed vigilante of “Taxi Driver,” even the soaringly wealthy and successful Howard Hughes at the center of “The Aviator.” Each believed he didn’t need God (or perhaps were God-like themselves), and paid a deep price: loneliness, insanity, death.

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 A little of the backstory regarding the Japanese missionaries:

In 1549, when St. Francis Xavier and two companions first set foot in Japan, the nation was Buddhist; yet they were permitted to preach and teach, and the Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries in that country converted half a million people with the message of the Christian Gospel.  Christian churches were visible throughout the land which had once held only Buddhist temples.  Large numbers of laypeople joined their effort as catechists, and a local seminary was established to prepare native-born Christian men for the priesthood.

But in the seventeenth century, the government reversed its policy of tolerance, and Christianity was banned.  Japanese military officials ruthlessly rooted out Christians for persecution and execution.  Among those executed for their faith were St. Paul Miki and Companions, 26 martyrs who were tortured in Nagasaki in 1597 by having their noses and ears cut off, then were crucified on a hill overlooking the city.

Brother Paul Miki, best known of the Nagasaki martyrs, preached to the crowd gathered to witness the execution, saying:

 “The sentence of judgment says these men came to Japan from the Philippines, but I did not come from any other country. I am a true Japanese. The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I certainly did teach the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason I die. I believe that I am telling only the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you to become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.”



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  • eddie too

    it would be good if we included in our daily prayers a request of st. paul mika that he intercede on behalf of his fellow countrymen and petition the Lord for their conversion.

  • Yankeegator

    Scorsese is no Catholic… He is another Hollywood Atheist… He abandoned his glorious heritage long ago….

    • kathyschiffer

      You may be correct, Yankeegator. He can’t really get away from it, though–Although his films are dark and sometimes violent, they have a morality that speaks to his Catholic heritage.

  • Oh that is such a great novel. If you haven’t read the novel read it before the movie. I’m no movie goer but I’m going to see this one. Here is a link to the novel, written by the fine Japanese Catholic writer, Shusaku Endo. I’m pretty sure Wikipedia has an entry on the novel if you want to learn more.

    • kathyschiffer

      Thanks, Manny.

      • You’re welcome.

  • tteague

    Liam Neeson played a Jesuit priest at least once before – as Fr. Fielding in the 1986 film, THE MISSION.

    • kathyschiffer

      The Mission is on my short list of favorite films. I hadn’t remembered that Neeson was in it!

  • fredx2

    What kind of story teller is Scorcese? Let’s look at his films:
    He tells a story of a desperate loner who murders (Taxi Driver)
    Of a desperate loner who kidnaps and murders (King of Comedy)
    About pool hustlers (The Color of Money)
    An alternate story of Jesus, where Jesus is just a man (The Last Temptation of Christ),
    About mobsters (Goodfellas)
    About murderers (Cape Fear)
    About mobsters (Casino)
    About Gangs of proto-mobsters (Gangs of New York)
    About a Billionaire – Howard Hughes (The Aviator)
    About mobsters (The Departed)
    About murder and insanity (Shutter Island)
    About mobsters (Boardwalk Empire)
    About a kid who lives in a train station (Hugo)
    About a grossly unethical Wall Street Broker (Wolf of Wall Street)

    So, what can we expect? Perhaps I am too cynical, but I wonder if the Jesuits will come out looking a bit like mobsters.

    “Scorcese stayed true to the Gospel narrative” in Last Temptation of Christ? Not really. Paul Schrader, the writer of the Last Temptation, said this in an interview with the New York Times:

    “Mr. Schrader, who is now an Episcopalian, said ”Last Temptation” concerns ”the most fundamental issue of Christianity, the identity of Christ, this conundrum of the dual nature,” part God and part man.”

    ”The human part,” he said, ”always gets short shrift because it’s uncomfortable to deal with. This film may err on the side of the humanity of Jesus, but it does very little to counteract the centuries of erring the church has done on the other side.”

    No, I don’t believe the stuff about his work being essentially Catholic. So the turncoats in his movie end up being alone? That is precisely the message the mafia wants to send – don’t snitch on us or you are dead to us. Nothing Catholic about that.

    Do any of his characters ever see the light, turn away from the evil they have done? None that I can think of. Scorcese presents a world where evil is impregnated into the very warp and woof of existence.

    Is Scorcese a Catholic? The Boardwalk Empire website includes this vignette:

    “But while Scorsese now describes himself as a lapsed Catholic, the influence of his religious start still lingers, and Catholic concerns are frequently discernible in his work. There’s a frequent sense of guilt consuming his characters, a search for redemption – sometimes through suffering, violence of death – and a concern for the marginalised that echo Catholic doctrine (at least, as regards the latter, in its ideal form). ”

    So 1) He is a lapsed Catholic, not a Catholic 2) He features Catholic themes like what? Like Guilt, which is not a Catholic thing, it’s a thing Catholics are accused of. 3) A search for redemption? Perhaps, but are any of his characters redeemed? Mostly they just live lives of criminality. 4) OK, maybe suffering, but does he treat it in the way Catholic doctrine does, or do they just suffer? 5) And “violence of death” is hardly Catholic.

    No, I think we are being suckered. I think there will be a lot of press about Scorcese’s Catholic side, a side which pretty much is not there. There will be an attempt to build the audience by oozing nice things about Catholicism, but in the end, it is a good bet the movie will portray the church as evil. That is the fad of the day. That is the Hollywood ethos of the day, and a betting man would bet on Hollywood being Hollywood.

  • schmenz

    I am truly curious that there are still good people out there who take the work of this movie maker with any degree of seriousness. He is merely one of the long list of non-talents who are lionized by the corporate media for reasons no one at all (or at least those who appreciate fine films) can possibly understand. As a craftsman he has shown no ability to tell a story cinematically, instead relying on gore, sex and sensationalism to sell his wares, the easiest and laziest accomplishments of them all.

    There are so many better directors to be talking about (mostly retired or passed away). David Lean, si; Scorcese, no.

  • Greg Cook

    Scorsese’s “Bringing Out the Dead” w/Nicholas Cage, John Goodman, etc. was a powerful evocation of themes of mercy and resurrection.

  • Kathy… I wish you would not have defended the Last Temptation of Christ here. It is dogma that Christ had no concupiscence; it would be impossible for Him to suffer those temptations depicted in that movie. It is absolutely not true to claim, as you do in this blog post, that Scorcese “stayed true to the Gospel narrative” simply because he depicted Christ as not having succumbed to the temptation.

    Doubtless many will respond by quoting the Devil’s attacks of Christ while fasting in the desert, as if they are having some bold insight that theologians have not yet considered. How sad that people come to such ridiculous conclusions without even looking something up. That is only referred to as a temptation because it was foisted upon him as such, not because he received it as such. There is absolutely zero temptation *within* Christ (even within his human nature), period, end of story. This is a settled matter in Catholic teaching.

    • Catholic pilgrim

      Amen. Two weeks ago Fr Mitch Pacwa strongly rebuked this Temptation movie on the same orthodox ground (impossibility of concupiscence in Christ) on EWTN’s Threshold of Hope. Many people today in our society are lost as to who our Lord Christ Jesus truly is (who do you say I am), we faithful Catholics (who have been sealed with the Holy Spirit) should help them find out the truth- not confuse them more by endorsing bad movies that wrongly answer who He is.

      • Catholic pilgrim

        There are plenty of films (& books) that faithfully depict Christ Jesus, the Last Temptation is not one.

  • Siobhan

    I would encourage you to read the book if you haven’t. It is a very moving and yet disturbing book. Not sure what to expect from a film version…

  • Harpers Magazine ? National Catholic Reporter ? Maybe you could choose sources true to Catholic teaching, not this pseudo Catholic garbage.

  • Coyfspurs

    What about the movie requires that there was concupiscence in Christ? Could the visions of himself married to Mary Magdalene and having children by her have been “foisted upon him” as in the temptations related in the Bible? We know that Christ experienced more than was ever actually recorded in the Bible, right?

  • jwfs

    Name dropping alert! I know a woman who edited one of Scorcese’s documentaries and she’s said he’s a wonderful man–polite/intense/perfectionist but always a gentleman– I believe MS will always be a Catholic at heart–like Roger Ebert–
    Liam Neesom ‘s boys went to Catholic
    school, no ?