Scorsese’s Interest: “What About the Soul and the Heart?”

“As you get older, ideas go and come,” says Martin Scorsese. “Questions, answers, loss of the answer again and more questions, and this is what really interests me.”

He’s answering a question about a movie, believe it or not. And if you’ve been following this blog for long, you’ll know which one. But it’s what he goes on to say about his motivations that I find most intriguing…

Yes, once again, Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence is on Martin Scorsese’s to-do list.

It was last July when I posted the last bit of news about why this on-again/off-again project was, well, off again. Those legal troubles prompted a friend of mine to say, “Maybe Terry Gilliam should direct it.”

I recommended that all of you who haven’t read Endo’s novel hurry up and read it, because this is a book you need to experience before anybody turns it into a movie. According to Scorsese, the clock is ticking again. The project has stalled more than once, but I have a good feeling about 2014, because the director is starting to open up about his interest in this property.

Listen to what Scorsese says about his passion for this project further on in the interview:

Yes, the Cinema and the people in my life and my family are most important, but ultimately as you get older, there’s got to be more. Much, much more. The very nature of secularism right now is really fascinating to me, but at the same time do you wipe away what could be more enriching in your life, which is an appreciation or some sort of search for that which is spiritual and transcends? … Silence is just something that I’m drawn to in that way.

[P]eople tell you science tells us everything. Science doesn’t! … We don’t really know everything. I mean, yes, we don’t know what happened in the Big Bang, but we understand the idea of progress. But have we really progressed? We’ve progressed on the outside, but what about inside? What about the soul and the heart?

No wonder Roger Ebert loved this guy.

I hope Scorsese can reunite the cast he’d organized for this last year: Daniel Day-Lewis, Benicio Del Toro, and Gael Garcia Bernal. Can you imagine? A story as heavy as this one will require an extraordinary team of actors.

Of course, there is already a film version, but I don’t know many who have seen it. (I haven’t. Not yet.) Masahiro Shinoda’s 1971 adaptation became available on a Masters of Cinema DVD in 2007. I’m a little wary of it, especially if film critic Ian Johnston’s review is accurate, and “Shinoda shifts the argument in favour of the Japanese officials, against the Christian missionaries.” That would be a shameful betrayal of the text.

Philip Yancey has written with great admiration about Endo’s work in his book Soul Survivor and here — but be warned! He spells out the ending to the novel. I cannot encourage you strongly enough to avoid the spoilers and to read Endo’s novel first. The profound and suspenseful conclusion is best experienced just the way Endo intended.

As my friend and teacher Dr. Luke Reinsma wrote: “… like all great works of literature, it hovers in a middle ground, taut with expectation, caught in the tension between West and East, answer and question, logic and intuition, strength and weakness, hope and loss.”

Still, even though a film adaptation is unlikely to achieve what Endo’s book achieves, I’m excited about the project because it’s Martin Scorsese we’re talking about, and I’m fascinated with his long cinematic journey through spiritual questions.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kramerswall Seth Harper

    I’ve seen the 1971 film and it’s a great one, but Ian Johnston isn’t wrong. The film is ultimately ambiguous, but there’s that splinter of a notion that the Japanese officials are right, and the missionaries are wrong. I have waited on Scorsese’s version for years, seeing as my favorite of his films is The Last Temptation of Christ and would love to see him tackle those heavy spiritual questions again after his recent tenure as a pretty straightforward Hollywood guy (though he’s made some fine films along the way). Fingers crossed, maybe the time is finally right.

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