Martin Scorsese: Grabbing “Silence” by the Throat

    If we were to walk past an elderly man with bushy eyebrows sticking out behind black rimmed glasses, thick white hair, a small stature, and an asthma pump, we would probably smile respectfully and think what a sweet grandpa he must be.

    If this 73-year old man were to tell you that he had just come from 7 months of filming in harsh conditions in Taiwan and that he still has a few film projects in mind, we would probably chuckle, pat him on the shoulder and walk away amused – or we would truly be inspired and realize we have no reason not to reach for the stars either… Who knows?

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    Let me solve this nerve wrecking mystery for you…

    The filmmaker described above is Martin Scorsese. He is counted among our very finest directors and it is with great anticipation that we await the release of his latest Drama film Silence on December 22nd.

    The film is an adaptation of Japanese author Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel Silence. Set in 1670 in Japan, the story follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who embark on a journey to propagate Christianity and to find their mentor (Liam Neeson) who is believed to have denied his faith in public due to persecution.

    The story does not discuss light topics. It examines the conflict between the profession and the expression of faith, the relationship between faith and state power, faithfulness and treason while also exploring the idea of Christian martyrdom.

    It raises the question whether martyrdom is in fact always ‘right’ or ‘holy’. In his comment about the novel, Catholic Theologian Peter C. Phan  remarks, “Are we allowed to do an essentially evil act to obtain a good result? If it is done to save himself, then the answer is no. But the novel is so complex because he does it for his followers, for the good end of saving his flock. He will go to hell — but he will go to hell for their sake.”

    In Marty’s own words, the story is about “the necessity of belief fighting the voice of experience.”  

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    This description applies to his journey in making Silence as well: believing in the project despite all odds standing against him – for 27 years.

    The making of this movie, also referred to as his ‘passion project’, is proof of him fighting against experience for the sake of his passion.

    Since reading the novel in 1989, Scorsese wanted to make it into a movie. After 27 years of filming other projects such as The Aviator, The Departed, Shutter Island, Hugo, and The Wolf of Wall Street, battling dozens of legal issues and financial crises, he was able to realise his dream – but not without the help of an intense collective effort.

    Emma Tillinger Koskoff, the film’s producer recalls: “I’ve been with him since The Aviator and every movie that’s next was always Silence”

    In order to make the film, the whole cast and crew of 750 people, took a pay cut, Marty included. The principal actors Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson worked for scale – a meagre amount compared to their usual quote.  

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    Producer Irwin Winkler explained, “…we all really decided, we’re gonna put all the money into the picture, so nobody got paid. So that’s how we got that made” – with a budget of 46.5 Mil.

    The actual production was a gruelling process in itself. Koskoff described it as a “brutal Odyssey for all involved.” Because it was filmed in Taiwan, they battled extreme weather conditions, mountains, valleys, mud, fog and clouds fighting against them.

    With a chuckle, Koskoff shared that, “The final wrap on silence was my best and most proud day… and the worst day was all the other days.”  

    Scorsese’s passion is driven by purpose and conviction. Known to be very opinionated and perfectionistic, he puts this to use by “exploring the murky gray areas of morality.”

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    This drive does not allow him to back down, even when the box office performance of his films are questioned because of their content – as in the case of Silence.

    When asked what he would say to Pope Francis about Silence, he replied:    

    “I would say that I’ve tried, in my work, to find out how to live life — tried to explore what our existence really is and the meaning of it.”

    And these are the questions the film raises in following Father Rodriguez’ on his journey to understand how God can permit the horrors he is witnessing. The Priests wrestle with the idea of why God would seem so silent. Rodriguez questions God’s existence and care for His creatures and desires to comprehend the higher purpose.

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    Scorsese is not a filmmaker for the sake of making films, he is “a master of filming the conflicts in the human soul.” His pursuit of filmmaking with zeal and excellence demanded personal sacrifices, but he pressed on, and still does.   

    It is his passion, his voice to the world – and He is grabbing it by the horns – still going at the age of 73.

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    • Annette is part of the acting team with The Initiative Production Company. She is a German South-African, loves the smell of freshly baked bread and constantly has a list in her head of countries to visit and more languages to learn.

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