A major Hollywood release and potential awards contender had an unusual premiere earlier this week. The Vatican hosted the world premiere of “Silence,” the latest film from “Goodfellas” and “The Departed” director Martin Scorsese.
The film, based on the 1966 novel by Japanese writer Shusaku Endo, tells the tale of two young Jesuit missionaries who travel to Japan to find a missing priest, portrayed by Liam Neeson, who has publicly renounced his Christian faith in the face of persecution.
“Scorsese has given us an angry Christ, a bumbling Christ, a Christ more of this world than the next.”
The story is a controversial one, as it examines the relationship between a Christian’s outward actions and internal convictions. However, with a premiere at the Apostolic Palace for 400 clerics and their guests, and a meeting between Scorsese and Pope Francis, it is a faithful picture — making its target audience very clear even before it hits theaters.
Scorsese, who has said many times he once considered becoming a priest, last tackled a religious subject in film with the hugely controversial 1988 picture, “The Last Temptation of Christ.” The movie showed the perceived struggles between Jesus Christ’s divine nature and His more human temptations.
The U.S. Catholic Church called the movie “morally offensive” at the time. Spokesman Bishop Anthony G. Bosco said of it, “Scorsese has given us an angry Christ, a bumbling Christ, a Christ more of this world than the next.”
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Mother Angelica, the founder of Eternal World Television Network (EWTN), even called the movie “the most blasphemous ridicule of the Eucharist that’s ever been perpetrated in this world.”
The Vatican screening and the meeting with the pope clearly show Scorsese is looking to avoid a repeat of 1988 — though “Silence” could be equally controversial material. The Catholic Thing accused the source novel as promoting a “sinister theology.” In the book, Christian persecution is depicted, and we see faithful men renounce their faith publicly while silently remaining loyal to God.
However, the release of a film in 2016 about Christian persecution is incredibly relevant and sure to pique the interest of religious filmgoers — even if the movie is set in the 17th century.
For his part, Scorsese, who has developed the passion project for decades and reportedly took no pay for it, is already receiving criticism for premiering his movie at the Vatican. “The backing of the Vatican means it must ultimately side with religion being a good thing, and this may be hard to stomach for viewers who know Scorsese for ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and ‘Goodfellas,'” wrote Christopher Hooten at The Independent.
Screening the film and meeting Scorsese seemed a partly personal move by Pope Francis, who is the first Jesuit pope and once hoped to take his missionary work to Japan. The editor of the Jesuit weekly America Magazine, Father James J. Martin, served as a theology consultant on “Silence” during its making.
“Silence,” led by actors Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield, hits theaters in limited release on Dec. 23.