What Martin Scorsese’s new film Silence premiering at the Vatican tells us about it

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The Independent Culture

Martin Scorsese’s last cinematic exploration of religion, 1988’s The Last Temptation of Christ, did not go down well with conservative Christians, being attacked for its departures from the Bible and in particular a scene in which Christ has sex with Mary Magdalene. It was banned for several years in Greece, Turkey, Mexico, Chile and Argentina, and remains banned in the Philippines and Singapore.

In creating a conflicted Jesus, Scorsese was trying to, as the New York Times put it, “make a film that was at once an act of doubt and an act of faith”, but this was lost on many devout viewers who saw it simply as sacrilege.

His new faith-centric film Silence, however, which he has been trying to get made for years and for which he didn’t take a fee and the A-list cast got paid a “pittance”, looks to have the Catholic church’s stamp of approval.

We recently learned the movie, about Jesuits in 15th century Japan, will premiere at the Vatican and this week it emerged that Scorsese will host a private screening for the Pope.

Silence - Trailer

Pope Francis may be more progressive than his predecessors, but it’s hard to imagine the Vatican agreeing to premiere a film that is anything less than reverential of faith; look at the two Hollywood films it has screened previously, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and the similarly critically-panned 2006 biblical film The Nativity Story starring Oscar Isaac.

I’m sure Scorsese, one of the very finest directors, with deeply philosophical preoccupations, will be aiming for something a little more artful than these PSA movies, but the backing of the Vatican means it must ultimately side with ennobling religion, and this may be hard to stomach for viewers who know Scorsese for irreverent, profane works The Wolf of Wall Street and Goodfellas.

Pro-faith films aren't always bad, but they often tend to be, and 'passion projects' have a checkered history too (lest we forget Darren Aronofsky's Noah).

Like The Revenant before it, I fear this could be a beautifully shot, well-acted film about survival and devotion above all else, that is so one-note you probably won’t be interested in seeing it a second time.