Shortly after the release—and controversy—of his film The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, Martin Scorsese travelled to Japan. As he rode a train through the country, he read Shūsaku Endō’s novel Silence, which follows two priests searching for their missing mentor in Japan in 1639, when Christianity was brutally repressed. The priests are captured by the shogunate and forced to choose between renouncing their faith or watching the executions of their fellow Catholics. The novel resonated deeply with Scorsese, who spent almost 30 years obsessed with adapting it into a film. He has finally realized his long-delayed opus, with actors Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as the priests—and has even taken the film to the Vatican to screen for the Pope. Time Out spoke with the filmmaker just after that special screening.
When you were a young altar boy at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in New York, did you ever imagine that you would meet the Pope?
Those were fantasies I never thought could happen. The Church in New York in the 1950s was a refuge for me. You needed to survive with the rough-and-tumble kids, and you needed to be respected. Some of those kids got involved in difficult things, really bad things. A couple got killed. [St. Patrick’s priest] Father Principe was our mentor in the streets. He had a different take on who we could be.
There is a theme in this film of guilt and internal conflict that harks back to your early films. Do you see a thread from Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull to Father Rodrigues, the priest Andrew Garfield plays in Silence?
Yes. I’m drawn to that story. You have to be merciful with yourself. That doesn’t mean being indulgent, but it’s a matter of making peace, not being at war with yourself all the time.
What do you think you have learned at this point in your life?
That somehow discipline and patience make it a little more tolerable. Learn patience with people—and with yourself to a certain extent.